Cisco Tetration: The timing is right for Cisco to jump into analytics

With Cisco Tetration Analytics Platform, businesses get complete visibility across the data center, allowing them to be agile and move at digital speed

Cisco announces Tetration and jumps into analytics
Credit: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Cisco has always been a master at picking the right adjacent markets to move into at the right time, and it often becomes one of the leaders in that space. Think of the impact the company has had in telephony, blade servers and security—to name just a few.

This week at an event with a lot of pomp and circumstance that included CEO Chuck Robbins, Cisco announced it is moving into the analytics market. At first glance, one might ask what the heck Cisco is doing in analytics.

The timing for Cisco is right, though. Many of the building blocks of the digital enterprise—technologies such as Internet of Things, cloud computing, mobility and security are network centric today. By harnessing network data, Cisco can provide data and insights that another vendor could not. 

+ More on Network World: Quick look: Cisco Tetration Analytics | Cisco platform lets IT rein-in disruptive data center operations, security, applications +

The new product, Cisco Tetration Analytics Platform, gives customers pervasive and complete visibility across the data center and displays the information visually so it’s easy to understand. The Tetration appliance gathers data from either software or hardware sensors. The software sensors are installed on hosts, including virtual machines and bare metal servers. 

This first release will support Windows and Linux hosts. Future releases will include support for hypervisors and containers.

The hardware sensors are embedded into the new Davos ASICs that power the Nexus 9200-X and 9300-EX network switches. The ASIC-based flow data can be captured at line rate from all the ports. Doing this in an ASIC is key, as other forms of flow information, such as NetFlow, need to sample every 30 seconds or even a minute, meaning huge chunks of data will be missed. The hardware sensors capture every flow. 

The appliance is delivered as turnkey solution where the servers and network infrastructure are pre-configured and the software is pre-installed. Turnkey solutions are typical of Cisco, as it takes much of the tweaking and tuning out of the deployment process and lets customers realize the benefits of the solution faster. UCS, ACI are delivered this way, as is vBlock, the joint converged solution sold by VCE. The customer needs only answer a handful of questions regarding the specifics of the environment to configure the cluster.

In addition to network and host information, Tetration can pull in data from a number of third-party sources, including load balancers, IP watch lists, geo-location information and others. Current partners include ServiceNow, Infoblox, vArmour and Tufin.

Companies need this platform

The need for a platform like Tetration is high. While there are several data center analytic platforms available, there isn’t a single tool designed to collect data across the data center and analyze it in real time. Most organizations need to deploy multiple products that are focused on a specific area. This requires the organization to manually gather the fragmented information, correlate it and try to make sense of what it means. Doing analytics this way is slow, is inaccurate and isn’t aligned very well with the digital era where speed is everything.

Tetration enables organizations to capture all data center telemetry information. This can be very powerful when it comes to understanding the relationship between applications, where operational issues are, finding security threats, planning for the future and implementing a zero trust security model.

cisco titration analytics

The ability to see all flows in real time creates a unique end-to-end dashboard for data center operations. Flows can be monitored, which can reveal anomalies that might indicate a security breach or something else that’s causing applications to perform poorly. Since Tetration sees all, it’s easy to see where the problem is originating.

IT can adopt a predictive management model

One of the benefits of this is now IT can move to a predictive management model. My research shows that 75 percent of application problems are actually reported by the end user and not the IT team. For example, at the announcement, Cisco CIO Guillermo Diaz explained he was looking to move the Hadoop implementation over to Cisco ACI. Before doing that, Tetration discovered a number of security vulnerabilities that Cisco was unaware of. The visual nature of Tetraion enabled Diaz to quickly see what those vulnerabilities were and correct them before migration. Finding these types of issues for an application as complex as Hadoop is difficult, if not impossible to do manually. IT now has the data and the insights to correct problems before moving applications into production.

The platform also keeps historical data, so IT organizations can look in the past, replay events and understand what happened at any moment, which can be a powerful troubleshooting tool.

Another interesting factoid from my research is that 90 percent of the time taken to solve a problem is in trying to identify the source. Tetration can significantly shorten that time. Also, Tetration performs advanced data center analytics in real time and presents the results in a way that is easy to understand and digest so data center operations can take action right away. The information can be used for a wide variety of use cases, including white list policy recommendations and compliance management.

Customers can also use Tetration for simulating “what if” scenarios. For example, a company could run a simulation to understand the impact of a change to an application or simulate policies before implementing them. This is another step in IT becoming predictive versus reactive.

Also, for Cisco ACI customers, Tetration works with APIC for policy enforcement. Tetration can be used to reveal insights and make policy recommendations. The enforcement of those policies can be automated via ACI, making the entire process significantly simpler.

The digital era requires IT to change the way it operates so businesses can move with speed. However, one could argue that organizations haven’t had the tools to drive significant change. Sometimes making small changes can have disastrous consequences, so many organizations spend much of their time just trying not to break things. And it’s impossible to be agile and fast if the focus is on not breaking things versus innovation. Tetration captures every packet from every application and can be that single pane of glass for the data center to enable companies to move at digital speed.

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