Cisco moves Catalyst, Nexus management to the cloud

Cisco is taking a big step toward cloud-management of both its Catalyst campus and Nexus data-center equipment.

At the Cisco Live customer event this week, the company rolled out two cloud-based management services that provide more options for enterprises to support hybrid workforces.

Catalyst management in the cloud

The first service, Cloud Management for Cisco Catalyst, lets customers manage and troubleshoot Catalyst 9000 switching and wireless campus and branch devices from the company’s cloud-based Meraki dashboard, which can manage and troubleshoot a wide variety of devices and networks from a single screen. According to Cisco, Catalyst customers can run a CLI command with information about their organization, and it will move management of that device over to the Meraki cloud.

In the future Cisco will bring additional Catalyst wired and wireless devices fully under cloud monitoring and management, said Chris Stori, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Networking Experiences group. “The main message is simplicity—we are offering a more unified and simplified management experience across Cisco, but in particular for campus and access networking,” Stori said. 

Cisco customers who want on-premises Catalyst management have two options. They can continue using DNA Center, the company’s core on-premises management package, or the new DNA Center Virtual Appliance that runs as a VMware ESXi instance in private data centers or as a virtual machine in public-cloud platforms such as AWS. The virtual appliance in the cloud can manage up to 5,000 devices, according to Stori.

“IT can choose either the Meraki dashboard or Cisco DNA Center, providing extensive monitoring and management capabilities while enabling the choice as to where the services are running—on-premises or in the cloud—depending on operational needs, geography and regional data regulations,” he said.

For example, financial organizations that require air-gap protection from internet traffic, could maintain an on-premises Cisco DNA Center appliance. Distributed organizations that need to support high-speed Wi-Fi access at retail outlets, branch offices, or emergency popup sites, could deploy new Catalyst Wi-Fi 6E Access Points, also announced at Cisco Live, and manage them from the cloud-first Meraki dashboard to simplify remote operations, Stori said. 

The three new Cisco Catalyst 916x Series WiFi 6E APs are capable of booting as either a Meraki or Cisco Catalyst device. That means a Catalyst 916x AP can appear on the network as either a Meraki or a Cisco DNA Center device with all the associated monitoring and management capabilities inherent in each platform.

Cisco has been ‘Meraki-fying” some of its high-end offerings and this move is part of that strategy, experts say. Meraki’s technology has a reputation for being easy to use and manage and has in many cases been aimed at customers with smaller IT staffs or what Cisco calls “lean IT environments.” In addition, many Cisco customers already have a blend of Cisco and Meraki gear.   

A recent example of this strategy is that Meraki SD-WAN technology is at the core of Cisco’s new turnkey SASE subscription service called Cisco+ Secure Connect Now. That package includes integrated branch connectivity, security, management, orchestration, and automation support manageable via a single dashboard.

This announcement lays out a roadmap for the convergence of Catalyst infrastructure with the Meraki cloud-based platform while signaling that the era of cloud-based management of enterprise campus and branch networking is here to stay, said Brandon Butler, IDC research manager, Enterprise Networks.

Meraki’s cloud-based management has already helped usher in cloud-managed enterprise networking, particularly for WLAN and SD-WAN infrastructure in campus and branch networks, Butler said. “IDC estimates that about 36% of the enterprise-WLAN market is currently managed by cloud-based platforms, a number that is expected to continue to grow in the coming years,” he said.

Cloud-based management can eliminate the need for on-premises management systems and the infrastructure needed to support it, Butler said. Cloud-based platforms also have elastic scalability, and software updates can in many cases be enabled more seamlessly than with on-premises management.

Stronger integration between Catalyst and Meraki will be especially useful for Cisco customers who already use both platforms, Butler said. “Cloud-based management of enterprise networks has also been particularly useful for organizations with highly distributed operations—for example a large number of campuses or branches that can be centrally managed from a cloud-based platform,” Butler said.   

“The news will also be welcome to Catalyst customers who are looking for a migration path to cloud-based management. Initial functionality will be focused on enabling visibility and monitoring of Catalyst switches from the Meraki cloud. In the future, the company has a roadmap of enabling customers to choose how Catalyst infrastructure is managed, either on-premises or from the cloud,” Butler said.

Cloud management for Nexus data-center gear

The other Cisco management service lets data-center customers manage their core Nexus switches in the cloud.

Cisco Nexus Cloud, based on the company’s infrastructure management and monitoring package, Intersight, will be delivered as a service to manage networked resources across public cloud, private cloud, and edge computing environments.

Also for the first time in a Cisco portfolio, Nexus Cloud will provide real-time visibility to data-center energy usage, which will help customers reach their sustainability goals, Cisco stated.

Nexus Cloud will be an option for customers looking to more effectively manage cloud resources, according to Brad Casemore, research vice president, Datacenter and Multicloud Networks for IDC. Currently the Cisco Nexus Dashboard, offers a range of deployment options, from on-premises on the Cisco Nexus Dashboard platform to virtualized on-premises. It also addresses hybrid scenarios, and can be installed in a cloud of the customer’s choice, he said.

“Across all those deployment options, the commonality is that the management plane of the Cisco Nexus Dashboard has been designed for locally hosted and managed customer operations,” he said. “It was not offered as a cloud-delivered and -managed service. That is where Cisco Nexus Cloud comes into play.”

“It provides a global infrastructure view, through a centralized dashboard, and it comes with Cisco support, “ Casemore said. “With Cisco Nexus Cloud, Cisco is focusing on simplicity and speed of operations, enabling customers to benefit from simplified onboarding, to obtain the latest features and functionality, to improve security and compliance profiles, and to scale smoothly with business requirements.”

Cloud Management for wireless software is available today, but the compatible Wi-Fi 6E access points will be available this fall. Cloud monitoring for Catalyst switching is available now.  Cisco Nexus Cloud is expected in the fall. 

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