Cisco software upgrades to simplify hybrid-cloud management, operations

Cisco tools look to bridge gap between DevOps and NetOps.

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Cisco has upgraded some of its core software packages to help customers manage, control and automate functions in hybrid and multicloud data-center environments.

With the needs of the pandemic-driven, highly distributed workforce as a backdrop, Cisco is looking to provide visibility and insights into what’s happening across customers’ cloud infrastructure. At the same time it's busting the siloed IT operations many customers have that hold back agile digital-application development, said Prashanth Shenoy, Cisco vice president of marketing. “Businesses are rethinking their IT platforms for multicloud operations, and we are providing the tools to  help them transform faster with insights and automation,” Shenoy said.

Those tools include Cisco’s Nexus Dashboard, its new centralized management console. Available now as an appliance and in the first quarter as a virtual cloud instance, the dashboard provides a single interface to manage application lifecycles from set-up to maintenance and optimization, Shenoy said. For example, by supporting Cisco’s Multi-Site Orchestrator, which provisions,  monitors, and manages resources in Cisco ACI networks, the dashboard can set network and application-control policies across onpremises or cloud-based business environments, Cisco says.

“The Nexus Dashboard, mainly because it simplifies the operations environments," said Bob Laliberte, practice director and senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. "Any time you can replace three or four screens with one, that is a big win.”

A component of the dashboard, Nexus Insights, lets customers monitor and analyze their fabric in real-time to identify anomalies, provide root-cause analysis, perform capacity planning, and accelerate troubleshooting.

“By tracking historical context, collecting and processing telemetry data, correlating customer designs with Cisco best practices, customers can get excellent visibility and awareness of issues impacting their environment and take corrective actions,” Cisco stated.

“Insights helps customers prevent unscheduled outages and reduce data center network downtime by providing proactive notifications about security advisories, critical bugs, end-of-life and end-of-support announcements and recommended software and hardware upgrades based on platforms, deployed software, and features,” Cisco stated.

The Nexus Dashboard also integrates with third-party services such as ServiceNow for incident management, AlgoSec for security policy, Splunk for business intelligence and F5/Citrix for load balancing. Additional third-party integrations are expected, Cisco stated. The system also supports open-source software including Red Hat Ansible for building and deploying enterprise automation and Hashicorp’s Terraform infrastructure management software.

Supporting automation is key as IDC recently noted in survey about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on IT operations that found 48% of respondents said they will increase investment in automation to reduce manual management of the network. 46% said they require increased ability to remotely manage network operations, and  43% said they would increase investments in the use of cloud-based management platforms.

Automation of Kubernetes lifecycle management

Cisco bolstered the capabilities of its cloud-based systems-management package, Intersight with the ability to manage Kubernetes containers. The idea is with Intersight Kubernetes Service, infrastructure teams can now automate the lifecycle management of Kubernetes and containerized applications across any environment, Shenoy said.

Customers can  deploy 100% upstream K8s on top of VMware ESXi, open source hypervisors, and even bare metal with Cisco HyperFlex Application Platform, and in AWS EKS, Azure AKS and Google Cloud GKE in the future, Cisco stated.

“Overall the progress Cisco is  making with K8s environments is really impressive. The ability to simplify the deployment of K8s environments in either on-premises data centers or public clouds--even multiple public clouds--will be very helpful for organizations, Laliberte said.

A key component of Intersight is its Workload Optimizer which lets customers manage application resources across any environment with real-time, full-stack visibility to ensure performance and better cost control with a single tool, Cisco stated. It can monitor distributed physical servers, hypervisors, Kubernetes clusters, serverless environments, and application components anywhere they are.  It can integrate with Cisco’s AppDynamics package to meld application performance telemetry into the service for better measurements and troubleshooting responses.  

“Having Workload Optimizer will also provide benefits for organizations looking to align with the new normal,” Laliberte said. “Many organizations rushed to the public cloud to accommodate work from home--think virtual desktops--but now are evaluating long-term solutions and the best place to host those environments,” he said.

ESG research shows that 70% of organizations deploying containers plan to deploy them in a hybrid-cloud environment. And 88% believe having the flexibility to deploy them across multiple public clouds will be important, Laliberte said. Essentially that means that cloud native doesn’t necessarily mean public cloud just that organizations want the flexibility to deploy them where it best fits their need. 

Also in the AppDynamics realm, Cisco added a raft of new cloud-management services to its core performance-monitoring platform:

  • A full stack observability platform designed to increase visibility and ingest data from multiple sources including AppDynamics agent-based data, open-source tools, and agent-less services and correlate the data across domains.
  • A cloud data collector for capturing and automating data collection and correlating cloud services with application code, user experience and business impact to provide full-stack, context-rich observability. The collector currently supports Amazon Web Services’ CloudWatch, and will in the future incorporate additional public and private cloud environments, Cisco said.
  • Cloud-native interface that reduces the complexity of monitoring cloud-native applications with a context-sensitive, easy to understand, visual representations.

“As enterprises continue to migrate to the cloud at warp speed, the need to connect specific application information to critical cloud workflows is more important than ever,” said Dave McCann, vice president of migration, marketplaces & control services, Amazon Web Services in a statement. “As an AWS partner, AppDynamics is providing transactional insights of application performance required to support complex workload migrations to the cloud, validate their successes and connect cloud performance to business outcomes.”

With the new tools customers can get help with workload-placement decisions and monitor the performance of and troubleshoot different instances across their multi-cloud environments, experts said.

The reality is Cisco has been executing against this agile strategy for a number of years, examples include the DevNet program and now certifications that enable both customers and partners to enhance their skills to better support modern application environments, Laliberte said. “A lot of [the new tools] will definitely help enable agile computing environments.”

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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