Microsoft-Centric FlexPod Here, Sub-$100K FlexPod On Tap?

Cisco and NetApp Wednesday at the Avnet-Cisco Executive Summit unveiled a new version of their FlexPod converged infrastructure architecture that replaces virtualization technology from current FlexPod partner VMware with software from Microsoft.

A NetApp executive at the show also brought up the possibility of a new lower-cost FlexPod solution, which would be the first to be configured with a list price of less than $100,000.

Meanwhile, the new Cisco Validated Design for FlexPod and Microsoft is configured with Microsoft Private Cloud Fast Track architecture with Windows Server 2008 R2 and System Center.

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 and Cisco networking and Unified Computing Systems server technology. Until Wednesday's unveiling of a FlexPod based on Microsoft's cloud and virtualization software, FlexPod architectures also included VMware virtualization technology.

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FlexPod's presized, validated and standardized data center architecture is aimed at helping solution providers build flexible storage solutions to help customers transition to cloud computing.

Unlike the VCE Vblock cloud infrastructure solution, which is shipped preconfigured by VCE, FlexPod provides a reference architecture that is used by partners to build converged IT infrastructures.

Avnet Technology Solutions will provide integration services related to the new FlexPod solution for solution providers who decide not to do the integration by themselves.

The new FlexPod solution is available for demonstration in select Microsoft Technology Centers and is available for configuration by solution providers. Pricing was not provided as the actual configuration depends on customer requirements.

Peter Howard, senior director of channel strategy and development at NetApp, said the new FlexPod solution offers partners choice. "We're providing partners with building blocks to meet whatever their customers' requirements are," he said. "It's in NetApp's DNA to let partners help customers decide what's best for them."

Jim Sherriff, senior vice president of Cisco's Americas Partner Organization, said the introduction of a Microsoft-centric FlexPod solution will not impact sales of the existing VMware-centric FlexPods.

"VMware is still a competitive partner," Sherriff said. "And Microsoft, being Microsoft, will be competitive to the end. VMware is dominant. But our goal is to not be religious about this. Our goal is to provide partner choice."

Having a Microsoft-centric FlexPod solution will be important as the number of customers considering Microsoft as an alternative to VMware for virtualization and cloud technology grows, said Mark Teter, CTO of Advanced Systems Group, a Denver-based solution provider and partner of NetApp and Cisco.

"We really have not yet done a lot of cloud platforms with Microsoft," Teter said. "VMware has been a good play for the channel. But customers want choice. The addition of the Microsoft hypervisor will really round out the offering to make it a reliable solution for all IT platforms going forward."

The possibility of a new FlexPod reference architecture listing at less than $100,000 was raised by Howard during a presentation at the summit.

When asked about plans for a sub-$100,000 FlexPod, Howard said one was coming soon but then declined to talk about it further. He also declined to discuss the plans with CRN later in the day.

However, a source said such plans probably would be based on the release of a new version of Cisco UCS servers with new technology for reducing costs in Microsoft environments.