NetApp, Cisco Integrate SolidFire All-Flash Storage With UCS Servers In New FlexPod SF

NetApp and Cisco are using this week's Cisco Live conference to unveil a new version of their FlexPod converged infrastructure offering that features NetApp's SolidFire all-flash storage array technology and is targeted at scalable data center workloads.

The new FlexPod SF converged infrastructure is also the first to include an all-Cisco hardware stack as a way to help FlexPod compete against the fast-growing hyper-converged infrastructure market, said Lee Howard, chief technology officer for the Cisco alliance at NetApp.

The FlexPod SF, scheduled to be available starting in mid-July, comes as FlexPod continues to be the fastest-growing converged infrastructure offering.

[Related: CRN Exclusive: NetApp CEO Kurian On Turning Corner On Growth, Competing With Dell EMC And Fending Off Pure Storage]

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IDC last month estimated that FlexPod had a 28.8-percent share of the converged infrastructure market in the first quarter of 2017. While that was still significantly behind the 47.2-percent share held by Dell EMC, the FlexPod revenue grew 26.1 percent in the first quarter compared to the same period last year, while the market as a whole, and Dell EMC in particular, saw revenue fall.

This is not the first time NetApp and Cisco have integrated SolidFire all-flash storage technology with FlexPod, Howard told CRN. The two early this year added SolidFire to FlexPods that used NetApp's Ontap storage operating system, he said.

What's new is the fact that the new FlexPod SF is based on the SolidFire Element operating system, which was designed specifically for modern data center workloads, Howard said.

"It's all about policy-driven automation," he said. "We could do it with Ontap. But with Element OS, a customer can use 12 lines of code to do API integration with OpenStack. That makes it easier to bring new workloads to cloud environments for customers who don't have sophisticated skillsets. Other vendors say they can do the integration, but they need several hundred lines of code."

That policy-driven automation is not just for OpenStack, but for other technologies increasingly being adopted by modern data centers including such container technologies as OpenShift, Kubernates and Docker, or OpenStack's Cinder block storage technology, he said.

Andy Sayare, NetApp's senior manager of converged infrastructure solutions marketing, said FlexPod SF provides an opportunity for channel partners looking to help customers move to modern data center infrastructures.

"This is a real opportunity because of the programmable infrastructure of the SolidFire technology," Sayare told CRN. "It provides tons of automation that can be used to streamline operations."

Sayare said traditional FlexPod implementations will continue to be the right choice for businesses looking to refresh existing data center infrastructures.

"FlexPod SF is great for modern data centers looking to manage new applications, more scalable applications, and software-defined strategies," he said.

Howard said FlexPod SF marks a milestone in the FlexPod family in that it's the first to include an all-Cisco hardware stack.

FlexPod SF integrates Cisco's UCS B-series blade servers and Cisco's top-of-rack switches with the NetApp SF9608 all-flash storage array. The SF9608 is actually a Cisco UCS C220 server that has been configured with the SolidFire Element OS software by NetApp. As a result, NetApp's only contribution to the FlexPod SF is the integration of the SolidFire software, he said.

The fact that FlexPod SF is an all-Cisco hardware offering is important for the channel, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and long-time NetApp channel partner.

Cisco has joint converged infrastructure offerings with other vendors such as IBM and Pure Storage, but those offerings feature the storage vendors' hardware, Woodall told CRN.

"This signal's NetApp's commitment to Cisco and FlexPod," he said. "NetApp could have combined any qualified hardware node and the SolidFire software, but instead is making a statement about the attractiveness of the Cisco platform. … Imagine how attractive this is to the Cisco server team."

The pending release of FlexPod SF also shows NetApp's commitment to bringing its storage technology to the widest possible potential market, Woodall said.

"NetApp storage can run on-prem, in the cloud, and on hyper-converged infrastructure," he said. "The SolidFire all-flash technology can be consumed as an appliance, or by a perpetual software license based on capacity with licenses that can be moved from one hardware appliance to another, or on FlexPod SF with a separate license. So you see that frictionless choice of deploying more and more of NetApp's portfolio in non-traditional ways."

The degree of integration in the FlexPod SF makes it a good alternative for customers considering hyper-converged infrastructure, which integrates compute, storage, and often networking into a single appliance, Howard said.

"Over time, we're seeing consolidation leading to virtualization leading to automation," he said. "Businesses want to take advantage of the consumption model offered by the cloud. And we are providing full stack support for it. This is more than the hardware. It's the entire ecosystem. This will give a lot of customers who are looking at hyper-converged infrastructure a better way to move their existing infrastructures to the newer automation trends."