Cisco Launches 'Powerful' Meraki-Like Data Center Platform For UCS, HyperFlex

Cisco is bringing its wildly successful Meraki cloud-based management strategy to the data center with the launch of Cisco Intersight, an automation and management platform for UCS and HyperFlex that, Cisco claims, is unmatched in the server and hyper-converged market today.

"None of our current competitors in the server or hyper-converged infrastructure market offer the advantage of cloud-based management and extensibility for their compute systems that Intersight provides," said Scott Mohr, director of data center and cloud for Cisco's Global Partner Organization, in an interview with CRN. "What Intersight provides is the simplicity and saving that customers appreciate about the Cisco Meraki platform for networks. We're now applying that to the worlds of system management."

Intersight aims to simplify data center operations by delivering systems-management-as-a-service, cutting out the need to maintain islands of on-premises management infrastructure. The platform is designed to be intuitive from the start and will continue to learn and evolve over time, according to Mohr.

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The platform automates and continuously optimize operations by analyzing systems' telemetry across the entire customer base, making use of capabilities such as predictive analytics, proactive support, autonomic optimization and orchestration.

Intersight features a user interface that can be customized by the customer's role, with new functionality delivered via portal updates.

"We're going to do customized interfaces for these different users and make it very dynamic in terms of what information is presented to them that the system believes is going to be the most relevant to the users," said Todd Brannon, Cisco's director of product marketing for UCS. "As we collect telemetry data, it will be very easy for us to build features like capacity planning."

The solution combines analytics and tight integration with the Cisco Technical Assistance Center to constantly improve the system through the recommendation engine.

Brent Collins, head of global data center infrastructure for World Wide Technology, a Maryland Heights, Mo.-based top Cisco partner ranked No. 8 on CRN's 2017 Solution Provider 500 list, said one the of the key aspects of Intersight is gaining critical insights from various data centers that can be leveraged "across the board."

"So instead of getting insights from just your data center they're going to pull … things that are working well with certain customers that they can then apply to other customers using data analytics, machine learning, things like that. I think that's going to be really powerful," said Collins. "So instead of just getting insight of one data center, you could spread that across every customer that is using that technology and enable them to take advantage of whatever insights you see across the board."

By having a multi-tenant approach, Cisco is enabling partners to pull data from multiple customers and in essence provide a consolidation approach to analytics, according to Brannon.

"The more data you can give a machine learning environment, the more productive it can become in terms of giving recommendations. So today, all the incumbents in this industry are leaving customers on their own," he said. "With Intersight, we're going to be collecting operational telemetry data from tens-of-thousands of customer environments and we can use that data, look for patterns and understand behaviors at that global level, and then use that to create recommendations to create best practices to our individual customers. It's essentially crowd-sourcing."

Intersight is built on an architecture with OData (Open Data Protocol) standards-based RESTful APIs and a device connector framework, which should simplify third-party software and hardware integrations.

"We're going to consolidate all of our API's in our current software stack down to one singular API built on the OData standard for REST APIs. That API is essential for us to do integrations with our software ecosystem -- think of Splunk, Ansible, Chef, etc.," said Brannon.

Brannon said the connector framework not only connects to Cisco equipment, but opens up the door for Cisco to have partners build connectors into their infrastructures. "So we'll be able to essentially use these device connectors to have our partners bring their hardware to the party," said Brannon.

The platform will integrate with existing UCS and HyperFlex management tools so customers can adopt Intersight without complexity. Intersight is delivered through Cisco ONE Software, with customers being able to seamlessly add new functionality.

"This is a sea-change in the way we deliver the core value to UCS to customers," said Brannon. "This is a really, really big architectural step forward to us, but it's really important for partners and customers to understand that this is going to be a non-disruptive transition -- flat out -- because we're going to build Intersight that's already integrated and designed to complement our existing tools."

There are two versions of Intersight: Base and Essentials. The Base edition, available now, is free for Cisco UCS and HyperFlex customers. It includes global health monitoring and inventory status, a customizable dashboard, a HyperFlex Installer to quickly deploy clusters, tagging and basic search, and the ability to "context-launch" UCS Manager, Integrated Management Controller (IMC) and HyperFlex Connect element managers, according to Cisco.

The Essentials edition, which will become available during Cisco's fourth fiscal quarter 2017, includes all the functionality of Base as well as policy-based configuration with service profiles, firmware management with scheduled updates, Hardware Compatibility Listing (HCL) compliance checks and upgrade recommendations, to name a few.

"This gives partners opportunities to offer migration and transition services, as well as help provide a reduced overall TCO model for management for customers," said Mohr. "This is also a tremendous refresh opportunity for partners to sell upgrades … especially around the new M5 server platform."

Mohr said Intersight providers a new level of opportunity for partners to go after edge and Internet of Things deals. "So as the industry develops new edge analytics and IoT applications, we're already prepared to deliver them for our customers to build services around UCS and HyperFlex with Intersight," he said.

Partners to offer optimization services, analytics and lifecycle management services at scale globally with Intersight. It also provides simplified integration, maintenance, application migration and support services enabling partners to focus on the high-value services around applications and management, said Mohr.

Cisco is offering bundles around Intersight as well as its Cisco Capital financing option.

With a simplified cloud-managed approach to computing, Intersight will enable Cisco to appeal to smaller IT organization, said Brannon. "Those smaller organization that we maybe can't reach with UCS today because of its scale and capability, but as we simplify this -- make management a simple portal -- we know that expands the opportunity for our partners," he said.

Intersight is just the start of a multi-year strategy with enhancements and new versions ahead. Cisco said the platform will be available in an on-premise deployment model in the future.

"Anytime you look at a platform that enables a customer to do things easier, it's always a really positive thing. And I think what we're looking at with this platform is a really slick, easy interface to interact with," said WWT's Collins. "We see just a ton of innovation going on at Cisco, not just in the data center space, but across the board – Cisco Tetration, software-defined networking with ACI, CloudCenter -- it's a pretty powerful story what Cisco is driving towards."