Black Box set for sunny take-off

Through a partnership with Sun Microsystems Inc., MuTek Solutions Ltd. of Or-Yehuda, Israel, launched a version of its Black Box Flight Recorder tool for the Solaris operating environment in February.

Named after the famous black box that monitors everything that happens on an airplane during flight, the Black Box Flight Recorder performs a similar task on a network. The tool sits on the server and records the on-line operation of software and delivers alerts to network managers when problems occur. The Black Box allows network managers to go back and watch what happened in the network to determine the cause of problems more quickly, said Larry Heathcote, vice-president of marketing at MuTek Solutions Inc. in Raleigh, N.C., the company’s North American headquarters.

“[The Black Box Flight Recorder] can sit either in a client or a server system and it will monitor the applications’ behaviour with the system that it’s running in,” Heathcote said. “Using a very unique technology, it’s able to capture the interaction between the application and the system without any preparation to the application or the executable itself.”

Other companies’ monitoring tools are unable to get inside the application layer and take a first-hand look at what is going on, but the Black Box technology allows network administrators to peer inside the application, he said.

Sun’s involvement began when the company asked MuTek to port the Black Box tool to Solaris, said Amir Raz, market segment manager for risk management at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sun. The two companies worked together to integrate the tool into Solaris. Raz said MuTek and Sun are still working together so Black Box can take advantage of various features in the Solaris operating system to make it easier to monitor the OS.

The Black Box records information on three distinct levels – user, system and line-by-line application execution. On the user level, the tool captures the complete graphical interface the user sees on the screen or, on a server, will hook into a performance monitoring system. On the system level, the network manager can see how the application is behaving in its environment. The third level is only available if the network manager has access to the source code of the applications being monitored. If the source code is available, the Black Box can get down to the line-by-line execution of the program.

“Now the unique thing about the technology is that these three views are completely synched in real-time, so we get a complete dynamic view of the application at each of those three levels,” Heathcote said. He claims the synchronization is totally unique in the industry.

But according to Richard Ptak, vice-president of e-business infrastructure strategies at Framingham, Mass.-based Hurwitz Group Inc., an industry consulting company, the Black Box tool is nothing new. For instance, Islandia, N.Y.-based Computer Associates International Inc. has Neugents, which monitors and collects network data.

“I would say it is an interesting and useful application, but they have a number of real and perceived competitors that they will have to position themselves against,” Ptak said. “It is good that Sun is linking up with [MuTek], but I don’t see anything especially unique in this.”

Pricing for the Black Box Flight Recorder is tailored specifically to customers’ needs. More information about MuTek and the Black Box can be found on the Web at