The long-awaited Cisco Starship has landed.
The company has been talking about its planned cloud-based management platform for Cisco UCS and HyperFlex systems, dubbed Project Starship, for a couple years. It’s part of the company’s ongoing push to “Merakify” its software business, or move the management to the cloud.
Cisco today said the new platform, now called Intersight, will launch in the fourth quarter of 2017. The cloud-based service uses machine learning, analytics, and automation to manage Cisco servers and hyperconverged infrastructure in enterprise data centers.
Todd Brannon, director of product marketing, Cisco Computing Systems Product Group, said the product aims to simplify systems management in a multi-cloud environment.
“Applications are becoming more distributed,” he said. “You have containers in the mix in addition to virtual machines. We are no longer just looking at deployments on-prem. People have multi-cloud environments.”
Meanwhile IT departments have hit a ceiling and can’t scale to address these challenges, Brannon added. “The sheer complexity is addressing the human capability to address it all. We’re asking customers to build a monster to manage a monster.”
How to fix this? Push systems management into space, err, the cloud.
“We have to connect everything,” Brannon said. “And once we do that it opens up the door for all kinds of advancement as we’ve got the machine-learning data, the telemetry to manage it and create actual insight, and combine that with automation. It makes it easier for the customer to have a view of their entire estate. Get machines managing machines — that’s the vision.”
Machines Managing Machines
Brannon admits it may take a while for some companies to feel comfortable with machines managing machines. To this end the new platform will work with existing UCS and HyperFlex management tools, so customers can adopt the platform and its automation capabilities when they want.
The platform has a dynamic user interface that can be customized by user role. Its analytics capabilities, combined with integration with the Cisco Technical Assistance Center (TAC), are designed to continually improve the assistance provided through the recommendation engine. “This direct connection to TAC makes that troubleshooting a lot better,” Brannon said.
Additionally, the system’s ability to provide actionable intelligence over time will improve through the collective power of all UCS users and cloud-based machine learning. “We can fingerprint issues we see in the install base and scan our interface for customers who may be experiencing similar issues,” Brannon said.
When it comes to platform security, the system works with InfoSec to enable secure communication between Intersight and the managed endpoints.
Intersight will initially ship as a managed service, but it will be available in an customer-managed, on-premise deployment model in the future.
“Intersight is all about delivering pervasive simplicity and intuitive computing,” Brannon said. Yes, this is a nod to Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins’ vision of a fully automated, intuitive network that he outlined in June.
Cisco also plans to integrate Intersight with CloudCenter. This cloud orchestration tool, acquired when Cisco purchased CliQr in April 2016, allows companies to deploy and manage applications across any public clouds or data center environment. It also compares costs of running applications in public and private clouds.
“Intersight is the on-prem management side of a multi-cloud environment,” Brannon said. “By consolidating our ACI, we’re already working to integrate Intersight with other tools like CloudCenter.” He’s referring to the work Cisco’s doing to make it easier for customers that use its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) in their private data centers to bridge that infrastructure to public clouds.
Last month the company said ACI — Cisco’s software-defined networking (SDN) technology for private data centers — will soon be available in public clouds including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure.
Brannon said he expects Intersight’s integration with CloudCenter to happen next year.
Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at ZK Research, said he expects the service to provide short- and long-term benefits to companies.
“There’s the short-term upside for customers in that it helps simplify the management of UCS or HyperFlex. In a lot of ways, that’s long overdue,” Kerravala said. “Cisco has been a company that maybe had the best technology that customers couldn’t deploy.”
In the long-term, the integration with the TAC and the cloud-based machine learning that covers all Intersight users will allow Cisco to provide more value to customers, he added.
IDC analyst Ashish Nadkarni points to this cloud sourcing as “the big picture promise” of Intersight.
“What you get in this kind of model is a secure way of learning from each other,” he said, explaining that a company with a 1,000-server data center is only going to have insight over those 1,000 servers. “But if I make that 100,000 servers, because now everybody’s infrastructure is pooled in terms of the learning, my chances of troubleshooting or finding out things before they happen goes up.”
Plus, a bigger data pool means “I can do creative things and artificial intelligence on top of that data,” he added. “It certainly makes my reach a lot bigger.”
But will Intersight live up to the Project Starship hype?
“The jury is still out in terms of adoption,” Nadkarni said. “But what Cisco is attempting to do is pretty slick. The promise is really good. The potential is there.”