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"Even a single light bulb matters": A closer look at Cisco and NetApp's Flexpod initiative

Cisco and NetApp recently announced the expansion of their FlexPod portfolio to support data intensive workloads. Here, Kerry Partridge (Cisco Head of Business Development for Data Centre/ Virtualisation, EMEAR] and John Rollason [NetApp Director Product, Solutions and Alliances Marketing, EMEA] discuss the joint partnership and what it means for customers now and in the future.

Tell us a little bit about the latest announcement?

John Rollason Cisco and NetApp have some time ago jointly developed an integrated stack with compute, network and storage, called FlexPod, which to date has grown to over 2,400 customers in over 35 countries worldwide. It allows them to seamlessly and easily move towards either a cloud environment at scale or support business-critical applications through one of the validated and tested reference designs. The current FlexPod release carries heavy momentum in terms of scalability, high-performance environments such as big data, and a general enlargement of the FlexPod applications landscape. We are introducing extensions to the portfolio such as FlexPod Select, the integration of Cisco's Nexus 7000 Series switches, FlexPod Datacenter with SnapProtect to provide a comprehensive disk-to-disk-to-tape backup & recovery solution.

Kerry Partridge All of this demonstrates the evolution of integrated stacks. These moved from "unified everything", towards integration, then to scale, culminating currently in business "enablement". So, today it is important that we are delivering on the promise of joint application integration. This is the key factor for customers: we are combining the latest generation of best-of-breed infrastructure, offering functionalities like Fibre Channel over Ethernet through the entire network stack and our most powerful intelligent switching technology, to deliver business value through applications. The FlexPod Select solution with Hadoop is a great example. Customers extract value from being able to make real-time business decisions based on analysis of their complex data. Ebay, who also run Cisco and NetApp infrastructure, is huge in terms of buyer/seller relations. It work with datasets that are more than 50 Petabytes. SAP HANA helps them deduct usable signals from noise, opening huge revenue opportunities.

So, is FlexPod Select a solution for the market leaders only?

John Rollason No, although FlexPod Select certainly is a more tailored solution as it is based on Hadoop and NetApp's high-performance E-Series solution, which delivers a massive amount of I/O at scale. We see typical applications within the public sector where huge amounts of data are stored. Also in markets that are big in media applications or in vertical industries.

Kerry Partridge Again, it is all about insight and value extraction. Analysis changes the whole understanding of the business-to-business, and even more so of the business-to-commercial process. Manufacturing and services-led economies can base their activities on practical results that are derived from real-time data. This is a vast improvement over earlier methods of analysis or dead reckoning. Think for example about the German manufacturing base where SAP is very strong. Or in the UK where smart analytics help providers streamline clinical care requirements.

Which customer is a good proof point for FlexPod?

Kerry Partridge The aforementioned Ebay example certainly is a tremendous value statement. Another great example is Aegis Media, based out of the UK, the world's leading media and digital communications group. Its growth and client development was starting to be effected by an ageing IT infrastructure. A siloed and heterogeneous infrastructure for a large part was to blame. With the transition to a FlexPod environment, its application performance improved by 100 percent, and it achieved a tenfold increase in disaster recovery capability, plus savings of 20 per cent on infrastructure, 30 per cent on power, and 50 per cent on space. This consolidation effort reduced its datacenter number from 150 to just three. Its partner, Logicalis, was also an instrumental factor in realising the IT transition process with as little disruption as possible.

John Rollason Partnering here is the important keyword. We cannot stress this enough: the whole idea of partnering is driving the global success of FlexPod. On the one hand between us, Cisco and NetApp, we have a decade of joint technology innovation that culminates in the current FlexPod range. This gives customers and partners a pre-designed and validated stack to power the cloud and the applications that matter in business, be it Citrix, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, or VMware. FlexPod has also been a partner revenue and growth motor. With more than 40 global FlexPod Premium Partners – companies like ANS, Computacenter, Dimension Data, and many more – we have a very powerful go-to-market that delivers vast consulting and integration opportunities to the channel.

Kerry Partridge With this, you can really see the evolution in the design as we tried to tailor FlexPod to where the market is moving and where we see customers evolve to. This includes the ability to scale seamlessly for large cloud environments and also down to the branch level with FlexPod Express. We are collaborating very closely with the mentioned strategic vendors to deliver application design evolution. This joint engineering process can be seen as we moved from integrating Microsoft Hyper-V to a reference design for Microsoft Private Cloud.

John Rollason The Sauber F1 Team from Switzerland is an early FlexPod user. It basically employ a containerised mini-datacenter that is flown around the world to power its race car analytics on-track and collaborate with its development base in Hinwil. All the CAD and fluid dynamics development data such as wind tunnel testing files are stored and replicated using a NetApp MetroCluster. This is a very smart but incredibly efficient solution that allows Sauber F1 Team to be successful on a budget.

Looking some time into the future based on these examples, what are the next opportunities and developments?

Kerry Partridge To grasp the opportunity, it is best to look at the concept of "Smartdust". The idea here is micro-electromechanical, biodegradable chips that you can scatter across arable land to detect light, temperature or chemicals, creating trillions of data points and helping farmers to extract better value from their crops. The joint Cisco and NetApp initiative helps exploit these numbers and helps exploit the data growth associated with Smartdust or the Internet of Things. In general, I'd say one cannot underestimate the disruptive opportunities that infrastructure technologies deliver. Flexible operations, Ethernet-enabled appliances, smart offices – they can be exploited to save enterprises billions of Euros. Even a single light bulb matters, so to speak.

John Rollason That is a very valid point, especially as you'd usually not look at energy savings in an IT infrastructure environment. But flexibility and agility do make a difference here, and I'd like to give an example that expands on Kerry's point about smart operations. If you have a truly agile architecture including storage, networking, compute and applications with unified management, you can shuffle workloads almost in real-time to deliver the best ROI. For example you can move workloads between the Americas, Europe and Asia as the day moves and run high-yield compute operations in a region with little utilization or power-intensive workloads at a time of day with lower energy costs. The same principle applies to storage as workloads can be easily transitioned to another storage tier.

Anything else to wrap up?

John Rollason We will continue to invest heavily in our FlexPod product range, delivering scale and integration to customers and service providers, and opportunities to partners. There is flash storage, next-generation networking, the cloud.

Kerry Partridge The business value attributed to software is hitting unknown heights. We see ever more disruption and endless opportunities for customers, partners and vendors to gain. Watch this space!

Desire worked at ITProPortal right at the beginning and was instrumental in turning it into the leading publication we all know and love today. He then moved on to be the Editor of TechRadarPro - a position he still holds - and has recently been reunited with ITProPortal since Future Publishing's acquisition of Net Communities.