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Why is Cisco’s Azure Stack Hub the Preferred Choice for Public Sector Customers?

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John McAbel
Cisco Employee

Cisco launched their solution for hybrid cloud solution for the Microsoft Azure public cloud back in September of 2017.  Since that time, Cisco has enjoyed great success with installations around the world from Poland to Australia and many points in between.  A premier vertical market for Cisco’s Azure Stack Hub solution is the Public Sector.  Think of the Public Sector as State, Federal or National governments, public health and safety departments. Military, and organizations are closely tied to these bodies.  These customers often have unique or more exacting requirements then for a typical hybrid cloud solution. This is an area of strength for Cisco.

Often Public Sector customers house their data within harden data centers where access is extremely controlled.  Each person entering must pass a stringent background check and be pre-approved.  Thus, these locations are “off limits” to the majority of us.  To maintain the highest security, any equipment entering the data center will remain within the data center – no exceptions!  This would apply to our most common electronic devices such as mobile phones and laptops.  To further ensure the security of sensitive data (like your tax returns etc.) the government will mandate that computer infrastructures housing the data must be “air gapped” or disconnected from the internet 100% of the time.  Imagine purchasing a new MacBook and not being able to access your favorite websites for news, e-mail, social media, and the most recent football scores!  A bit of a unique challenge for IT managers isn’t it?

The most common use case for Microsoft Azure Stack Hub is the ability to bring the Azure Services (workloads, development tools, data stores etc.,) from Azure to data that cannot move to the public cloud.  This is the challenge for Public Sector customers that Cisco’s Azure Stack Hub was designed to meet. 

Cisco’s solution for Azure Stack Hub is built on Cisco UCS, a leading supplier of compute services for Microsoft applications.  Cisco ‘s Azure Stack Hub solution is purpose-built for rapid scalability and hybrid cloud workloads. Leverage Cisco UCS proven operational advantages: 40% faster infrastructure deployment and 38% reduction in ongoing management costs as compared to other Azure Stack Hub systems. This diagram represents a virtual perspective of a typical Azure Stack Hub solution built on Cisco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cisco Integrated System for Microsoft Azure Stack – Figure 1

 
   

 

 

 

  • Configuration and Services sold together

 

  • Configure from 4 to 16 server nodes

 

  • Choice of Hybrid storage or All-flash

 

  • Configure up to 144TB per server, and 2TB memory

 

  • All servers must be of the same configuration

 

 

Here is why customers are choosing Cisco:

  • No Single Point of Failure - Cisco designed a system that can withstand four collective failures and continue to process data.  One could have a server, FEX, Fabric Interconnect (FI), and Top of Rack (9336C-FX2) switch all fail and not impact system operations.  One server is set aside as a backup server should any other server fail this is defined within the Azure Stack Hub infrastructure software.  Each of the switches is configured in pairs such as each switch maintain a copy of the configuration of it partner.  Thus, if a failure occurs, the failed switch can be replaced and its configuration copied to it from the surviving switch.    
  • All major system elements are designed, developed, manufactured, sold and serviced by Cisco – No element is OEM’d from another vendor.  Cisco is unique in that they can integrate the product roadmaps into a cohesive system architecture leveraging the performance and automation capabilities that has set Cisco apart from its competitors, who compete on price.
  • Customer can add servers on their own – By controlling all aspects of the design, only Cisco has enabled customers to add nodes without requiring any services.  Cisco leverages the proven UCS Manager systems management software and Service Profiles to accomplish this.  This provides the customer with many advantages:
    • Ability to add server nodes as system needs dictate, without telling anyone even Cisco.
    • No need to allocate budget for a professional services engagement
    • No need for background checks for the consultant coming on-site
    • No need to coordinate schedules
    • Purchase additional nodes when pricing is advantageous, adding only when desired
    • Add system resources immediately, should a server node fail, ahead of any on-site SLA
  • One throat to choke for service –.  Customers can contact either Cisco or Microsoft for any question on their system.  The call is triaged in the same manner and the call is routed electronically to the correct Cisco/Microsoft team (including any data the customer provided).  Cisco has a team dedicated to Azure Stack support.  They know their counterparts at Microsoft.  Clearly the Cisco response is not to simply assign a call to the next support engineer in the que but one dedicated to Azure Stack.
  • Ruggedized Options – Public Sector can have requirements the require systems in a smaller form factor, and be able to withstand greater temperature ranges, vibrations, and humidity beyond what systems are designed for.  Cisco has a vast array of experience in creating these one-off solutions.  Cisco understands that placement in a submarine is different then an aircraft carrier.   Cisco can design solutions to fit these exacting requirements. Clearly, one size does not fit all in these situations.
  • Alternate Host Deployment option – While Cisco is known for using a transitory deployment device such as an Intel Nook or Laptop, often customers prefer a server to be used one that can stay in the data center after deployment.  For this requirement, Cisco offers a minimally configured server alternative that would stay in the data center post installation and redeployed to support different use cases.  This is not a Hardware Lifecycle Host (HLH) as all other developers of Azure Stack Hub solutions market today.
  • Maintain Data Center Standards - Cisco’s solutions leads with the Nexus networking technology that the majority of customers have as standard in their data centers.  Customers have selected Cisco for this due to largely performance and security reasons, why not simply extend those reasons to your Azure Stack Hub solution as well.  Also, Cisco has led the market in deploying the system within the customer’s choice of system rack.  Thus, your choice of rack is maintained.  Why try to incorporate a rack that is completely separate.  What sort of security challenges would that create for you?
  • 40GbE End to End – Most customers cannot 100% accurately foresee future workload requirements.  Don’t you want the bandwidth to meet these challenges and help ensure your system performance in data movement from server all the way to the data centers border switch.
  • Policy Based Hardware and Firmware Leveling and Management – Cisco provides a firmware update approximately once per year.  Customers receive a notification of a new version and they are free to download at their leisure.  The update runs sequentially from server to server and is fully automated, once kicked off the update continues unabated.  The customer can continue to perform work on the cluster while the update continues. 
  • Experience with Disconnected Deployments – These are deployments where the system is completely disconnected or “air-gapped” from the internet.  Cisco has deployed this option in a number of national governments, law enforcement, military and related use cases.  As such, Cisco has leveraged its public sector experience to enable these deployments within the customer’s desired specifications.
    • Add Server Node – You can add server nodes in the same manner for disconnected deployments as you would for connected deployments.  This is a HUGE advantage for Cisco!

Public Sector customers have stringent requirements for hybrid cloud solutions as they are more likely to host citizen tax returns, law enforcement data, medical, military, and other top secret information. You can imagine the level of security, availability and performance related requirements.  When you compare the Cisco Integrated System for Microsoft Azure Stack Hub with other in the market and look at the exacting requirements of Public Sector customers, I think you will see that when the analysis is complete there is only one clear choice.  Cisco. 

Please go to this link for more information or reach out to your Cisco sales team or channel partner for assistance.  Thanks.   

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