Cisco Knows No One Wants To Manage The Management Stack

The highly distributed and increasingly cloud-based nature of the modern IT environment is adding to the complexity that organizations have to deal with, particularly in terms of managing their infrastructures. Mobility, the internet of things, new development paradigms, containerization, more distributed applications, data analytics and multi-cloud deployments are all conspiring to create even more challenges in what is an already complicated management scenario for enterprises facing cost and time constraints.

At a time when speed and scalability are imperative and human errors can be costly, the answer to many of these challenges may lie in the cloud. That’s the bet that Cisco Systems is making.

“You’ve got this physical and virtual sprawl going on, and particularly back to the application side of things, the applications are just moving faster,” Todd Brannon, director of unified computing at Cisco, tells The Next Platform. “There’s so much complexity. The scale of it, the complexity of modern IT requirements and, more than anything, the pace, the operational tempo, all these things have gotten us to a point where we are exceeding the limits of human capability to manage it all. That’s a fundamental problem. …We’re getting to the point where having humans at the center of the equation is becoming a limiting factor to security, policy enforcement, agility, basically just being able to execute the mission.”

The current operating model – including the one Cisco uses for its Unified Computing System (UCS) converged and HyperFlex hyperconverged infrastructure offerings – isn’t working anymore, Brannon argues. Like many other vendors, when Cisco releases new features for its management software like UCS Director and HyperFlex Connect, they come in batches that many times fall on IT administrators to implement in their infrastructures. In addition, many other tasks like monitoring the systems management also need to be performed in-house. “Basically, customers are on the hook today to manage all systems management,” he says.

Cisco has decided the way to take many of these burdens off IT administrators is by delivering systems management as a service via the cloud. That’s the idea behind Intersight, the vendor’s new cloud-based systems management service that will become available in the fourth quarter. Being able to offer these capabilities as a service will be a boon not only for customers but also for Cisco itself, Brannon says. Many of the management chores that now fall on IT administrators will be able to be done automatically, removing those jobs and taking the human element out of the equation. For Cisco, the company will now be able to release features as they become ready and deliver them as a service rather than having to roll them out in batches, accelerating the ability to get them to customers.

In addition, as Cisco matures Intersight in the coming years with greater automation capabilities, analytics and machine learning technologies, the company will be able to gather more data from the systems, getting deeper visibility into them and being more proactive in addressing problems and driving new capabilities. Right now, vendors like Cisco and Oracle already have system software that can “call home” to report problems and similar capabilities, but what Cisco is doing here is fundamentally different.

“What we’re talking here, thought, is a lift and shift of the entire software stack to the cloud,” Brannon says. “It will try to solve a lot of the issues that point products haven’t.”

The vendor has been working on Intersight for about 18 months under the code-name “Project Starship,” and has a roadmap for the technology that is two to three years out. Cisco in 2012 bought Meraki for $1.2 billion not only for the company’s wireless capabilities, but also because of its infrastructure management technologies, according to Brannon. While Intersight is not based on Meraki, engineers did take cues from what the company had done.


Intersight will evolve in the coming years. Cisco is making the Base Edition for free and will include such capabilities as global health monitoring and inventory, a customizable dashboard and the ability to quickly deploy HyperFlex clusters and context-launch UCS Manager, IMC and HyperFlex Connect element managers. The Essentials Edition, which will be available in the fourth quarter, will include all that plus policy-based configuration with service profiles, firmware management with scheduled updates and Hardware Compatibility Listing compliance checks. Future versions – the Standard and Advantage versions – are coming in the future and will come with such capabilities as greater analytics capabilities, infrastructure-as-a-service, orchestration and machine learning. In addition, Intersight will expand beyond UCS and HyperFlex to support partners systems such as VxBlocks, and it will be integrated with existing UCS and HyperFlex management tools, enabling customers to adopt it over time as they become more comfortable with it and as more features are added. The expectation is that eventually, companies will adopt Intersight completely.

Intersight will have significant reach from the beginning. Cisco has more than 60,000 global customers for its UCS systems, and another 2,000 for the HyperFlex solution, a third of which are new Cisco server customers. The company began the tech preview in August and is now supporting more than 8,000 systems. Company officials also see a significant market opportunity, noting that IDC analysts are predicting that the market for cloud systems management will grow from $4.6 billion this year to $8.6 billion in 2020. In addition, Gartner analysts say that by 2020, 35 percent of enterprises will be using dynamic optimization technology for virtualized and private cloud infrastructures, up from 5 percent currently.

Pricing will be through subscriptions, with customers charged for each endpoint managed, Brannon says. Specific pricing has not been finalized as yet and will come out in the fourth quarter when the software is generally available, but Brannon hinted that it will be a nominal fee per endpoint for the Essentials version and scale up from there as enterprise software licensing tends to.

The evolution of the service also will include where it’s managed, Brannon said. Some verticals, such as defense organizations, will never commit to having a vendor manage their infrastructures for security or other reasons. (The Intersight service complies with security standards set in Cisco’s InfoSec portfolio, and provides secure communication between the Intersight software-as-a-service platform and the endpoints it’s managing.) While Intersight initially will be a Cisco-managed platform, eventually the vendor will develop versions that can run on customers’ private clouds and that service providers can adopt for their own environments and offer it as a service to their own customers.

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