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Cisco analytics engine helps maintain app health in big data centers

The new Cisco analytics engine is designed to maintain application performance in large data centers running Nexus switches.

Cisco plans to release next month an analytics platform that monitors and records traffic flows between applications...

in large data centers and recommends policy changes to remedy problems.

The Cisco analytics engine, called Tetration and introduced Wednesday, is fully equipped and ready for deployment in networks predominated by Cisco gear. The vendor has built the platform in a 39 RU chassis, comprising three Cisco Nexus switches and 36 of the company's Unified Computing System servers, which run the analytics and store several months of network data.

Experts consider application traffic flow analysis as providing critical knowledge for operating a network. A robust analytics engine can help ensure backups occur on time, transactions get completed and applications maintain an acceptable level of quality of service.

Tetration gets its data from sensors that parse information from packets within east-west traffic. Users install the sensors on Linux and Windows application servers, while Cisco has preinstalled them in the ASICs of the Nexus 9200, 9300-EX and 9500-EX switches.

Embedding the sensors in the hardware's chips makes it possible for the Cisco analytics engine to examine 1 million unique traffic flows a second, said Yogesh Kaushik, senior director of product management at Cisco.

Tetration uses the data it gathers to establish a norm for all application activity. The system notifies administrators of abnormal events through a browser-based graphical user interface. The Cisco analytics engine also recommends network policy changes to fix problems caused by atypical behavior.

The GUI includes REST APIs for pulling data from other analytical tools or pushing information to them. Cisco plans to publish the APIs within six months after it ships Tetration.

"The goal here is to really fit in any customer environment, work with whatever tools they're using and have a completely open interface," Kaushik said.

Tetration keeps several months of data and provides a natural language search engine for finding types of events or activities that occurred during a specific timeframe. The system also includes a simulation engine that tests whether policy changes can correct problems. Users can push out policy fixes through Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure, if ACI is turned on in the Nexus switches. ACI is Cisco's software-defined networking technology.

Possible future of Tetration

Other vendors provide many of the features of Tetration. Examples include Uila, Viavi Solutions and Savvius. Analysts expect Cisco to differentiate its offering from other vendors' products by expanding Tetration's capabilities through integration with other Cisco products.

"This is maybe step one of a longer-term view," said Dan Conde, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass.

Indeed, Kaushik acknowledged discussions within Cisco about integrating some of its other analytics products, such as StealthWatch for security and CliQr for managing cloud applications. However, Cisco has not made any decisions on future integrations.

For now, Cisco is aiming Tetration at financial institutions, healthcare organizations, government agencies and communication service providers. The largest of those organizations have likely already built their network analytics or cobbled together technology from multiple vendors, Conde said. So, the most likely customers for the Cisco analytics engine are medium to medium-large companies looking for a prebuilt system.

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How does your organization use network data to maintain application performance?
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That's fine if you've just got Cisco gear, but how many organizations have that?

I'm curious whether they developed it themselves or if it's licensed from somebody.
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