Tuesday, January 14, 2014

sFlow leads convergence of multi-vendor application, server, and network performance management

Over the last six months, leading Application Delivery Controller (ADC) vendors F5 and A10 have added support for the sFlow standard to their respective TMOS and ACOS operating systems, making multi-vendor, real-time application layer visibility available in approximately 50% of commercial ADC market.
Figure 1: Best of Velocity 2012, The sFlow Standard
Equally important is the availability of sFlow support in leading open source web servers, load balancers, applications servers, hypervisors and operating systems, including: Apache, NGINX, Tomcat, Java, HAproxy, Hyper-V, Xen, KVM, Linux, Windows, Solaris, FreeBSD and AIX. The combination sFlow in ADCs and the application infrastructure behind them provides comprehensive end to end visibility in multi-tier, scale-out, application architectures.

Figure 1 shows the strategic role that ADCs (load balancers) play in controlling the flow of application requests, regulating admission, filtering, directing loads, and virtualizing services. RESTful control of ADCs combined with real-time visibility provides a powerful capability for flexing resources as demand changes, reducing costs and increasing performance as resources are closely matched to workloads.

What is unusual about diagram is the inclusion of the network. Application architects often give little thought to the network since its complexity is conveniently hidden behind APIs. Unfortunately, it is in the nature of scale-out applications that their performance is tightly coupled to that of the network. In addition, the network is shared between application tiers, allowing performance problems to propagate.
Figure 2: sFlow drivers for growth
Application visibility and control in the ADC space along with near universal support for sFlow among switch vendors combines with Software Defined Networking (SDN) to transform application performance management by orchestrating all the elements of the data center to deliver a comprehensive performance management solution, what VMware calls the Software Defined Data Center (SDDC), Cisco terms the Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), and Microsoft refers to as the Cloud OS.
Figure 3: Visibility and the software defined data center
Recent breakthroughs in real-time sFlow analysis incorporated in the sFlow-RT analytics engine delivers comprehensive, timely, and actionable metrics through a programmatic interface. Expect to see this technology incorporated in next generation self optimizing orchestration solutions in 2014.
Performance Aware SDN describes the theory behind analytics driven orchestration. The talk describes how fast controller response, programmatic configuration interfaces such as OpenFlow, and consistent instrumentation of all the elements being orchestrated are pre-requisites for feedback control.
The requirement for complete measurement coverage by next generation orchestration systems will create a strong demand for sFlow instrumented infrastructure since sFlow is the only widely supported multi-vendor standard that spans network, server and application resources and delivers the low latency and scaleability required for adaptive control.

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