Another Light to Shine on Virtual Performance

More firepower for network managers with NetScout's Virtual Agent

Earlier this month, NetScout Systems announced their nGenius Virtual Agent to add visibility for performance troubleshooting and monitoring into the virtual network elements that exist within the realm of virtual servers. This new offering marks another example of mainstream network management technologies being adapted to help IT operations teams to deal with the onslaught and sprawl of virtual computing systems. While NetScout is following similar offerings introduced by OPNET and Network Instruments, as well as WildPackets, this particular offering will bring the full weight of NetScout's performance reporting and analysis software to bear on the combined environment, including their service monitoring platform, nGenius K2 Service Delivery Manager. NetScout has also taken a novel approach, flexibly combining the same product to deliver either virtual probe or virtual tap functions, and are allowing it to be deployed at no direct cost other than the license each will consume from its associated nGenius Performance Manager server. My key takeaway from this new offering is that it is yet another example of virtual computing environments moving towards the mainstream. We already know that over 95% of enterprise IT organizations are looking at trialing, testing or deploying virtual computing systems into production. What not as many have accomplished to this point is scaling their monitoring and management practices at the same rate as the technology within the virtualized servers. Commonly, new technologies which find rapid favor surge ahead of reliable and predictable management practices. And so it's natural that following the proliferation of virtual computing, best practices must follow in time. Very interesting in this particular case though, is the fact that virtual systems are much greater in number than typical network elements. And the new virtual network element and virtual network links which accompany virtual systems are also much greater in number and scale and quantity than a typical physical equivalent. This brings new challenges with instrumenting or tapping into or finding the information about what's happening inside virtual systems. The volume of measurements will also be scaling rapidly just as are the virtual machines themselves. So, whole new stress levels will be reached when trying to fully manage and optimize virtualized compute environments. Add to that the dynamic nature of virtual computing, in particular vMotion and other dynamic movement features which enable VM's to be one place one moment and another in the next, and the challenge of understanding just what is going on can easily become untenable. Add into the mix the political challenge and the dividing line between systems and network management. In conversations with network management professionals, most have not established healthy collaborative workflows regarding access to or visibility into virtual systems. One practitioner told me "right now, when we think there is a problem with a particular VM, the systems team will vMotion that VM to its own host so we can further troubleshoot." Gee - what's wrong with that picture? Sounds to me like it's exactly what you don't want to do when trying to isolate a problem -- change the configuration. With the introduction of Cisco's Nexus 1000V, traditional networking technology is working its way into the virtual networks within virtual hosts. This means that traditional network management technologies will be easier to bring to bear against these new environments. The 1000V, for instance, will be able to deliver high volumes of reliable and accurate NetFlow records and also carries a mature SNMP agent, something which is nonexistent within hypervisor-based virtual switches. This bodes well for network managers who need to be able to see inside virtual machines. Security professionals will benefit as well. So the 1000V could be a real bonus for network managers. Now -- if only we can make 1000V switches available everywhere...

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