Virtualization has done wonders for increasing server utilization in data centers, but it can still create headaches for network administrators trying to keep track of traffic within and between virtual machines. A key feature of the upgrade is the introduction of Virtual Cascade Shark, a virtualized version of Riverbed's physical Shark appliance, which offers the visibility into virtual machines that the physical appliance lacks.
"Data center virtualization creates another blind spot for network managers," said Jim Frey, managing research director at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), who describes the problem as the "fog of virtualization." "There is a virtual switching layer that lives inside those [virtual] servers and yet it is 100 percent relevant to understanding the actual path of traffic," he explained. "You have no way to understand what's happening in terms of the traffic between those VMs."
Visibility into traffic among VMs is important because it provides a clearer picture of exactly what VMs are communicating with each other, what applications are active, and exactly what volume of IT resources are being consumed, Frey said.
[For more on managing virtualized environments, see VMWare Vs. The Old School: Data Center Management Battle. ]
Besides the Virtual Cascade Shark, which operates within VMware ESXi environments, Cascade 9.5 management platform monitors traffic information through other Riverbed appliances, including the Steelhead family of WAN optimization tools, the Whitewater cloud storage gateway, and the Stingray, a virtualized application delivery controller (more commonly known as a load balancer).
"Cascade is all about providing IT operators an integrated view that allows them to discover all the components of that application and the network that it runs over, monitor automatically with analytics so they don't have to do a bunch of manual threshold setting," noted Dimitri Vlachos, senior director of marketing and product management at Riverbed. "Then if there are problems, you'll be able to drill down seamlessly from that high-level view into an application transaction and packet-level view to pinpoint and isolate the problems." The Steelhead WAN optimization appliance, which is available as a physical or virtual appliance, can be deployed at multiple locations such as branch offices, while another Steelhead inside the data center aggregates the data from the branch offices, a process Vlachos describes as "symmetrical optimization."
The network performance management space is experiencing strong growth as IT managers struggle to retain control over rapidly expanding and increasingly complex network environments, said EMA's Frey. The largest of Riverbed's competitors is NetScout, a $300 million company. Riverbed, a publicly traded company with $689 million in revenue, is in a number of other businesses and doesn't break out its network management sales. Other players in the market include Network Instruments, Visual Network Systems, and OPNET Technologies, Frey said.
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