NetApp's FlexPod Goes Head-to-head With EMC's Vblock

NetApp on Tuesday unveiled a new data center storage solution in conjunction with partners Cisco and VMware to combat the Vblock architecture designed by those two partners in conjunction with NetApp's top rival, EMC.

The new solution, the FlexPod Modular Data Center Solution, is part of a larger refresh of NetApp's storage hardware and software products. That refresh also includes new models FAS6200 and FAS3200 storage appliances, a new version of its Data ONTAP operating system, and a new management software.

"This is the biggest launch in NetApp's history," said Julie Parrish, NetApp's vice president for global partner sales. "We say this because 80 percent of our products are being refreshed."

The product refresh is being led by the introduction of NetApp's FlexPod Modular Data Center Solution.

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FlexPod is not a product, but is instead an architecture that provides a large degree of flexibility in configuring storage solutions based on NetApp storage, Cisco networking, and VMware virtualization technology, Parrish said.

FlexPod is a pre-sized, validated, and standardized data center architecture aimed at helping solution providers build flexible storage solutions to help customers transition for an eventual adoption of cloud computing, Parrish said.

"This provides the transition, the roadmap, to help partners," she said. "It does a good job of de-risking for the partners while allowing them to add a great deal of their own value and services."

The FlexPod, like EMC's Vblock data center architecture, was designed in conjunction with Cisco and VMware, two companies with deep strategic relationships with both EMC and NetApp.

However, Parrish said, while Vblock is available in specific pre-configured and integrated solutions, the components for the FlexPod solution are sourced from the three vendors individually. "FlexPod is not a SKU," she said. "It's not a fixed block that you have to try to fit in somehow."

Because FlexPod is an architecture and not a specific SKU, solution providers need no special training or authorization to work with it, Parrish said. "You have to be a partner authorized by VMware, Cisco, and NetApp, but no additional authorization is needed," she said. "About 160 of our partners worldwide already fall in that category."

As a result, there is no direct channel for the FlexPod, Parrish said. "Since FlexPod is not a SKU, it has to go through our partners," she said.

NEXT: Bringing FlexPod To Market Via VARs

While both the Vblock and the FlexPod use partnerships with Cisco and VMware to help cut the risk of deploying storage, the two are very different, said Keith Norbie, vice president of sales at Nexus Information Systems, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based solution provider and partner to both EMC and NetApp.

A big difference is in how the Vblocks are relatively fixed in terms of configuration, and the setting up of Acadia, a Cisco-EMC joint venture with investment from VMware and Intel, which will help the vendors work with large customers and channel partners to build, operate and then transfer Vblock infrastructures, Norbie said

"NetApp is going with a much-less defined architecture," he said. "It's not looking at a support organization like Acadia. Instead, FlexPod will have more of a hardware compatibility list showing the support for the joint architecture."

Nexus is currently in the process of evaluating Vblock for its customers, Norbie said. However, VMware is the constant among customers, regardless of which storage vendor they use, and over 90 out of 100 customers are not looking at Vblock.

"I'm not saying anything bad about Vblock," he said. "But Vblock is still a uber-enterprise-scale offering. Most customers are buying only some tens of petabytes of storage, and are not buying things like Vblocks."

What's refreshing with FlexPod is, it gives everyone a different approach, Norbie said. "So it doesn't really compete with Vblock. You will talk with customers, see what they need, and come up with a solution."

The FlexPod solution could help NetApp partners draw closer to Cisco.

Rolf Strasheim, director of client solutions at Peak UpTime, a Tulsa, Okla.-based solution provider, said the the relationship unveiled between Cisco, VMware, and NetApp unveiled earlier this year is motivating his company to get additional depth and breadth with its Cisco relationship.

"It comes down to, what's the best fit for our customers," Strasheim said. "And most of our customers have Cisco in their environments."

NEXT: New Appliances, SSDs, And Disk Shelves

In addition to the FlexPod, NetApp also refreshed its storage operating software with the introduction of Data ONTAP 8. Data ONTAP 8 is the first storage operating system that enables storage connectivity for all protocols through a single wire, Parrish said.

It also includes DataMotion for Volumes, which allows customers to move large volumes of data in a non-disruptive fashion, as well as new data compression capabilities for decreasing storage capacity requirements and increasing storage efficiency.

NetApp also refreshed its FAS6200 series enterprise-class storage appliances with three new models that double the performance of existing models while offering increased availability and scalability.

The company also introduced three new models in its FAS3200 midrange storage appliances with increased performance, flexibility, and availability compared to existing models. NetApp is now also offering SSDs for high-performance mission-critical applications.

The company also introduced the DS2246, a new disk shelf, also known as an expansion module. The DS2246 fits up to 24 2.5-inch hard drives in a 2U space with a 50-percent increase in power efficiency and double the performance of its previous shelves. The disk shelf is used to increase the capacity of NetApp's FAS series of storage appliances.

Also new is the OnCommand management suite, which Parrish said realigns existing NetApp management software in more integrated package.

Strasheim said the refresh of the FAS3200 series appliances will be important to his midrange customer base because it will give them additional room for growth. "With NetApp, currently if a customer runs out of space on a 3200, we just drop in a 6200," he said. "But with the new expansion shelves, this will really broaden the 3200 capabilities."