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What Boundary and DTrace Have in Common

Is not – as Adam Leventhal, Jason Hoffman and Randy Bias hastened to point out – functionality. From a pure technology perspective, in fact, they could hardly be more distinct. Boundary is a SaaS based network monitoring service, DTrace an in kernel observation and tracing system. One is focused on the network at scale, the other on the performance and runtime characteristics of a single node.

In another sense, however, Boundary and DTrace have a great deal in common. Consider their purpose. Both tools are designed to provide visibility into architectural components that would otherwise be black boxes, opaque to debugging and performance optimization efforts. Prior to DTrace, in kernel behaviors were a mystery; debugging efforts essentially operated around the kernel, because it was entirely impenetrable. This is not dissimilar to the composition of some of today’s more complicated network infrastructures, which are increasingly composed of a variety of public and private pieces in a manner such that the performance of the whole is unmeasureable. As Bryan Cantrill has demonstrated individual JavaScript events firing inside the kernel while browsing Google Maps, for example, so too may Boundary provide a fine grained event stream for your public – or private – network infrastructure.

While they are indisputably very different tools, then, they are at the same time potentially useful to similar audiences: those who seek to understand (and manipulate) their performance characteristics at a very granular level. Which is perhaps a most important lesson for newly minted Boundary. As revolutionary as the DTrace technology was and is, understanding of its utility varies. Part of this is due to availability issues; Linux and Windows developers don’t have access to the tool, for one. But the uneven appreciation for DTrace is just as much a function of the target audience. DTrace requires not only a technical staff that can appreciate the observability functionality provided, but that also has the ability to both ask the right questions and to properly leverage the answers provided.

It seems logical to anticipate, then, that Boundary will have similar challenges with mainstream audiences. As Justin Sheehy put it in answer to my contention that the two have much in common, “I think that Boundary and DTrace both appeal to people with similar needs and desires, if that’s what you mean.” For both Boundary and DTrace, the trick is making sure those audiences are as large as possible, which means in turn that maximizing accessibility needs to be a priority.

Disclosure: Joyent, who employs a portion of the team that built DTrace, is a RedMonk client. Boundary is not a client.

Categories: Observability.

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  • John

    Something like next gen strace+tcpdump?