It's been a long-standing servant for thousands of IT managers but according to Virtual Instruments, the humble patch panel has a limited life-span in the virtualised world.

The company has introduced the SANInsight Fibre TAP Patch Panel System that will allow customers with virtualisation environments to achieve the same level of monitoring as within physical infrastructures.

The TAP Patch Panel System uses existing TAP technology and integrates it with a a standard patch panel. A TAP uses a passive fibre optic splitter to create an exact, out-of-band copy of the light signal passing through it, as such the device causes no traffic overhead. Len Rosenthal, Virtual Instruments' vice president of marketing, said the alternative to tapping the networks was a Mirror port – sometimes called a Span port - this not only takes up a port, they drop packets when congested and prioritise data over traffic management: this does have an impact on latency."

According to Rosenthal, Virtual Instruments' vice president of marketing, the growing take-up of virtualisation has created a "perfect storm over data management". "There's no transactional visibility because you're essentially over-provisioning that infrastructure. If you add a server virtualisation layer and a storage virtualisation layer then you're gaining no visibility and that's going to be impossible without the right tools.

Rosenthal said that what Virtual Instruments was doing was a completely different approach. "Offering TAP under Fibre Channel is unique to us. TAPS are typically used by all major vendors to debug products after the fact. What we're offering is a chance to measure what's going on before they affect users "

He added that the product had been introduced to cope with the variables thrown up by the increasing speeds within networks. "Every time you double the technology speeds, you're increasing the chances that there'll be a problem. Once you have a TAP in place, you can monitor latency across the SAN," said Rosenthal. "You can learn whether the SAN is the cause of the problem or not. You can see it's a port down or whether the problem is the SAN."

Virtual Instruments' approach has the thumbs-up from the Burton Group. "As IT environments become more complex, with increasing use of server and storage virtualization, being able to monitor and analyse the infrastructure across multiple domains is critical to meeting service level agreements," said Gene Ruth, senior storage analyst at the Burton Group/Gartner. "Deploying network TAPs to improve availability, utilisation, and performance has been a best practice in the IP network industry for decades. The concept of an integrated TAP and fibre-optic patch panel should simplify and lower the cost of deploying TAPs for Fibre Channel networks."