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Cisco, NetApp Beef Up FlexPod, ExpressPod For Branch-To-Cloud Scalability

FlexPod, the joint reference architecture for converged infrastructure from NetApp and Cisco, is now available with a host of enhancements that let it scale from remote branch offices to the cloud.

Cisco and NetApp on Thursday unveiled enhancements to their jointly developed FlexPod reference architecture they said will help scale the solution from the cloud to the branch office.

The enhancements will result in a broader solution provider and services provider market for the FlexPod converged infrastructure solution, which ties server, storage and networking resources under a unified management system, said Rick Snyder, vice president of Cisco's Global and Strategic Partner Organization.

"We believe this will result in an infrastructure that can be used to connect the branch office, the data center and the cloud," Snyder said.

[Related: Cisco Storage: How To Dominate The Market Without Selling A Single Disk ]

Brendon Howe, vice president of products and solutions marketing at NetApp, said FlexPod is a combination of best-of-breed storage technology from NetApp and server and networking technology from Cisco along with a validated reference architecture.

FlexPod is not a product, but is instead a reference architecture that provides a large degree of flexibility in configuring storage solutions based on NetApp storage and Cisco networking and UCS server technology.

About 700 channel partners have deployed FlexPod-based solutions to over 2,100 customers worldwide, Howe said.

"We're now looking at how to get more business momentum," he said. "We're looking at new ways to go to market, and at new ways to reach out to branch offices and the cloud. I look at it as going deep and going broad."

The scalability of FlexPod is being enhanced in a number of ways. The solution can now be configured with up to 10,000 servers thanks to Cisco's UCS Central management platform, compared to a previous limit of 160 servers. Those servers can now sit in multiple racks connected with multihop Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) connectivity.

"With 10,000 servers, we are moving into the service provider landscape," Snyder said. "We couldn't do that before."

FlexPod now also allows the management of high-speed flash storage simultaneously on both the storage side and server side, Howe said. On the storage side, that includes NetApp's flash caching technology, which is a part of the NetApp Ontap storage operating system, as well as Flash Accel, which manages multivendor flash technology including those of Fusion-io and LSI, which are flash partners of Cisco.

"We're pulling these layers together with common management," he said.

NEXT: Other FlexPod Enhancement For Cloud Deployments


Cisco is also bringing automation technology from its recent Cloupia acquisition, as well as its Cisco Intelligent Automation for Cloud (Cisco IAC), to help with automation of FlexPod in cloud deployments, Cisco's Snyder said.

Scalability to the cloud is also being enhanced with the addition of NetApp Clustered Ontap technology.

All the enhancements also help increase support for FlexPod in CloudStack and OpenStack environments, Howe said. "Our strategy is to be open," he said.

On the branch office side, Cisco and NetApp are enhancing ExpressPod, their SMB version of FlexPod, with support for Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V virtualization in addition to the VMware VSphere support it had in the past.

Also new for ExpressPod is NetApp's Ontap Edge software, Howe said. Ontap Edge allows the building of virtual storage appliances based on NetApp's Ontap storage operating system that run in the ExpressPod's Cisco UCS servers so that an ExpressPod in a branch office will not need a separate NetApp storage solution, he said.

Both the Hyper-V support and the Ontap Edge virtual storage appliance option will be available later this year, he said.

As a result, Snyder said, FlexPod now has a strong service provider go-to-market offering.

"There's natural momentum building for our existing channel to move to the service provider business, as well as opportunities for new potential partners," he said. "We're scaling down to the branch office with ExpressPod, and to the cloud, which means new opportunities for partners."

Solution providers who partner with NetApp and Cisco on FlexPod said the new scalability enhancements will bring them new ways to work with customers.

Bringing Cloupia and Cisco IAC together with FlexPod makes a lot of sense, especially as FlexPod starts being deployed with thousands of servers and with multihop FCoE, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems (IAS), a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and FlexPod partner.

"We've been doing Cloupia with FlexPod for some time now," Woodall said. "Cloupia with FlexPod is like fries and a shake with your burger. It's purpose-built for FlexPod."

NEXT: Partners Like The FlexPod Cloud Service Provider Angle


For customers looking to implement a converged architecture in their branch office, the addition of the NetApp Ontap Edge virtual storage appliance to FlexPod is important, IAS' Woodall said.

"From the remote office with Ontap Edge through SMBs to the cloud, having a single architecture that scales is huge," Woodall said. "To be able to do secure multitenancy across that stack along with support for OpenStack and CloudStack speaks well for service providers."

Keith Norbie, vice president of Nexus, the Minnetonka, Minn. office of Stratos Management Systems, an Atlanta-based solution provider and FlexPod partner, said service providers are looking for all the types of enhancements that are coming to FlexPod.

Norbie said the integrated flash storage management could be one of the least-highlighted but most-important additions to FlexPod.

"Sometimes these things slip between the cracks in big announcements like this," he said. "But architecturally-speaking, this is significant. They're adding flash capabilities to FlexPod that weren't available before, giving it a full flash strategy."

One FlexPod partner who asked to remain unnamed called the addition of Cisco IAC management technology to FlexPod a big plus for channel partners and customers.

"While VMware takes a software-defined view of the data center, Cisco looks at the data center from the bottom-up," the solution provider said. "Everything with Cisco is built on the hardware. Cisco IAC integration is huge. It's Cisco's big play into the private cloud."

PUBLISHED JAN. 24, 2013

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