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Cisco-NetApp FlexPod reaches 1,000-customer milestone as pre-integration gathers pace

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The shift toward integrated infrastructure in the server, storage and networking worlds has thrown up numerous alliances between vendors, and seen some system vendors extend their product lines into …

The shift toward integrated infrastructure in the server, storage and networking worlds has thrown up numerous alliances between vendors, and seen some system vendors extend their product lines into adjacent areas. NetApp, while remaining a pure storage company, has focused for the last two years or more on a key partnership with Cisco for its converged offering, which is marketed as the Cisco-NetApp FlexPod. Officially launched in November 2010, the FlexPod user base has now grown to over 1,000 customers, and runs 20 validated workloads – VMware, Citrix, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle and Red Hat included.

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  • 1. Cisco-NetApp FlexPod reaches 1,000-customer milestone as pre-integration gathers paceAnalyst: John Abbott14 Jun, 2012The shift toward integrated infrastructure in the server, storage and networking worlds hasthrown up numerous alliances between vendors, and seen some system vendors extend theirproduct lines into adjacent areas. NetApp, while remaining a pure storage company, has focusedfor the last two years or more on a key partnership with Cisco for its converged offering, which ismarketed as the Cisco-NetApp FlexPod. Officially launched in November 2010, the FlexPod userbase has now grown to over 1,000 customers, and runs 20 validated workloads – VMware, Citrix,Microsoft, SAP, Oracle and Red Hat included. The 451 Take The overall subtext here is the cloud, which is driving suppliers to establish new partnerships to create integrated service portfolios. The deliverables will be sold directly to end users as engines for private clouds or to service providers creating their own cloud offerings. Datacenter customers are increasingly asking for greater vendor collaboration across the suppliers of their key infrastructure elements – server, network and storage – to help them achieve the holy grail of the virtualized dynamic datacenter. Virtualization has certainly helped, but many virtualization projects are still at an early stage – they tend to exist in their own silos, and they rarely extend to all applications (especially mission-critical ones). NetApp contends that the only way to break these silos is by collaborating; this, it thinks, will engender enough customer confidence that a practical dynamic, shared and service-based infrastructure is actually achievable. However, individual customers will want to move forward at their own pace, and in their own way. For some, the cloud encapsulates this vision. ForCopyright 2012 - The 451 Group 1
  • 2. others, its anathema.ContextNetApps continued focus on storage is reflected in the nine acquisitions its made since 2003 – allof them storage-focused. Thats in contrast to its primary rival, EMC, which has made awide-ranging series of acquisitions, and to server vendors such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell,which have all made their own forays into the storage and networking worlds by buying up otherfirms with next-generation technologies. The focus has paid off – while EMC still dominates the diskarray market, NetApp is now number-two, according to most market share estimates, ahead of IBMfor the first time and growing its storage business more rapidly. NetApps revenue for fiscal 2012(ended in April) reached $6.23bn (up 22% on 2011), with profits of $605m. As a pure storage house,channels and OEM partners have always been of great importance to NetApp, but 2011s $480macquisition of LSIs Engenio storage business places even more emphasis on it. Channel sales nowaccount for over three quarters of its revenue (a quarter of that driven by distributors ArrowElectronics and Avnet), with OEM sales (including sales to Fujitsu and IBM) accounting for 15%.NetApp first began talking about FlexPod in January 2010, only a month after the formation of theVCE Consortium (an integrated infrastructure partnership between VMware, Citrix and EMC). Its aimwas to build an underlying infrastructure for virtualized dynamic datacenters, and to provide mutualcustomers with streamlined IT operations, improved resilience and reliable support. Focused onproduct integration and interoperability, the collaboration kicked off with jointly tested designs andbest-practice guides across specific areas, including reference architectures for VMware View,secure multi-tenancy, high availability and virtualized Microsoft business apps. The collaborationalso stretched to professional services, whether delivered directly or via mutual systems integrationpartners, and included a cooperative support arrangement between the three companies to dealwith problem resolution.ProductsThe Cisco-NetApp FlexPod began shipping toward the end of 2010. Its described as a unifieddatacenter architecture combining NetApp FAS storage, Cisco UCS servers and Nexus networking,with VMware vSphere and vCenter as a predesigned, pre-sized and validated base configuration.In 2012, NetApp and Cisco unveiled a new version of FlexPod for smaller workloads of 500-1,000users, providing a more attractive entry point for smaller businesses or larger companiesCopyright 2012 - The 451 Group 2
