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Cisco Intersight rolls up data center management software

Cisco is folding its data center management software into a cloud-based product, called Cisco Intersight, which will harness the collective intelligence of its customers.

Cisco is throwing a cloud party for all of its data center management tools, and everyone's invited.

Cisco has pulled together its UCS Manager, UCS Director and other software into a new cloud-based management and automation platform. Cisco Intersight applies lessons from Meraki, Cisco's cloud-based Wi-Fi and routing platform, to systems management to analyze telemetry data from all users and come up with policy-driven automation -- and eventually allow machines to manage machines.

Cisco Intersight will initially target Unified Computing System (UCS) servers and HyperFlex hyper-converged infrastructure, and it will eventually extend to converged infrastructure, with connections to Pure Storage, IBM and other vendors.

"By moving [data center management software] to the cloud, you can now do interesting things," such as crowdsource users' behavior and apply the benefits of artificial intelligence, said Ashish Nadkarni, an analyst at IDC. Plus, in a multi-data-center environment, IT pros will not have to worry about disaster recovery for the infrastructure management layer, since it is in the cloud with Intersight, he said.

Cloud-based Intersight -- called Project Starship while in development -- will include features from Cisco Integrated Management Controller (IMC) and UCS Manager at first, and it will later add UCS Director tools for orchestration. To start, Intersight also will include a recommendation engine, and within six months, it will add a workload optimization tool to predict the effect of proposed system changes. It also will entail continuous updates versus major releases every six months.

The technical preview started on Aug. 1, and 8,000 licenses are now in use across a few dozen participants, including Cisco's own IT department and several partners, said Ken Spear, senior product marketing manager at Cisco.

Tom Doll, business development manager at IT engineering and professional service firm CST Corp. in Houston, got a walk-through of Intersight, although his company isn't using the data center management software yet. From what he saw, though, he said he likes its cloud-based operation and the scope of telemetry data it collects to become smarter.

Cisco Intersight likely will attract organizations with an aggressive cloud strategy, but most organizations are hesitant to abandon their on-premises management, Nadkarni said. The management layer often integrates with many in-house systems, such as VMware vCenter, and several APIs, and users worry those connections will break when moved to the cloud. Nevertheless, many enterprises eventually will retire those on-premises tools and move them to the cloud, especially if they can shift to an Opex versus Capex model.

"Cisco is almost trying to move the center of gravity from a vCenter world to an Intersight world," Nadkarni said.

Cisco is almost trying to move the center of gravity from a vCenter world to an Intersight world.
Ashish Nadkarnianalyst, IDC

Other services that also collect product-usage data include OneView from Hewlett Packard Enterprise and VMware Skyline Collector, and CloudPhysics also offers predictive analytics capabilities. But the phased release of Intersight and the 2018 release of some of its most useful features mean there is plenty of time for others to keep pace.

Intersight still needs to give users better granularity, expanded functionality and a way to manage cloud and noncloud resources together, Nadkarni said. Other areas for improvement for the data center management software include additional hardware support, including for non-Cisco products; integration with other tools, such as VMware vSphere and vCenter; and multicloud management. Intersight connections will have an OData RESTful API and Chinook open standards.

For now, though, the functionality is similar to the current UCS Manager, and many users that rely on the basic functionality of UCS Manager could benefit from the intuitive functions of Intersight, said Chris Gardner, senior analyst at Forrester Research. Organizations that use UCS Manager and UCS Director for advanced, customized workflows may find the transition more of a challenge, he said.

Cisco Intersight will roll out in three stages. Base Edition, which is free, will include global health monitoring, a customizable dashboard, HyperFlex Installer, UCS Manager, IMC and HyperFlex Connect element managers. An Essentials Edition adds policy-based configuration with service profiles, firmware management with scheduled updates, hardware compatibility checks and upgrade recommendations. Essentials' list price is $12.48 per physical server, per month, and it will be generally available in November, Spear said. After that, a version called Standard, which will include UCS Director and an "adaptive assist" tool, will be available in the fourth quarter of 2018. And a future version called Advantage with advanced analytics is more than a year away.

Cisco said it won't force users to move to Intersight, and they can keep current element managers for UCS, ICM and HyperFlex. Cisco's existing tools, including IMC, UCS Director and UCS Manager, will have a "peaceful coexistence" with Intersight at least until early 2019, Spear said -- although he didn't specify what would happen after that.

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT or email him at [email protected].

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