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Network monitoring switches eliminate 40 Gigabit Ethernet blind spots

Network monitoring tools aren’t ready for 40 Gigabit Ethernet, but a network monitoring switch will allow you to monitor the faster media with 10 Gigabit Ethernet tools.

With many enterprises kicking off initial 40 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) migration in the data center, network managers will have to adapt their network management tools for the higher-bandwidth technology. The near-term solution may be in network monitoring aggregation switches.

Migration from one generation of Ethernet technology to the next always causes a disruption in the network management layer, particularly among inline, packet-based analysis tools. Today the vast majority of these tools aren’t compatible with 40 GbE.

“The first thing that gets affected is anything that does packet-stream monitoring … whether it be network troubleshooting, security monitoring or network activity monitoring,” said Jim Frey, research director with Enterprise Management Associates.

Network managers saw this scenario play out not too long ago when the industry started to migrate from Gigabit Ethernet to 10 GbE.

“A lot of the tools that originally moved up to the 10 gigabit level were not really fully rated for 10 gigabit,” Frey said. “They had 10 gigabit interfaces on them, but the initial generations of these tools could only handle two to three gigabits total speed. As soon as you got past that, you’d start dropping packets. The same thing will likely happen with monitoring tools for 40 gigabit.”

40 GbE interfaces do not guarantee 40 GbE-ready network management appliances

In fact, essentially every network management appliance vendor on the market lacks a 40 GbE adapter, so a network manager can’t even plug a 40 GbE link into the box. Even if the network management appliance vendor does slap a 40 GbE network interface card (NIC) on its box, the software architecture inside still needs an upgrade to be rated for a 40 GbE packet stream.

“A lot of times vendors want to take the boxes they already have and retrofit them,” said Jay Botelho, director of product management for network monitoring vendor WildPackets. “That typically doesn’t work.”

Why monitoring 40 GbE networks with 10 GbE tools won't work

Generally, the migration to 40 GbE will begin in core and aggregation layers of data center networks, while the access layer will likely remain at 10 GbE. Network managers can take advantage of this situation by using those downstream 10 GbE links as their monitoring points for 10 GbE-rated network management tools.

However, by moving the monitoring points away from the core and aggregation layers of the network, network managers will risk having traffic bypass their tools. Closing up holes in their monitoring infrastructure will get expensive.

“If you move further out, there are more points you have to instrument in order to establish the same level of coverage. You might have 80 links that you need to monitor as opposed to six or eight at the distribution or core layer,” Frey said.

Network monitoring aggregation switches offer a 40 GbE bridge

Network monitoring aggregation switches, which engineers use to aggregate SPAN (switched port analyzer) ports, taps and other instrumentation points on the network, will offer early adopters of 40 GbE a solution to this technology gap. Anue Systems, for instance, just announced its 5288 Net Tool Optimizer (NTO), the first 40 GbE-ready network monitoring switch on the market.

The 5288 NTO can receive a 40 GbE stream on one end and output a Gigabit Ethernet or 10 GbE stream on the other side. Beyond that simple media conversion, the 5288 NTO can filter traffic based on the network monitoring tools that are plugged into it. For instance, it can send only VoIP traffic to a VoIP monitoring appliance, ensuring that the data stream doesn’t exceed 10 GbE. If the flow of monitored data passing through the 5288 NTO exceeds 10 GbE, the box can load balance the stream across multiple network monitoring appliances, according to Rudy Millian, product manager with Anue Systems. Therefore, a network manager could plug four 10 GbE network recorders into a single 5288 NTO and load balance the traffic across all four boxes.

Although Anue is the first vendor to deliver a 40 GbE aggregation switch, its competitors have products on the way. VSS Monitoring will announce a 40 GbE product in the upcoming quarter, according to Terence Martin Breslin, CEO of VSS. 

“It will allow you to send multiple 40 gigabit links into it and send that data to 10 gigabit tools or even gigabit tools,” Breslin said.

These aggregation switches can extend the life of networking monitoring tools indefinitely, since an engineer can always add more boxes and load balance streams across them, Breslin said.

However, many network managers will want to consolidate tools once 40 GbE-compatible appliances reach the market, if for no other reason than to reduce the number of boxes they have to manage within their environment. Consolidation of tools will reduce complexity, even if the 40 GbE tools are more expensive, Frey said.

“Over time all the packet-based tools will make the transition up to these speeds, but it will involve a substantial increase in price and a refresh cycle on the tools that you won’t necessarily be ready to do immediately,” Frey said.


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




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