Network packet broker tools: VSS Monitoring scales tools up

With new appliances, management software and stacking technology, VSS Monitoring increases the scalability of network packet brokers.

VSS Monitoring Inc. announced new appliances and software that increase the speed, scalability and manageability of its network packet broker technology, enabling better monitoring and management of large and complex data center networks and virtual environments.

Network packet broker (NPB) technology aggregates, filters and distributes data feeds from switched port analyzer (SPAN) ports and taps to network monitoring, security and management tools. The technology eliminates the shortage of instrumentation points on the network and allows enterprises to deliver and load balance data to management tools anywhere on the network.

Although the network packet broker market is relatively small today, the need for the technology will grow as data centers continue to consolidate and enterprises mature their use of server virtualization and private clouds, according to Bob Laliberte, senior analyst with Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group.

VSS Monitoring's new line of high-density and high-bandwidth network packet broker switches includes the vBroker 200 series of modular 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) appliances and the vBroker 300 series of 10/40 GbE appliances.

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The vendor also launched a new version of its stacking technology for its NPBs, dubbed vMesh. The technology is based on a pre-existing feature set known as vStack, a protocol that allowed customers to virtualize the management of up to 32 VSS Monitoring appliances. The vMesh feature consolidates the different flavors of vStack (Layer 2 interconnect, pseudowire and TCP-IP) and increases the technology's scale from 32 to 256 interconnected appliances.

Finally VSS Monitoring announced a new unified management console, vMC, which provides a network manager with a system-wide, topological management view of all the VSS appliances in a network.

These new technologies will expand VSS Monitoring's ability to provide a large-scale and distributed approach to instrumenting monitoring and management tools on a network, according to Tony Zirnoon, VSS Monitoring's global director of enterprise marketing.

"Legacy aggregators are a limited solution," he said. "They solve the… problem of access contention on SPAN ports. You put a large monolithic [network management] switch in one of these data centers and connect your tools to it. It solves the [access] problem tactically, but it doesn't provide the ability to share that data across different boundaries, and most aggregators at best provide some kind of cascading [toplogy] that presents a single-point of failure risk."

With the high-density, high-bandwidth series of vBroker appliances and the large-scale stacking capabilities of vMesh, VSS Monitoring now offers customers the ability to connect more than 10,000 network packet broker ports into a single system, Zirnoon said. That's a large number of instrumentation points. An enterprise can take a distributed approach to monitoring instrumentation, gathering data from where it's needed and routing it to the right tools, whether those tools are performance management technologies usually distributed inside the network, or network security technologies typically deployed at the edge.

"Network packet brokers allow you to connect to the network once and distribute to many [tools]," Laliberte said. "And they do it intelligently. It's not a matter of 'Hey, we allow you to use more SPAN ports.' They intelligently decide what of that data needs to go to which tool and only send that data to the monitoring or management tool where it's needed."

Enterprise interest in network packet brokers rising

While network packet broker vendors have traditionally found more success with service providers, enterprise interest is on the rise, Laliberte said.

"Over the last couple years the whole market is starting to accelerate," he said. "Part of that is due to the fact that enterprise data centers are starting to look a lot more like those service providers. They're consolidating and making data centers much bigger. They making them multi-tenant environments [for serving individual business units] and they are becoming more complex."

That market growth is reflected by recent mergers and acquisitions in the industry. Three of the companies that compete in this market have been acquired in the last eight months. VSS Monitoring was acquired recently by Danaher Corp., a broad technology conglomerate whose holdings also include Fluke Networks and Arbor Networks Inc. Network testing company Ixia announced at Interop Las Vegas its acquisition of Anue Systems. Late last year network management vendor NetScout Systems Inc. acquired Simena Networks.

Laliberte's firm surveyed enterprises last fall about data center plans, he said. Sixty-three percent of respondents said they had just finished or were in the middle of a data center consolidation, and 48% said they were building out multi-tenant data centers to serve different business units.

"Data centers are consolidating and becoming much larger and more complex and more reliant on network infrastructure," he said. "As a result, organizations are having a much harder time being able to manage [networks]."

Network packet brokers can provide "a lot more granular information on a link-by-link basis," Laliberte said. With better instrumentation of management tools, enterprises can troubleshoot quicker and plan and scale their networks better.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Director.

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