In a we-can-do-it-too move, NetApp is partnering with Cisco and VMware to produce FlexPod for VMware, an integrated server-network-storage offering for data centres moving cloudwards.
The FlexPod is a "pre-sized, validated, unified and standardised data centre architecture design available through selected channel partners". It is targeted at applications requiring 1,000 to 2,000 users to be supported from a virtualised server, with the sweet spot being 1,500 users. The components are Cisco UCS servers with VMware's vSphere and vCenter, Cisco Nexus 5000 switches plus NetApp FAS3200 storage arrays.
The hardware layers can be scaled independently and NetApp says there is a mutual and open partner ecosystem with a collaborative support model. The throat you choke is the supplier you call first, as that business assumes responsibility for the whole system.
How does the FlexPod compare to the vBlock from the VCE (VMware, Cisco and EMC) coalition?
NetApp's EMA solutions marketing manager John Rollason said: "There are similarities in the problem we’re trying to solve, but we feel there are many advantages in the FlexPod approach. [It] offers customers unique benefits and capabilities, including secure multi-tenancy, unified server, network and storage (not three different storage architectures), granular scalability, and an open management architecture ... It provides a more precise solution to specific workload needs: ie more dynamic, less static. FlexPod can be configured with existing infrastructure in the customer’s environment so customers can protect their investment in existing technology."
He also said NetApp storage is more efficient than the vBlock's EMC storage.
Bob Stemmerik, Cisco's Head of Data Centre/Virtualisation, Europe North, said: "This FlexPod delivers the same cloud capabilities (as the vBlock), sometimes better. Technology is important but not the end. We have a BMW, an Audi or a Mercedes, but who makes a better car? The value these (vBlocks and FlexPods) bring are very similar and I wouldn't like to contrast them ... We have selected best of breed partners."
It is a coup for NetApp to be regarded as a viable partner in building integrated IT stacks for cloud data centres by Cisco and also by VMware. Both recognise that EMC is not the be-all and end-all in storage.
What about a single management facility for FlexPod?
Rollason said: "VMware's vCenter provides a single management interface. Both NetApp and Cisco provide management plugins for this. We also have joint integration with BMC, CA, etc for broader management. This has the advantage that these tools are not specific to the FlexPod; they can be employed enterprise-wide, unlike competitors' offerings which are largely tied to their stack."
There was no mention of a single and integrated firmware update offering for the FlexPod, and there is no Acadia-like implementation agency.
It is likely, in this writer's opinion, that we will see other FlexPods, such as a FlexPod for Hyper-V. NetApp wouldn't comment on that. Andreas Konig, NetApp's EMEA general manager, said: "We have a very good relationship with Microsoft - but I'm not knowledgeable on what we're doing in the future. All the partners involved would need to work together and agree." ®