Zeus Kerravala
Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his...
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Zeus Kerravala | June 27, 2016 |


Cisco Tetration Analytics: the What & Why for Communications

Cisco Tetration Analytics: the What & Why for Communications Goal is to provide deep infrastructure insight so IT can quickly identify issues and get to root causes, and run what-if scenarios in advance of deployment.

Goal is to provide deep infrastructure insight so IT can quickly identify issues and get to root causes, and run what-if scenarios in advance of deployment.

Earlier this month Cisco held a media and analyst event on the 102nd floor of the new World Trade Center to launch its Tetration Analytics platform. Why such a grand venue for a product announcement?

Well, because it's a big product, with big potential and, incidentally, a big price tag ($3 million to start).

Network Lens for Analytics
Cisco is always looking market adjacencies with the goal of moving into, gaining dominance, and moving the needle on its revenue and gross margins... and analytics fits the bill. Tetration Analytics allows Cisco to play in business intelligence and analytics, roughly a $17 billion industry. I'm certainly not saying Cisco has that entire $17 billion market in its sights, as its focus is specifically on the data center. Still, even a portion of that amount is a market worthy of Cisco's interest.

Given its network lens, Cisco's approach to analytics is very different from the approach of the analytics industry at large. This may seem a bit self-serving, and might think Cisco is trying to force the entire analytics industry into a certain direction. But it does have a valid position for today.

The data center is being modernized, and every company I talk to is trying to build a more agile environment in which resources fluidly move from application to application. Just how do resources like virtual machines (VMs), storage, and containers move around? They move over the network. The network connects and sees all, unlike any other IT component.

In addition, all of the other big trends impacting the data center -- the Internet of Things, cloud, and mobility, for example -- are network-centric. No longer is the network just the plumbing, but the center of IT and business strategy.

With Tetration, Cisco is trying to capitalize on this market transition.

Tetration gathers data for analysis from three different sources, the first being ASICs on Cisco's new Nexus 9200-X and 9300-EX switches. This data is very rich, as the ASICs capture every packet and every flow from every application running through the switches. The reason Cisco is doing this in silicon is that this would be way too processor-intensive to do in software. Such is the case for NetFlow, which plays a similar role in data collection but can only sample switch data in intervals of a minute or less.

The second and third sources of date for Tetration are agents running on host Windows and Linux servers; and, by year end, hypervisors and containers from partners such as ServiceNow, Infoblox, vArmour, and Tufin.

The data feeds into a turnkey Tetration appliance comprising Cisco UCS server, networking, and analytics software. Cisco tests and validates this 32-RU appliance so it's ready to go out of the box, albeit a very large box. The appliance holds the data and performs analytics.

Tetration includes information presentation, with data and insights viewable through a Web-based GUI or accessible via APIs or push notifications. The GUI presents an end-to-end map of every application in the data center so IT can quickly view all the infrastructure dependencies and traffic flows and quickly spot possible issues.

For example, suppose IT at one time had set up a VPN connection into the data center to allow third-party application management -- but had failed to shut the link down once no longer necessary. The link would likely go undetected using traditional management tools, but it will stick out like a sore thumb in the Tetration visualizations. By capturing all data center telemetry information, IT can understand the relationship between applications, discover operational issues, and see security threats exposed.

Consider the Communications
Deploying a communications platform used to be quite simple, as PBXs and early IP-PBXs were all-in-one, dedicated appliances. Today's modern systems, however, are highly distributed platforms that run across multiple servers and can even span data centers. Tetration can bring the necessary visibility to the voice and video systems to ensure their performance isn't degraded by any network segments, servers, or other infrastructure.

Another interesting aspect of Tetration is that businesses can use the data to play back what happened or run simulations to see what might happen. The appliance holds months of data (with 320 petabytes of storage), and businesses can play back the network flows to any moment of time.

Communications problems are often difficult to troubleshoot since users experience a problem at time X but by the time IT receives the report and can start investigating, it's time Y. Sometime between X and Y the issue resolves itself and the root cause remains unsolved. Tetration would allow IT to turn the clock back so network operations could see what was happening at the exact moment the user complained about the problem, thus making troubleshooting much easier.

Tetration also supports "what if" scenarios so IT can model changes and run simulations to see the impact. Injecting changes into a running communication environment can be daunting, if not downright intimidating, as there's little awareness of what might happen once the change is made. This is one reason why IT often lives by the mantra, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Tetration's simulation capabilities can give the operations team the confidence to make changes to the environment and remove the risk of the unknown.

Tetration opens the door to whole new world of opportunity for Cisco, but it also allows customers to optimize the performance and ensure the security of existing platforms. Companies that choose to make the investment in it should be sure to extend the product to the communications infrastructure as it can help not only with current-day operations but also future planning.

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