Big Data Believers: NetApp, Cisco Take FlexPod To Next Level With Hadoop

Cisco and NetApp Tuesday rolled out a new version of their jointly developed FlexPod converged infrastructure aimed specifically at big data workloads, the first in a series of solutions targeting data-intensive applications.

Cisco and NetApp also unveiled a new naming convention for the FlexPod solutions to make it easier to differentiate among the various configurations.

The new solution for big data, FlexPod Select, provides a validated reference architecture that combines NetApp's E-series and FAS storage lines, Cisco's UCS servers and its Nexus and Catalyst switches and management software, and one of two Hadoop big data offerings.

[Related: NetApp Takes Build-It, Not Buy-It, Approach To FlashRay Flash Storage Strategy ]

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Customers can choose either the Hortonworks Data Platform or the Cloudera Distribution with Apache Hadoop, said Brendon Howe, vice president of products and solutions marketing at NetApp, Sunnyvale, Calif.

"We're working with the Cloudera and Hortonworks distributions of Hadoop to provide customers with fast time to market, complete configuration and flexible scaling," Howe said.

Hadoop is the first validated FlexPod Select solution, Howe said. "High-performance, high-bandwidth video and high-performance computing solutions are two examples of how we can extend this architecture going forward," he said.

It's a fabulous move, said Dennis Mueller, vice president of innovation and emerging technologies at CMT, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based solution provider and FlexPod partner.

Adding the E-series, which stems from NetApp's 2001 acquisition of LSI's Engenio line, to FlexPod Select is something Mueller said he has been hoping to see for some time.

"A lot of people look for object storage, and NetApp's E-series provides the right capacity for object storage," Mueller said. "The E-server is set up for mass units of files and data, making it much more suitable for big data than its FAS storage line."

There are a lot of big data companies in the market today, and because of the nature of data processed using big data techniques, it is actually easier for solution providers to provide big data as a service, Mueller said.

"But it's a challenging landscape," he said. "Only a few companies are poking their heads out with big data as a service. Most companies today do big data with Amazon's cloud or develop it internally."

For that reason, Mueller said, FlexPod Select is a big opportunity. "FlexPod allows customers to do big data without learning a whole new set of products," he said. "And with Hadoop packages as part of a standard offering, it will fill a gap in our solutions."

NEXT: Hadoop Taking FlexPod To New Level

NetApp historically has done a good job with its Data Ontap software and FAS storage solution for storing and managing both block and file storage with good integration points, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems (IAS), a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and FlexPod partner.

FlexPod Select takes FlexPod to a new level with its Hadoop capabilities and the addition of NetApp's E-series storage, Woodall said.

"FAS has a great price point, but it doesn't offer the scalability for workloads like Hadoop," he said. "The E-series is a great product line. NetApp can use its E-series to integrate all the newer workloads."

As workloads such as Hadoop start to come down off the Web, enterprises can better take advantage of them, Woodall said. "But they don't want to take the 'Heathkit' approach. They don't want to have dedicated engineers. They like the idea of having an integrated platform. They still need someone to turn the wrench. But FlexPod, with Hortonworks and Cloudera, provides customers the blueprint with a lot less effort."

Woodall said he would like to see FlexPod Select expanded to include NetApp's E-series EF540 all-flash storage array. "A lot of people may not need flash now but would like to have it available if they need it later," he said.

Bringing the E-series into FlexPod is an acknowledgment that the NetApp portfolio is not just a FAS world, Woodall said.

"FAS, E-series, EF540, and soon-to-come the FlashRay flash storage solution," he said. "There's no reason FlexPod shouldn't cross all of them. It wouldn't surprise me to someday see FlexPod solutions cover all four pillars, leveraging the value of each product."

Keith Norbie, director of server, virtualization and storage for the Eastern U.S. for Technology Integration Group (TIG), a San Diego-based solution provider and FlexPod partner, said it is fascinating to see so many companies looking to make money from an area such as Hadoop, which originally was designed for commodity hardware.

"It sometimes looks like companies are trying to package science fair projects," Norbie said. "If you do Hadoop on your own hardware stack, you need to validate your own design, which takes a lot of time. So the new FlexPod Select provides value from this perspective."

NEXT: NetApp, Cisco Taking FlexPod To New Workstreams

It's perfectly logical for NetApp and Cisco to move into high-performance workstreams, said Shawn O'Grady, executive vice president of Datalink, an Eden Prairie, Minn.-based solution provider and FlexPod partner.

"First, they're attacking workstreams that are less likely to go to the cloud," O'Grady said. "And if customers want to go to the cloud, it would be with the kind of cloud provider that works with NetApp, and not a public cloud provider like Amazon. Second, this aligns nicely with some of the new functionalities of Data Ontap."

NetApp and Cisco's new naming convention for the FlexPod line includes a number of changes.

At the top is FlexPod Select, which is aimed at specialized environments such as big data, Howe said.

FlexPod Select includes NetApp's E-series or FAS storage solutions, Cisco's UCS servers and Nexus or Catalyst networking technology, and options for direct attach, Fibre Channel, or 10-Gbit Ethernet storage and networking connectivity.

NetApp and Cisco renamed their existing FlexPod reference architecture as FlexPod Datacenter, Howe said. Targeted at enterprise data centers, FlexPod Datacenter includes FAS storage systems, Cisco UCS servers with Nexus switches, and a 10-Gbit Ethernet fabric.

FlexPod Datacenter sees the first introduction of Cisco's Nexus 7000 switch to the FlexPod line, said Jim McHugh, vice president of data center marketing for Cisco, San Jose, Calif.

The Nexus 7000 features zero packet loss, converged LAN and SAN in a single cable, and increased support for virtual machine mobility across multiple data centers, McHugh said.

The two companies also renamed their ExpressPod entry-level reference architecture as FlexPod Express. FlexPod Express targets midsize customers using NetApp's FAS2000 entry-level storage array, Cisco's C-series rackmount servers and Nexus 3000 switches, and Gigabit Ethernet fabrics.

The new naming convention is much easier to use than the older FlexPod and ExpressPod, Mueller said.

"It can be hard to differentiate between FlexPod and ExpressPod," he said. "Customers often say they seem to be the same thing. And ExpressPod is so new, I don't know how many customers even know the name. FlexPod is a much better-known name."