EMC, NetApp Present Competing Visions For Storage-Server Infrastructure

EMC and NetApp used an Avnet and Cisco conference to put forth their competing views on converged storage-server-network infrastructures, but kept the rhetoric to a minimum in respect to their hosts, who partner with the two storage vendors.

VCE, the EMC-Cisco consortium that develops and configures the Vblock series of converged cloud and virtualization infrastructures, and NetApp, developer with Cisco of the FlexPod converged infrastructures, held dueling presentations at the Avnet-Cisco Executive Summit partner meeting, held this week in Phoenix.

But EMC and NetApp treated each other with kid gloves during the event, emphasizing their own design philosophies and technical advantages without directly referencing the other.

The laid-back treatment of the intense competition between the two reflected the stage from which they were speaking. The Summit was put on by Avnet Technology Solutions, a distributor which works with both vendors, and by Cisco, which provides the UCS server and the networking technology behind the Vblock and FlexPod solutions.

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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 and Cisco networking and UCS server technology. Until last week's unveiling of a FlexPod based on Microsoft's cloud and virtualization software, FlexPod architectures also included VMware virtualization technology.

VCE, a joint-venture company set up by EMC and Cisco along with investment from VMware and Intel, develops cloud architecture solutions called Vblocks consisting of EMC storage, Cisco server and networking technology, and VMware virtualization technology.

Peter Howard, senior director of North America datacenter alliances at NetApp, said that because FlexPod was a reference architecture rather than an actual product, solution providers have a lot of flexibility in designing and integrating converged infrastructure solutions based on customer requirements.

"NetApp created a single set of tools and software to address customer issues," Howard said.

That flexibility extends to customers' existing IT investments, Howard said. For instance, if a customer already has a NetApp storage array or Cisco UCS solution, they can use them as part of the validated FlexPod configuration.

"Customers can pretty much buy how they want to," he said. "They can buy however way they want."

Howard's only reference to the competing VCE solution came in response to a question from a solution provider in the audience about the difference between FlexPod and Vblock.

He responded that both NetApp and EMC are in some sense allies in helping to move customers to consider new ways to do IT, with FlexPod being a more flexible solution.

"If (customers) don't want to rip and replace equipment, don't let them rip and replace," he said. "Ultimately, customers want to choose. And you're the ones responsible for helping them make their choice."

Because FlexPod is a reference architecture, solution providers can enjoy assessment and services revenue of up to five times the cost of the hardware and other components, Howard said. "These are exciting opportunities for the channel to be the integrator of these technologies," he said.

Timothy Brunn, senior director of worldwide channels distribution for VCE, said that his company does the full configuration of the multi-vendor solution, ships it to customers, and provides full support.

"We're the only company in the world that can do this," Brunn said.

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VCE has hundreds of engineers working on the details of the solution down to the cooling of the wires inside a Vblock, resulting in a solution which provides the highest-performance platform for running applications, Brunn said.

"You can tune the application to run faster on a Vblock. ... And it allows folks to run their business," he said. "They're not focused on patching the system."

Vblocks also come with a support system that not only includes VCE engineers but also support from Cisco and EMC as needed, Brunn said. And, because the Vblocks are built by VCE to customer specifications, it may take only 30 days between order and shipping compared to between 90 and 120 days for traditional solutions integrated in the field, he said.

Even though the integration of the components is handled by VCE, solution providers can provide a wide range of services including assessment, integration of horizontal and vertical customer applications, providing application development solutions, and providing Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Brunn said.

Solution providers are also central to VCE's go-to-market strategy. "We won't exclude them from any opportunities," he said.