  • 3. experimenting with integrated infrastructure. It also enables FlexPod infrastructure to be scaled upon a more granular basis when more capacity is required. The new configuration uses Cisco UCSC-series rack mount servers and the entry-level NetApp FAS2240 storage array.There are two specific differentiation points worth highlighting – a focus on the application layer,and its support for a secure multi-tenancy model, which is of particular interest to theservice-provider community. SAP and Microsoft are two of its application-level partners. NetApp andSAP have worked together on application, process and workflow integration with NetApp coretechnologies such as FlexClone, Snapshot and SnapManaager. Their work began prior to FlexPod,with the development of the Lean Cloud Reference Architecture, which was subsequentlyintegrated with the Secure Multi-Tenancy Architecture and ported onto FlexPod infrastructure. WithMicrosoft, NetApp and Cisco have validated FlexPod for use with the Microsoft private cloud, andhave come up with a Cisco-validated design for running up to 100,000 SharePoint users (with 10%concurrency), using five UCS blade servers.The Secure Multi-Tenancy work was initiated before the launch of FlexPod, and based on acombination of NetApps own MultiStore – a product it established a decade ago, long before cloudbecame a buzzword – in combination with VMware vShield Zones and Cisco Nexus switching,resulting in multi-tenancy enforcement at three levels – virtual machine, network and storage. Ithelps address service-provider (internal and external) concerns around security, regulatorycompliance and service-level agreements.StrategyThe emphasis for FlexPod has been on making it easier to deploy a shared IT infrastructure andmaking the transition to the cloud simpler. FlexPod, which NetApp claims can deliver up to 50%capex and opex savings, isnt about promoting specific product bundles, its more of a referencearchitecture, and NetApp says its own recommendations are driven by customer requirements.NetApp has also set out to make FlexPod more partner-friendly than some rival integratedinfrastructure efforts. It has built up around 500 FlexPod partners with the help of a whole raft ofgo-to-market plans: channel and direct sales enablement, joint engagement, integrated demandgeneration, joint seminars, workshops and high touch executive summits, and integratedmarketing programs.Specifically for the Cisco NetApp FlexPod, NetApp has put a number of alliances in place at themanagement layer, in order to keep its options open and make it easier to attract partners. Whilethe initial software partner was VMware (for vCenter, vCenter Orchestrator and VMware vCloudCopyright 2012 - The 451 Group 3
  • 4. Director), NetApp has since added multi-hypervisor support, and keeps its management optionsopen by emphasizing API integration with third-party orchestration tools. For instance, FlexPodsupports Cisco Intelligent Automation for Cloud (the combination of Ciscos newScale and TidalSoftware acquisitions), Microsofts System Center 2012 (with its newly added private cloudcapabilities), and automation and orchestration consoles, including Cloupias Unified InfrastructureController, Gale Technologies GaleForce Turnkey Cloud and CA Technologies Automation Suite forData Centers.CompetitionVCE is the first entity to come to mind as a competitor to FlexPod. NetApp points out that VCE is aformal coalition between EMC and Cisco, along with VMware, implying EMC and Cisco are thedriving force. Its own pact is less formal, and each partner is equal. And while VCE is aboutpromoting specific product bundles (aka Vblock), NetApp says its own recommendations are moredriven by customer requirements. But in April, EMC appeared to take direct aim at the FlexPodbusiness with its own channel-centric VSPEX (short for Virtual System Specifications) program, a setof 14 new reference architectures designed and maintained by EMC, combining storage, serversand networking equipment into easily deployed and proven infrastructure building blocks. UnlikeVblock (typically aimed at high-end service-provider and enterprise customers), VSPEX is gearedtoward midrange customers, and will only be sold through the channel.All the big server vendors now have their own integrated infrastructure offerings, and startups suchas Nutanix and Pivot3 are also starting to emerge, fielding modular storage-server-networkinghybrid systems designed to run virtualized workloads.SWOT Analysis Strengths Weaknesses NetApps pure focus on storage makes it an Some argue that the looser the integration, the less attractive partner for Cisco, and offers a more benefit there is to be gained from converged partner-friendly alternative to some of the primary infrastructure. NetApps reference architecture competition. approach is less tightly coupled than that of VCE Co, for instance. Opportunities Threats A broader set of partners and sales channels could EMC appears to have taken notice of FlexPods market take Cisco and NetApp into market areas they impact, and come up with a more direct competitive might not otherwise get to – virtual desktop play in the shape of VSPEX – and EMC can be a very infrastructure is one particularly bright spot. aggressive competitor.Copyright 2012 - The 451 Group 4
  • 5. Reproduced by permission of The 451 Group; © 2011. This report was originally published within 451 Research’s Market Insight Service. For additional information on 451 Research or to apply for trial access, go to: www.451research.comCopyright 2012 - The 451 Group 5