Converged Infrastructure Bets Are In: Where Are They Paying Off?

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NetApp: FlexPod On Fire


NetApp FlexPod






NetApp in late 2010 unveiled FlexPod, the first multivendor-branded reference architecture for converged infrastructure, in response to VCE's Vblock preconfigured converged infrastructure offering.

FlexPod is a blueprint for building converged infrastructures using NetApp storage, Cisco UCS servers and networking, and VMware or Microsoft virtualization technology.

When first introduced, NetApp and Cisco said the "FlexPod" moniker also could be used to refer to preinstalled solutions that included the right mix of components. That led rivals EMC and VCE to question out loud how serious that reference architecture was.

They're not questioning it anymore. Tom Georgens, president and CEO of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based NetApp, in February said more than 700 channel partners had sold solutions based on the FlexPod reference architecture to 2,100-plus customers across more than 35 countries.

NetApp and Cisco have continually revised the FlexPod architecture. Late last year, they introduced an entry-level version, ExpressPod, targeted at businesses with up to 500 users. This year they introduced flash-based storage capabilities as well as the ability to configure FlexPod with up to 10,000 servers compared with a previous limit of 160 servers.

NetApp and Cisco also rolled out several FlexPod reference architectures targeting specific applications including Oracle Real Application Cluster and SAP.

In addition, the two companies offer a combined FlexPod Premium Partner Framework channel program to give solution providers a single channel support system.

Solution providers that prefer to focus more on selling and less on configuration can work with Avnet and have the distributor integrate the solution. Avnet then ships it to the customer site where the solution provider can do the final deployment.

NetApp and Cisco have a very easy-to-work-with partnership when it comes to FlexPod, said Scott Miller, director of data center at solution provider World Wide Technology, with corporate headquarters in St. Louis

"The two work very well together," Miller said. "Their sales account teams are not afraid to engage each other."

Selling Cisco UCS technology a la carte is difficult, Miller said. "But if we do it as part of a FlexPod, it's easier for UCS to blossom and provide the full benefits to customers."

The FlexPod reference configurations are all based on Cisco Verified Designs, or CVDs, Miller said. "There's nothing missing," he said. "The vendors are looking at more application-specific designs, but have a good selection now. At any rate, the CVDs have guidelines for the cloud or Exchange, and get you in the ballpark in regard to budget."

Solution provider CMT offers FlexPod-based converged infrastructure both as an on-premise solution and as a cloud solution in conjunction with PeakColo, a Denver-based provider of white-label cloud services to channel partners.

CMT's Mueller said PeakColo uses its own FlexPod infrastructure to provide a service that CMT then offers to customers for a monthly fee.

"This lets customers investing in FlexPod locally to have the same experience in the cloud," he said. "This lets them expand to the cloud without having to invest in more blades and storage, and lets them use the same management tools."

Having a relationship with PeakColo helps CMT's NetApp relationship, Mueller said. "When we take customers to the cloud, NetApp knows it's going on NetApp infrastructure," he said.

CMT also sells the ExpressPod. "The price point is low enough that, for $50,00 to $70,000, smaller companies can have the beginnings of a private cloud," Mueller said. "And, as they grow, they can add more NetApp storage and Cisco servers. ExpressPod works great for customers who want to stick their toes in the cloud, but who are not ready to go with a full FlexPod." — Joseph F. Kovar

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