Corvil Review

Central Management Center allows me to deploy multiple CNEs and deploy new decoders through a central configuration point

What is our primary use case?

Monitoring our environments is our primary use case. We use it to monitor our trading platform, customer experience, troubleshooting message flow, troubleshooting message formations, as well as for capacity performance analysis, and system testing.

How has it helped my organization?

Previously, we were reliant on application logging, which causes a performance hit on the applications that we're trying to understand better. Corvil, being a passive listener, allows us to get the same amount that the application logs previously gave us.

It is also more time-granular. Given the fact that we are able to take multiple applications and point them to the same clock, it gives us more confidence in the measurements we're taking.

In the sense that it helps us identify performance issues, it does give us a performance advantage over competitors. For example, we found an issue where we thought part of a network was running efficiently. When we hooked Corvil up to monitor that specific feed, it showed us that the network was not performing as anticipated. It helped us make that area more efficient, which resulted in a customer experience advantage. And that helps us as a company in general.

Also, customer order-entry has gotten better due to our production monitoring measurements. And we're able to monitor how efficient we are with the market data dissemination, and that answers customers' questions when they're wondering, "Hey, why am I seeing message B before message A? It should be reversed." Corvil helps us identify those things, to know what's really going on.

Corvil helps to correlate individual client or trade desk transactions to infrastructure and venue latency. We do order-to-market data correlation and latency measurement. That's what the majority of what anybody you talk to in this field would say that they're measuring. There are some other features that will let you go deeper and let you know if a message got stored correctly or not.

When it comes to determining where to focus performance improvement efforts, let's say you have a multi-server architecture. Corvil has what's called a multi-hop type of configuration which allows you to correlate a message. Let's say it's four hops deep - four different servers, and each of them may speak the same type of protocol or different types of protocols. Corvil enables you to build channels and signatures which, after it's seen on the first server for the first time, and on the second server, correlates those. That lets you know how long it took in that server, going in that particular direction; and similarly, across the other servers and back again. You can isolate things: "Hey, this took a second. Oh, but server three took three-quarters of a second to pass it along to server four."

If there is something that is happening right now, it gives us immediate awareness of what is going on. Previously, we would either have to have an operations team extract logs or dig through logs and then do manual correlations to figure out what was going on, or wait until the end of the day to get those logs.

In terms of increasing our productivity, ops uses it to communicate with clients and to see their behavior, so that would be increased productivity. And for my, in performance engineering, it has greatly increased our productivity.

Also, the new version has reduced the time it takes to provide a new dashboard. My business guys will call up and say, "Hey, I'd like to do this", and it is much easier to do now than it was with the old dashboard. Depending on what they want, an old dashboard used to take a couple of hours to get it right. The old dashboard was Flash-based, so the performance was not all that good and it was all drag-and-drop. The new one is HTML5 and it is built on XML, so I can actually script something together and throw a new one in there.

Finally, it indirectly helps improve our order execution and revenue because the more efficient we become, the more attractive sending orders to our system is.

What is most valuable?

I like most features in Corvil. Lately, with their recent releases, their visualization has gotten a lot better. That helps me the most with telling stories to management.

We're able to quickly drill down and find answers to events that are happening in real-time, using Corvil's analytics tools. That's the feature which is most in the spotlight, the feature we're using it for right now.

The correlation and statistical metrics that they provide, on the fly, without us having to reprocess, is also a wonderful feature.

What needs improvement?

In terms of performance analysis, if you really want to dig down into the minutiae and get statistics on the important things to the folks who want this data - such as: How is our system doing overall? How is each, individual component running? What are the statistics there? What are the statistics for a particular client session? What are the statistics for a trading object, a given symbol? If you look at any one of those things, individually, they're all equally great, but you have to choose how deep you want to go. That would be the only piece lacking because, in our environment, we have thousands and thousands of symbols. With the architecture that Corvil is built on, it's cumbersome.

I would like to see more visualization. I know they have a product they've been working on called iHub, which is supposed to address a lot of the business visualization needs and analytics. It sounds like it's going to be a good solution. Once they get their hands around it will probably complete their product.

The latest version of their visualizations has been a huge upgrade over what it used to be and, but - and these are not just my own thoughts, they come from conversations I've had with them - their future products will handle all of the types of roll-ups and data-pivoting that their current system doesn't do that well.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have been using Corvil for about a decade.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

It's very stable. It just runs continuously. We get hard drive failure alerts every now and then. We had one instance where we got a group of them all at once, but they handled it pretty well. Out of the entire time I've been working with them over the last decade, I've had one server fail.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Scalability is interesting because I use their CMC, the Central Management Center. It's a great concept because it allows me to deploy multiple CNEs, which collect the data. Through the CMC I can deploy new decoders; I can have a central point of configuration. I have a central portal to tell my users to go to if they want to look certain things up.

