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Managing your network through the cloud with Cisco Intersight

By moving systems management to the cloud, Intersight reduces the need for administrators to constantly monitor software and hardware.

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Financial magazine Forbes likens the management of data centres to algorithms which read medical reports. If these algorithms can help doctors to diagnose their patients, why not use the same method to improve IT operations?

MANAGING enterprise networking infrastructure in the fully digital world is now becoming more complex and a harder job than ever. Different data points and connections aggregated from data centre deployments, edge cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) will significantly increase the operations of IT departments. The complexity is warranted, however, to simplify software for the end user.

According to research company Gartner, as the infrastructure in a firm becomes bigger, more complex and distributed, it puts a strain on systems management functions and capabilities, which also need to scale and be available on demand, without disruption or interruption.

Gartner says 80 per cent of organisations implementing cloud management will need to implement hybrid and multicloud management tools, as software increasingly evolves to run in the cloud, rather than locally.

According to an IDC analysis, the worldwide cloud systems management software market is forecast to grow from US$2.105 billion in 2016 to US$4.236 billion in 2020, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.1 per cent.

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In a blog post, IDC says a growing portion of the revenue will come from cloud-based systems management platforms, or CSMPs.

IDC says that by 2018, it expects more than 85 per cent of enterprise IT organisations will commit to hybrid cloud architectures, which in turn will help propel the rate and pace of change in IT organisations.

A good CSMP, according to IDC's program director for computing platforms Ashish Nadkarni, needs to be simple to deploy, have great security, continuously be optimised and have agile delivery, meaning new features and functions should be made available continuously.

Financial magazine Forbes likens the management of data centres to algorithms which read medical reports. If these algorithms can help doctors to diagnose their patients, why not use the same method to improve IT operations?

To that effect, Cisco has introduced a cloud-based management platform for its Unified Computing System (UCS) and Hyperflex systems.

Called Intersight, the company bills it as a "revolutionary cloud-based systems management platform. Intersight was designed to deliver significant benefits while being easy to use and simple for Cisco UCS and HyperFlex customers to transition".1

So what's different about it? In short, Cisco Intersight is a cloud-based system management platform, augmented by analytics and machine learning. It helps organisations to achieve a higher level of automation, simplicity, and operational efficiency, providing a holistic and unified approach to managing distributed computing environments.

FEATURES

Cisco Intersight provides several features for systems administrators. It provides cloud-hosted systems management, scaling easily and has the added benefit of frequent updates without needing additional resources.

Analytics and machine learning also feature heavily. The Intersight recommendation engine, according to Cisco, will provide "actionable intelligence", and the data provided is driven by analytics and constant learning from Cisco experts.

Cisco Intersight, the company says, provides the benefits of cloud-based management similar to the Cisco Meraki platform, a company acquired for its expertise in cloud-controlled networking, and which is scaled for mid-market customers.

Intersight helps to monitor the health and relationships of all the physical and virtual infrastructure components. Telemetry and configuration information is collected and stored in accordance with Cisco information security requirements, and the data is isolated and displayed to the end-user through an intuitive user interface.

The project first started off with its codename, Project Starship, to build an innovative, cloud-based management platform for Cisco UCS and HyperFlex systems, says Jeff Foster in a blog post. He is product manager for automation at the UCS unit in Cisco.

Project Starship, which forms the basis for the scalable and updatable Intersight platform, is built as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

"One of the great things about Software as-a-Service is that you can implement enhancements and changes more rapidly without creating more hassles for your customers. Traditional, on-premise tools require systems administrators to manage the 'care and feeding' of these systems which usually takes a considerable amount of time and effort. With Starship we can introduce upgrades, patches and fixes automatically. This capability not only makes it easier for users to manage - it ensures greater security and consistency," says Mr Foster in his blog post.

"We've also restructured the Starship development process from a waterfall type of release process to a more agile, continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) model. This will allow us to continue to enhance the Starship platform rapidly and adjust to customer requirements more efficiently," he adds.

Satinder Sethi, vice president of data centre solutions engineering and UCS product management at Cisco, says Intersight moves systems management to the cloud, reducing the burden on systems administrators to constantly monitor software and hardware.

"Cisco UCS was designed from the beginning as programmable infrastructure. The system is entirely managed and controlled by software. The singular elegance of UCS arises from the way management functionality has been removed from the individual elements (servers, networking, storage) and centralised in the fabric," he says in a blog post.

"With Cisco Intersight, we now take this centralised management and policy control engine and move it to the cloud. In so doing, we're opening up an entirely new range of possibilities."

He adds that it could help relieve the burden of maintaining systems management software and hardware.

Moreover, the approach of offloading to the cloud could take the form of a public (Cisco-managed) cloud service, or a private (customer-hosted) cloud model, recognising that some businesses were either restricted from connecting their infrastructure to a vendor by certain factors, or simply did not want to offload them offsite.

He highlighted four important factors which Cisco Intersight could deliver to businesses, helping to shape the way they managed their existing networks:

  • Rapid delivery of new functionality and continuous improvement without the complexity of software upgrades across multiple utilities or products.
  • Seamless extensibility: customers will no longer need to consider how to securely extend the reach of their systems management environment to remote locations because a cloud platform can make that secure connection for them.
  • Consistency of deployment and continuous inspection of configurations to ensure compliance and policy enforcement.
  • Tight integration with Cisco Technical Assistance Center (TAC) and the ability to scan for known issues to provide more proactive support and faster problem resolution.

Mr Sethi also underscores how the need for Intersight's existence stemmed from organisations demanding an easier way to power applications and serve the business.

"What I heard from customers then, and now, is that the complexity in the data centre isn't about the components, it's about the connections and how everything is managed. Taking on the hard work of truly simplifying computing has been the north star of the evolution of UCS and the key to our success in the market," he says in a blog post.

"UCS has made life a lot easier for our customers, but we can do better. We can harness the power of the cloud to manage infrastructure. We can start using machine learning and analytics to take the pressure off of IT. It's time to do these things and Cisco Intersight is where we begin," he continues.

Cisco touts the ease of Intersight's installation, saying there is no need for additional hardware, just the latest software release. They come in two flavours, namely Base Edition and Essentials Edition. The Base Edition supports both Cisco UCS and Hyperflex Systems, offers global inventory, health status and a customisable dashboard, the Hyperflex Installer for quick deployment, and the ability to context-launch element managers.

The Essentials Edition offers all the features of the Base Edition, but tacks on server HCL compliance check, a virtual keyboard-video-mouse (vKVM), and detailed inventory and firmware management, among other features.

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