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Cisco, NetApp Make It Clear: No VMware NSX For FlexPod

Cisco and NetApp said for SDN, the choice in FlexPod will be Cisco's ACI technology, but FlexPod channel partners call the decision a risky one given VMware's influence.

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Jim McHugh (left), Cisco's vice president of data center marketing, and Adam Fore, NetApp's director of virtualization and cloud solutions marketing

The FlexPod reference architecture will not be supporting VMware's NSX software-defined networking technology but will instead support Cisco's competing Application Centric Infrastructure technology, a move that some solution providers called a potential long-term risk.

Cisco Systems Wednesday also said that the FlexPod solution has reached an annual run rate of $2 billion, with year-over-year shipment growth of 70 percent.

While the FlexPod reference architecture , which was jointly developed by NetApp and Cisco, is hypervisor-agnostic, there are no plans to support the NSX software-defined networking (SDN) technology supported by VMware, the developer of the world's most popular hypervisor, said Jim McHugh, vice president of data center marketing at Cisco, San Jose, Calif.

[Related: EMC And Cisco: Co-Opetition Gone Wild In An Industry Used To Disruption ]

"It's not Cisco's intent to support NSX," McHugh said. "And there's no plan to run NSX on FlexPod as well. Support of IT architectures is a big benefit for partners. As customers move to software-defined architectures and the ACI approach, we want to ensure they have the right support."

Despite not supporting VMware's NSX SDN strategy or even having it on the FlexPod road map does not mean FlexPod is turning its back on VMware, McHugh said.

"There's more than ample opportunities for VMware vSphere customers to successfully roll out solutions with the Cisco ACI approach ," he said. "That gives them the benefits of the Nexus 9000 switches while letting them leverage their existing investments. But reliability stems from the ability to manage one solution, not two, and from Cisco's experience in networking."

VMware did not respond to CRN's request for comment.

The decision to not support VMware's NSX SDN technology is no surprise given Cisco's need to get its competing ACI SDN technology to market, but it's a decision that could hurt FlexPod over time, according to FlexPod solution providers.

"Of course it's an issue," said one solution provider, who requested anonymity. "It's a classic case of Cisco being a bully in the industry. For FlexPod, it would be better to have the ability to work with NSX or OpenFlow."

However, the solution provider told CRN, the decision to not support VMware NSX is not really a limit to FlexPod's market, at least for now.

"It will still take some time before SDN becomes available," the solution provider said. "It's still considered a 'science fair' project. The main focus of FlexPod will continue to be the same as it is today. There may be universities or certain customers who need the SDN innovation, but if they can't get it from their vendors, they'll do it themselves."

NEXT: No VMware NSX Support Could Backfire On FlexPod


Cisco's decision to not support VMware NSX makes sense to Jeff Guenthner, director of solutions architecture at CMI, a Mill Valley, Calif.-based solution provider and FlexPod partner.

"NSX and ACI are competing platforms, so we'll have to see what happens," Guenthner told CRN.

The decision to not support NSX could move some customers away from the VMware platform, Guenthner said.

"If I were a VMware customer, I might ask whether I'd want to put all my dollars in VMware," he said. "I'm not sure I would invest in VMware just to stay in bed with them. VMware has an 85 percent market share but will need to find new ways to drive revenue streams and shareholder value."

John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems (IAS), a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and longtime NetApp partner, said that customer adoption of NSX could actually force Cisco and NetApp to change their decision to not support NSX in FlexPod.

"No NSX seems to be a firm position for Cisco and FlexPod. But it really depends on customer demand. Nobody will walk away from a dollar," said Woodall.

"In the end, customers will determine what will happen," he said. "If customers decide they want the NSX technology from the world's No. 1 hypervisor vendor, it could be short-sighted on Cisco's part to not support it."

Regardless of whether FlexPod will support NSX, the platform has become an important part of the channel, said Adam Fore, director of virtualization and cloud solutions marketing at NetApp, Sunnyvale, Calif.

There are currently 110 premier FlexPod channel partners, up from 42 last year, Fore told CRN. There are also more than 1,000 partners who are certified to deliver FlexPod, although he admitted that not all do so.

FlexPod recently has been updated for multitenant environments, and Cisco and NetApp have signed cooperative support agreements with partners such as Microsoft and Citrix so that customers can call any vendors who can bring in people from other vendors for support, Fine said.

"This is how we stop the finger-pointing, and the ping pong between different vendors," he said.

NEXT: FlexPod Milestones Help Endorse The FlexPod Platform


Looking forward, Fine said, FlexPod in the next 18 months or so will be integrated with public cloud resources so that it will not be an isolated, fixed infrastructure stack.

Those milestones remain strong endorsements of the Cisco and NetApp partnership, the first solution provider said.

"It's a strong partnership regardless of what else we see," the partner said. "It shows that the FlexPod platform has evolved and will continue to work."

IAS' Woodall said that the kinds of FlexPod milestones NetApp and Cisco are touting at a certain level become validation points for the architecture.

"The $2 billion annual run rate and 70 percent shipment growth are important, as is the fact that there are only 110 premier partners, of which we are one," he said. "There is a stratification of the environment in channel partners' ability to deploy and support FlexPod."

The entire IT industry is moving to converged infrastructure, Woodall said.

"You can call it vendor lock-in," he said. "But it's also aggressive engineering from the vendors, and a move to standardize deployments. Standardization is not sexy, but it is a key requirement for the cloud."

PUBLISHED JUNE 25, 2014

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