Cisco platform lets IT rein-in disruptive data center operations, security, applications

Cisco’s Tetration Analytics full rack appliance tackles critical data center operations such as policy compliance, application forensics.

Two years in the making, Cisco today rolled out a turnkey, full-rack appliance that promises to do just about everything it takes to control a data center -- from easing IT operations and controlling security to application monitoring.

The platform, Cisco Tetration Analytics gathers information from hardware and software sensors and analyzes the information using big data analytics and machine learning to offer IT managers a deeper understanding of their data center resources. The system will dramatically simplify operational reliability, application migrations to SDN and the cloud as well as security monitoring, said Yogesh Kaushik, Cisco senior director of product management, Tetration.

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“Right now there is no single tool designed to collect consistent telemetry across the entire data center and analyze large volumes of data in real time, Kaushik said.

“Data centers have many blind spots – cloud servers, new devices coming online – its tough to keep track and monitor all of that,” said Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst with ZK Research as well as a columnist for Network World. “Being able to gain visibility into those systems, extract data into the Tetration analytics system and get a better understanding what that data means would be a big help for IT.”

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins

Kerravala noted that there are point products that do some of what Tetration promises – VMware is good with managing the virtual environment, Docker offers container management and Cisco’s own Netflow with network performance but Tetration is the first purpose-built, pervasive data center visibility tool.

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So how does this all work? On the hardware side, Cisco says the turnkey, full 39 rack unit cluster Tetration appliance will sit on the customer premise. The rack unit cluster consists of 36 UCS-C220 servers and three Cisco Nexus 9300 switches combined with the Tetration analytics software. Cisco-developed software sensors will need to be installed on end hosts, either virtual machine or bare metal servers Kaushik said.

In the first Tetration release, software sensors support Linux and Windows server hosts, while hardware sensors are embedded in Cisco network switch ASICS: Nexus 9200, Nexus 9300-EX and Nexus 9500-EX, to collect flow data at line rate from all the ports. A single Tetration appliance will monitor up to 1 million unique flows per second, Kaushik said. If installed in a data center with a non-Cisco network, Tetration collects data only from the server sensors, providing about 85% visibility into the data center, he said.

Once in place, the Tetration platform learns its enterprise environment and any policies IT has in place. From there it can learn which applications are dependent on each other throughout their data center and into the cloud. It can monitor server behavior patterns and group servers more efficiently, Kaushik said.

On the policy-setting side, customers can validate new policies by running them through Tetration first to see what their impact would be on the enterprise. Users can also use this information for regulatory compliance applications.

In the security realm the system establishes a baseline for normal behavior and can then monitor application behavior and quickly identify any deviation in communication patterns in real time or use Tetration’s forensics search engine to look for other security issues and user behavior analytics.

“Generally, large enterprises and service-provider customers are looking for greater visibility into their datacenter networks. At a high level, that’s what Cisco is addressing with the Tetration Analytics Platform. In a number of scenarios — cloud migration, SDN migration, disaster recovery, the transition to a zero-trust security model, verifying policy compliance, and even integrating IT systems after mergers and acquisitions — pervasive visibility is increasingly critical to success,” said Brad Casemore, research director, data center networks with International Data Corp.

“Customers that face these issues, and that acutely feel the need for pervasive visibility, likely will not be dissuaded by the size of the platform or by the investment required to procure it, but this is an offering best suited to organizations of sufficient size and scale to have the use cases and challenges for which Tetration was designed.”

The Tetration platform will be available in July and Cisco said pricing was not set.

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