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This was originally published in June 2020

Have you ever been sitting in a meeting when the conversation turns to a type of technology with which you are unfamiliar? Suddenly, a bunch of acronyms are being thrown around, and you have no idea what they mean. As you scan the rest of the room confused, you notice everyone else is nodding their heads as if they know exactly what is being discussed.

We have all been there at one time or another. To help our valued customers, the engineers at WWT have set out to write a series of 'primer articles' to provide basic information on various products and technologies. This article is going to cover the basics of Cisco Intersight.

Introducing Cisco Intersight

The full-featured release of Cisco's newest infrastructure management (IM) platform, Cisco Intersight, is on the horizon. With a release date expected sometime in 2020, customers may be asking questions about what Intersight is, how it came to be, features and benefits of Intersight, as well as licensing options.

General overview of Cisco Intersight

In 2012, Cisco acquired the cloud-based Wi-Fi networking and security device start-up company Meraki. With the immense success of Meraki's cloud-based model, Cisco decided to apply the same concept to their IM product line. As a result, Cisco Intersight (a.k.a. "Starship") came to fruition in 2017.  

Intersight is a cloud-based, subscription service that streamlines management of the Cisco compute infrastructure. Cisco recognized that customers likely were using many different tools to manage their IT infrastructure. Consequently, Cisco addressed this burden by introducing Intersight, which offers a single interface for ease of management.  

Since Intersight is cloud-delivered, there is a great deal of flexibility found in this platform, including the ability to manage infrastructure from anywhere at any time. Cisco is also able to continually upgrade, modify and enhance this platform, with changes automatically pushed out to the customer for immediate use; no time-consuming maintenance or system downtime needed.

Cisco Intersight single-pane management
Cisco Intersight is a single-pane management platform that incorporates all of Cisco UCS products.

Specific features and benefits of Cisco Intersight

Organizations will benefit from several features unique to Cisco Intersight, which include the following:

  • Intuitiveness - Vulnerabilities among all of the connected Cisco products are constantly being evaluated. When susceptibilities are exposed, the details of such are published and then simultaneously fed into Intersight. Intersight then relays this information to the applicable customer(s) and the possible impact(s) it may have on their infrastructure.
  • Scanning for Faults - Since Intersight is intuitive, it is able to scan for particular faults. If and when faults are found, this information is uploaded into TAC, and Intersight can help in the identification of the faulty component(s).
  • Connected TAC - Gone are the days of opening a TAC case and going through the painful process of acquiring all the information needed to solve the issue (i.e. pulling, uploading, and interpreting logs, etc.). Once a TAC case is opened, Connected TAC allows for the technical support files and other needed information to be pulled easily from a customer's environment.
  • Contract Status Management - Intersight allows for constant monitoring of the status of contracts. Customers can easily access relevant contract information such as the validity of contracts, contract starting and ending dates, contract numbers, etc.
  • Feedback Wanted - Cisco encourages customers to submit suggestions for Intersight enhancements via the Feedback button. Cisco will either notify the customer that the feature already exists and point to where it is, inform the customer that it is currently on a roadmap for future deployment or advise that additional research/thought will be given for possible future development.

How does Intersight work?

Customers may be wondering: "How does this cloud-based, subscription service work on the Cisco compute infrastructure?" The answer lies in the device connectors. For example, let's take a stand-alone C-series server.  

On this server, there is a hosting element called a Baseboard Management Controller (BMC), which is where the device connector resides. The device connector offers an extremely secure, entirely encrypted link to Intersight that is only outward bound on port 443. Through the device connector, Intersight is able to give commands to the infrastructure.  

This same concept is applied to fabric-interconnected and HyperFlex systems, as well as software through different hosting mechanisms.

Cisco Intersight connectors

If an organization is unable to take advantage of the cloud-based version of Intersight, there is also a downloadable, open virtual appliance (OVA) available. This on-premise virtual appliance hosts the device connector, as well as the Intersight portal. 

The virtual appliance still requires an outbound connection for opening TAC cases, retrieving information on contracts, firmware updates, etc. A future on-premise version of Intersight is expected that will not necessitate a link between a customer's data center and Cisco. This version will fill the strict security requirements of certain types of businesses.

Intersight virtual appliance

Integration with third-party infrastructure

Looking beyond the Cisco compute infrastructure, Intersight also works with certain third-party infrastructure. For example, Intersight can currently integrate with Pure Storage's Purity and VMware's vCenter and eventually, other workload optimization tools. 

As mentioned, device connectors are employed in establishing the connection between compute infrastructure and Intersight. However, device connectors do not exist with third-party infrastructure so their use has to be approached in a different manner. An OVA called the Intersight Assist Appliance is needed to essentially bridge the gap created by third party infrastructure.  

The device connector exists on the Intersight Assist Appliance to power the relationship with Intersight. When Intersight is communicating with VMware, for instance, it will do so with vCenter through the Intersight Assist Appliance. In other words, there is no device connector between vCenter and the Intersight Assist Appliance.

Cisco Intersight Assist Appliance

Licensing options

There are several tiers of licensing options for Cisco Intersight, which are subscription-based. Cisco's Unified Computing System (Cisco UCS), Cisco HyperFlex and Cisco USC Director all include the Intersight Base licensing option at no additional cost. The Base licensing includes the Connected TAC feature.  

For customers requiring more functionality with their licensing, three other possibilities exist: Intersight Essentials, Intersight Advantage and Intersight Premier. Each of these licensing subscription tiers can be purchased for one-, three- or five-year time periods.

The Intersight Essentials tier incorporates everything that a customer would get with the Base license. Essentials goes beyond the Base tier licensing, though, and provides Cisco UCS Central and Cisco Integrated Management Controller (IMC) Supervisor management platforms. The Essentials license also offers the ability to determine what hardware is compatible with Intersight using the Hardware Compatibility List (HCL).  

Additionally, similar to what customers achieved with UCS Manager, the Essentials tier offers pools, policies and templates (i.e. policy-based configurations) with Service Profiles. It is important to note that the policy-based configurations feature only works on standalone C-series servers at this time. This feature, however, is on the roadmap for future functionality across the other Cisco compute platforms with an Essentials license.

With Intersight Advantage licensing, customers get all the capabilities of the Base and Essentials tiers. Further aptitudes include the installation of an operating system, the function of launching a Keyboard Video Mouse (KVM) session over the Internet without the use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN), added insight of viewing storage and virtualization inventory, as well as the ability to create and deploy a new HyperFlex SD-WAN Cluster. If use of third-party infrastructure (i.e. Pure Storage and VMware) is desired, a minimum of the Advantage tier licensing is the only licensing option that provides the Intersight Assist Appliance.

Intersight's top licensing tier is Intersight Premier. The Premier tier includes all the features of the other three tiers, but includes the added benefit of a full subscription to Cisco UCS Director with some enhanced automation competencies. These competencies consist of the automation/alteration of storage and virtualization inventories. The Premier tier will eventually provide customers the ability to generate workflows for increased management enrichment.

Learn more

Are you interested in learning more about Cisco Intersight and how it could benefit your organization? We're here to help. Our subject matter experts are available to answer your specific questions.  

Contact your WWT account team today to schedule a demo or a lab of this product, proof of concept (POC) or health check to evaluate your organization's current Cisco UCS environment.