The alternate method to that is having an army of single CNEs. You would have to know which one to go, if, for example, there was a channel or feed I wanted to look at. I would have to know it's on this CNE or that CNE to go look at it. The CMC, initially, is a wonderful way to group it all together so the user has a good experience.

Administratively, it has some issues. Taking CNEs out is cumbersome, although putting them in is easy.

I have two CMCs because, a long time ago, we decided we were going to separate out order flow from our market data, for business reasons. That being done, nowadays, we want to look at how order flow affects market data. Well, they're in two separate silos right now. It's a little cumbersome to get the order flow CNEs to look at CNEs that are monitored by a different CMC. That would be the only negative thing so far with the deployment.

It seems to me that a lot of people I've talked to just use the CNE, they don't use the CMC. But the CMC has more advantages than disadvantages.

How are customer service and technical support?

I really like their technical support. With the support team, it's mostly emails and those can be a little cumbersome. I hardly ever talk to anybody from support.

But I have my technical sales representative, and he is very responsive, as is my sales rep. And I can contact them via email or phone directly. I enjoy that. If I had just one little complaint, it would that I can't pick up the phone and talk to support directly more often. I don't even know what their number is. Maybe that's more my fault. But there have been plenty of times when I said, "Hey, I need to talk to somebody on the phone," and it just stays in email.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We used two different solutions prior to getting Corvil. There was a company called Seanet. I don't even know if they're still around anymore. They were a good company. They were great with data. But then, along came this sexy, new system called Correlix which beat out Seanet in our company back then. We ran them for a little while and we found that, while they looked great, what was under the covers wasn't as great. Then we went to Corvil.

We just researched other options to the Correlix application and my project manager, back then, set up a meeting with Corvil to pitch their wares to us.

One of the things that stood out about Corvil was that it had fewer machines, first of all; it handled data better. The data was more accurate. With the previous solution we had, it looked great. It had a fancy front end, but if you wanted to "carry on a conversation with it," it really wasn't there. The keys were the data and information that we were able to get out of Corvil at the time. Granted, Corvil was much more expensive than Correlix because Correlix was free. Correlix gave it away because they wanted your data. That was their model. But their product just didn't hold up.

How was the initial setup?

Our initial setup was quite a while ago. It was somewhat complex. 

Turning on a new machine now is pretty simple. Send some traffic to it and their protocol discovery is pretty good at what it does. As a matter of fact, it gives me more stuff that I have to delete later than it lacks.

If I get a new CNE in, it takes a couple of days to get the network hooked up, etc., but once it's receiving data, it'll be up and functional in less than a week.

We have another group that actually handles the bare metal pieces of it, the racking, the network connections, and the software installation. There are four or five people in that group, but they don't just do Corvil, they do all monitoring tools.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

I'm not generally involved in the cost side of things, but I know we bought a box from Corvil and it was $200,000 for one big CNE. Then there are obviously the recurring maintenance fees. The licensing is perpetual but the maintenance fees are not.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We had no other solutions on our shortlist. We had Correlix in place.

What other advice do I have?

Understand what you want to monitor and install those packs. Turn it on and see what you get ahead of time.

In terms of venue performance analysis, we, being an exchange, are a "venue" the way most people using Corvil would think about it. We are the venue and we don't measure what are our clients are doing. We only measure how a client is being handled within our system. It helps us understand our venue.

Similarly, for making order routing decisions, because we're an exchange, we talk to other exchanges. It's not a primary thing we do, but we do monitor those things to see how they're reacting and what our fill-ratios are. But it's not a big deal to us, it's not a primary metric for us.

As far as reducing the time to get to root cause is concerned, if you take out the fact that we used to have to wait for logs, etc., we are still looking at a day or two with Corvil in place. We can isolate the symptom down to a very narrow area with Corvil, and a lot of times we will say, "Hey, we think it is this." But to really figure it out, that's when development takes it and goes deeper into the system, where Corvil can't get to. Corvil used to have some type of a hook where they can go inside the system, but we don't utilize that piece.

We've monitored a peak count of about 50 users but that is just a number of people looking at it within a certain time frame. Most of them are technical. We have a few business-role folks on the senior management side of things. Usually, those consumers deal with the data after we've output it into a database, churned through it, and made different types of reports. They're not looking directly at the portal itself.

We definitely have plans to increase the usage. We're sending more and more data to it all the time. We're making an effort to get off of application logging. We still have about 20 percent more to go to get fully off of application logs. The timeframe for that is over the next year to two years.

Overall, Corvil is definitely above a nine out of ten. Everything they claim they do, everything they pitch you on, they do.

Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor.
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