FlexPod Review

It is non-disruptive. Technical support is proactive and they don't point fingers at each other.

What is most valuable?

Flexibility and performance are the most valuable features. We are a financial company. Performance is very important for us, when it comes to processing data on SQL databases. Scalability is another example of us installing a new 8080 and migrating data from 8040 to All Flash on the 8080.

It's flexible; it's adaptable; it's pretty fast; and it's non-disruptive. That's a huge part of what gives it an edge over other technologies these days – the disruption to the business – because our kind of business is an online business. It has to be 24/7 and zero disruption for the users. It is just great for business.

What needs improvement?

There is room for improvement in the GUI for the NetApp side. There's a lot that they could do on the CLI side. However, for a lot of novice admin users for NetApp, where you want to delegate certain work to the rest of your team, if you have a new person who joins the team or doesn't have enough experience with the CLI part, the GUI is an easier way for a novice user to use the appliance.

It exists today, but not enough. I've seen some improvements in ONTAP 9 from 8. Some features were added that were not available before, like zeroing spare disks; other features that are there as well. The world is moving more towards GUI rather than CLI. That's because it's less time-consuming. The graphical interface is better. Also, IT administrators are becoming lazier to learn the commands and memorize all the commands that have to do with simple operations; move a volume, create a LUN or something like that. Moving towards GUI would help a lot in administering the appliance, for sure.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

I’ve never had any stability issues. What's nice about it is, if we approach NetApp for support, they support us on all the stack. If we approach Cisco for support, they support us throughout the stack. It's a pretty integrated solution. Also, nobody points fingers at anybody else. From the experience I've had with them, if we call Cisco, they support us on everything that has to do with the FlexPod. If we call NetApp, they support us on all FlexPod components.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

I have not encountered any scalability issues. It's just great. We increased our space. We moved to flash disks from SATA and SAS. Again, no disruption; better performance; and it's all transparent to the business.

IT has a major problem when it comes to explaining where we stand to the business. All the business understands is, “I want to be always online. I want to have better performance” – whatever that means to them – “and I want it to cost me less.” It's an expensive solution, but when you compare that to what FlexPod actually does, and the performance it provides, it's pretty good.

How is customer service and technical support?

Technical support is excellent and they support you on the Cisco equipment, too; on the Nexus. We have a Nexus 5K and a Nexus 7K. They've got pointers: where to go, what to do, what you have to look at. It removes the headache from our side, going back and forth between two different companies; one is the storage; the other is the network; and everyone is pointing performance issues on the other. But this solution tells me, “You know what, we work together. It’s our product and we'll help support you on any component,” which is a great thing.

Which solutions did we use previously?

I think the team that I joined had a different vendor. They migrated from that vendor to FlexPod because we're scaling out our business. The business is doing well, so we have a plan to scale out 10 times the business size over the next three years. That's why we addressed all other different solutions and we found the FlexPod would help us out when it comes to scalability.

If we buy the appliance right now, we don't have to buy the full size, but if we want to scale out, it gives us that option to scale out as big as we want it. Our business tripled over the last two years and we're starting to create performance labs to see how much it's going to handle when we go 10 times our size. FlexPod is helping us out with that a lot.

In general, for the backend IT people and the infrastructure team, support is one of the most important criteria when choosing a vendor. When you call, I don't want to be waiting on the line. This is the smallest example I can give: waiting on the line for a callback and support that just keeps pointing fingers at other appliances. We look for the quality of support; getting to solve and follow-up on our issues; RMAing items, if need be; and proactivity.

With NetApp, we have the online support where, if one of the disks goes down, NetApp automatically knows about it and they approach us saying, “Hey, you've got a disk that's going down. If your alerting is not working, our alerting is working. We need to send you an RMA for this disk.” Those things make an IT department feel more secure because it is not only us having to watch our back to show that we're doing a good job for our business; we've got somebody else on our side doing that for us, as well. That's another good thing.

What other advice do I have?

Because it's a scalable appliance, most IT people tend to aim to get the biggest thing because you might as well. You want to cover your back as well, and all of that. But scalability; you've got to have in mind scalability. When looking at FlexPod, buying the basic thing could cost you a little bit, but you have that flexibility of adding and scaling up in FlexPod. You don't have to go all-in like we used to with a lot of different appliances.

It's non-disruptive. That's a huge thing. You want to build something that you can say, “OK, the business is going to grow. We are anticipating the business is going to grow three times the size.” You don't want to buy an appliance now and then, when you want to add an extension to it, you have to take the business down. That doesn't look good for you as an IT department. It also doesn't look good for your appliance, saying, "Why do we have to go down for eight hours or 12 hours? We've already invested so much money and now you're saying we're going to be disrupted for 12 hours." So, FlexPod eliminates that for you.

Start small, have in mind that you can scale out, and scale up, too.

A few of the reasons why I gave it a perfect rating are support; scalability, of course, for the appliance; and scalability for the company itself. NetApp is growing; now they're adding SolidFire to their portfolio. I've taken a brief look at SolidFire. I've noticed that they're dealing with it as a separate entity – not separate technology, but definitely a separate entity – that you can add to a portfolio of NetApp, whether it is EF or FAS; now, they've also got SolidFire.

I'm hoping to see NetApp integrate SolidFire into the OnCommand GUI itself. That way, we wouldn’t have to deal with two separate appliances in the back. That would add more headache to the administrator – having to know two different appliances, adding command capacity and administering two different technologies – rather than integrating them into one and having one admin side. It is new technology so I would give them an almost-perfect rating, but SolidFire is a great technology to add to your portfolio.

I'm a pro-FlexPod guy, which is where this comes from. We haven't faced any usability issues with it before. We've faced a couple of performance issues that turned out to be outside the FlexPod, not within the FlexPod. It turned to be a Microsoft database issue that some on the DB team were able to resolve. Performance-wise, the performance tools give you a great insight on what's going on in your appliance or in your FlexPod; knowing where you could do some enhancements, or where you can help troubleshoot some problems for developers or for the database teams; saying, “This is where we need to enhance or this is how our appliance is performing.” It's pretty cool.

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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