Virtual Instruments probes storage network fabrics

The company's new SAN Performance Probe is designed to give administrators a chance to look at their Fibre Channel network as a whole, to help them spot obscure problems

Network analytics specialist Virtual Instruments has unveiled a hardware appliance that inspects Fibre Channel networks to troubleshoot problems.

The 8Gb SAN Performance Probe is a network analysis tool that studies how Fibre Channel (FC) traffic moves from virtual applications to storage, and back, by looking at FC frame headers. Introduced on Monday, it is expected to be released by the end of September.

"One of the ways of looking at storage today is capacity. What we can look at over time [with the SAN Performance Probe] is something called performance capacity," Alex D'Anna, head of customer services for Virtual Instruments, told ZDNet UK. "We can look at things like SAP [application use] — how that's creeping up [with online transaction processing] and how that's affecting the storage infrastructure. In addition, you can look at how [applications] shape the capacity of what you're running."

Virtual Instruments believes the technology can cut capital expenditure, by identifying bits of hardware that do not need to be replaced, and operational expenditure, by making it possible to tweak storage arrays to be more efficient.

The technology for the probe was first developed by Finisar and was refined by Virtual Instruments after it was spun off from the connectivity specialist in 2008.

"We're a three-year-old company but Finisar, previous to that, was a 12-year-old company," D'Anna said. "That knowledge of Fibre Channel was like how Intel has knowledge of how to write x86 chips."

Problem spotting

The probe works by using a Traffic Access Point (TAP), which sits between FC switches and storage arrays, to inspect FC frame headers as they flow over the network. D'Anna said this allows networks to be managed more effectively, as it means administrators can spot problems that originate due to the structure of the network, rather than a fault within a single particular piece of hardware.

The probe, along with the VirtualWisdom 3.0 software that it uses, supports all major vendors, according to Virtual Instruments.

Each 8Gb SAN Performance Probe FC8 can monitor up to eight Fibre Channel gigabit links at once. It has hot-swappable power supplies and multiple redundant cooling fans.

Virtual Instruments expects to update the tool to Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and 16Gb FC devices over time. D'Anna said this will be a matter of swapping out the ASICs and FPGAs, and will not require a major redesign.

The probes will be available to buy in the UK from late September and will cost around £50,000.

Alongside the hardware, Virtual Instruments also updated its VirtualWisdom software for managing the analysis of networks to version 3.0. New features include expanded support options, a tweaked user interface and the addition of further levels of detail available to administrators.

Get the latest technology news and analysis, blogs and reviews delivered directly to your inbox with ZDNet UK's newsletters.