I had the pleasure of speaking with the people from Lacuna Systems at Interop a few weeks ago. I wasn’t familiar with them at all, and since they happened to have a booth on the expo floor, I was able to meet up with them and talk about their Indico platform. I’ve used a few APM(application performance management) solutions, so I am a little familiar with the space. However, Lacuna Systems is doing something a little different. Before I mention what that is, allow me to point out a few negative things regarding some of the APM implementations out there.
Cons of APM
1. Can be extremely difficult to implement. - Some APM implementations take months and many engineers to get up and running.
2. Can be extremely difficult to use. - Some APM products have so many nerd knobs that you can get lost in the sheer amount of options. If you don’t have a dedicated monitoring engineer, your APM solution might become a really expensive tool that is never used by anyone.
3. Software agents. - Installing software agents on a bunch of servers can become problematic. The agents have to be updated on occasion, and depending on how they are implemented, they can cause stability issues.
4. Interface monitoring. - It is fairly common to have to mirror all traffic coming in and out of chokepoint interfaces(physical or logical) and relay that to the APM system. Quite often, the APM system itself does not have the number of interfaces needed to aggregate all this data and you have to buy a really expensive network tap solution(eg Gigamon or Anue/Ixia). You can also potentially use up the limited number of monitoring sessions available on your hardware platforms and have to make hard decisions as to which of your monitoring platforms is more important.
Not every APM solution out there has all of the problems listed above. Some have only one or two and others don’t have any of those problems. How is Lacuna Systems different? It’s quite simple. They are only watching your load balancers, or ADC’s, for those of you who refuse to use the term load balancer.
Why Load Balancers?
How many data centers do you walk into these days that DON’T have some sort of load balancer in production? Not many, unless you are dealing with smaller environments. The traffic that flows through a load balancer is probably pretty important to an organization. Any revenue generating applications are probably sitting behind one or more load balancers. You’d want redundant servers at each tier to ensure constant availability. The easiest way to do that is with a load balancer.
Considering the traffic flowing through a load balancer is pretty important, why not focus your monitoring efforts on that traffic? That’s what Lacuna Systems does. You might think that they are missing out on a lot of other stuff in the network by only watching the load balancers. They would agree with you because they are also not trying to be all things to all people. What they are betting on is that the bulk of the information you care about from an APM perspective, is flowing through your load balancers.
How Does It Work?
Simple. They use the built in API’s from each load balancer to get the monitoring information. No network taps or port spans are needed. No remote agents on servers. None of that. They basically just need login information to your load balancer and then they can pull all the data out that they need for monitoring purposes. The Indico platform will take in all of this data and automatically build a baseline of your traffic. When there are deviations down the road, alerts get sent. I’d like to say that there is more to it than that, but that is basically how it works.
If you add new members to a load balancing pool or create new virtual IP’s on a load balancer, the Indico platform automatically detects them. You don’t have to manually update the system every time a change is made to a particular load balancer that is being monitored by Indico.
How Can I Use It?
Today, Lacuna Systems is focusing on F5, Citrix, and A10. However, that doesn’t mean those are the ONLY vendors they will support. I asked them about future plans to support other vendors, and they told me that they’ll support whichever vendor they need to based on customer demand. Obviously, the vendors they support will also have to allow API access. Otherwise, you are looking at screen scrapes off a GUI session, which is messy trying to convert it to text, or using CLI to get data and then parsing it into a usable format.
Think beyond monitoring though. What if you could provision things for multiple load balancers from a central location? What if you were able to do this for load balancers from multiple vendors all at once? That’s where I see an additional use case with Indico. Granted, you can do that apart from Indico just by using the API’s, but since Indico is able to talk to multiple vendors, if you happen to use a variety of load balancers, it might make sense to push those changes through the Indico platform. Maybe that is something they could bake into the product down the road. Of course, customers would probably have to ask for that feature first.
Here’s a quick 15 minute video from Robert Scoble and Rackspace where Derek Andree from Lacuna Systems is interviewed about the Indico platform. It is a nice summary of the overall solution.
Just to give you a general idea of what their platforms can monitor, here are the numbers for the virtual and 2 physical appliances(Dell servers):
More information is found here: https://lacunasystems.com/products.php
There are a lot of players in the APM space. Most of them are very expensive. Depending on your needs, you may not need all of the bells and whistles that the larger APM players provide. Maybe you just need to know how your core applications are performing. If they happen to flow through a load balancer, Lacuna Systems just might be a vendor that can meet your needs. They also don’t require you to mirror your network traffic into another device for monitoring purposes since they are using API’s.
All in all, I thought it was an interesting way to monitor applications. You can check them out at www.lacunasystems.com.