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Riverbed Technology upgraded a whole bunch of its appliances this week, including its Cascade Shark network-monitoring products and its Steelhead WAN optimizers.

El Reg covered the updates to the Steelhead appliances here, and now we'll tell you about Cascade Shark.

The Cascade hardware appliances are high-end network monitoring tools aimed at big data centers that have to watch a slew of gear for things that go wrong. These days, that includes hypervisors and their virtual machines and virtual network switches, too.

So starting this week, Riverbed has rolled up its monitoring software into a virtual appliance that runs on VMware's ESXi 4.1 hypervisor that connects into the virtual switches, the hypervisors, and SANs running out there on the network, and gathers up data on how all of this gear is running – or not, as the case may be.

This software, called the Virtual Cascade Shark, gathers up information, where it is accessible from a desktop console called Pilot. The Shark appliances, which can be physical or virtual, do all of the data storing and analysis, and Pilot is just a web application for querying and displaying the results of those alerts and queries. The Shark appliances can also gather up summary information and push it up to a higher-level analysis tool called Profiler.

At the moment, the Virtual Cascade Shark appliance can only run on the ESXi 4.1 and 5.0 hypervisor from VMware, and it can only reach into these ESXi hypervisors to gather data, according to Dimitri Vlachos, senior director of marketing for the Cascade line at Riverbed. "We're seeing growing interest in Hyper-V in the market, and KVM has its place and a lot of cloud providers are looking at it," concedes Vlachos. But he stopped short of making any commitments to supporting Xen, KVM, or Hyper-V with the Virtual Cascade Shark appliance.

The update to the Cascade 9.5 software stack also includes the ability to do service monitoring and trouble-shooting across load-balanced applications that make use of Riverbed's own Stingray Traffic Manager, which the company got through its acquisition of Zeus Technology back in July, and which it converted to a virtual appliance in October.

The Cascade software can also monitor applications that are being load-balanced by F5 Networks Local Traffic Managers. If you need to, you can manually integrate the Cascade appliances to talk to load balancers from Citrix Systems and Cisco Systems, too, says Vlachos.

The other big tweak with the new Cascade software is that it leverages SPAN port aggregators to provide high-precision time-stamping that is required for low-latency trading and other financial applications. In the past, if you wanted very precise time stamps, you had to buy expensive cards that plugged into Shark appliances. Now you can get Gigamon's GigaVUE, cPacket Networks' CVU and cTap, and VSS Monitoring's Distributed Traffic Capture, and let them provide more accurate time stamps that Cascade can in turn use. Only the hardware version of the Cascade appliance has this functionality right now, but the virtual appliance will eventually get it, says Vlachos.

The physical Cascade Shark appliance costs between $25,000 and $100,000, and has orders of magnitude more bandwidth and storage capacity than the virtual Cascade Shark, which costs from $1,200 to $10,000. The virtual Cascade Shark is priced per hypervisor to which it links, and comes with a license to talk to four virtual switches on that hypervisor. ®

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