FlexPod Review
We don't have to add new ports every time we add a new server. Everything's already connected.

Valuable Features

We really like the flexibility. I love that – it doesn't happen a whole lot, but – anytime we have a blade die or even just bad RAM, I grab that service profile, throw it on another blade, and we're up and running without any issues.

We're also a pretty siloed environment. I love that we're not having to add new ports and stuff every time we add a new server; we already have everything connected. Worst case, if we're adding a new VLAN, networking adds that VLAN to the trunks to the fabric interconnects, and we're up and running without a long process. It used to be, we would have new builds run up to weeks, whereas now I roll out a new VM in 15 minutes; if I have to add new network connectivity, it might be an hour or two but that's it.

I like the user interface a whole lot. The new 3.1 release has the HTML5 interface. I finally don't have to mess with Java. I still have jump servers with specific versions of Java for FlexPod we've deployed at different times that are running different codebases. I don't have to mess with that anymore. I'm looking forward to that new equipment.

Improvements to My Organization

We actually run one of several private clouds within our company and it is all on FlexPod. We run it as a profit center. We're able to give all our internal clients the fastest response time of any of our server teams and the flexibility to, if you need a VM with one CPU and a couple gigs of RAM, or if you need 20 VMs with eight CPUs and 32 gigs each, it's all the same to us. We have the blades to support it all.

Room for Improvement

I haven't really come across a whole lot of areas for improvement. There are features I'd like to see in our deployment that are already available; all-flash trays, and items like that. It's there; I need to find a project that justifies getting it rolled out in our data center.

Everything works pretty well. I think they should just continue to add more features and capabilities for hybrid cloud, especially items such as cloud bursting to one of the public clouds. Specifically, they need to make sure that, for our client site, it integrates with the FedRAMP clouds; it's got to be Azure Federal or AWS Federal. It can't just be to the regular public cloud.

I haven’t yet come across any features in other solutions that I’d like to see in FlexPod. Some of the newer storage vendors have slightly easier-to-use GUI interfaces, but I weigh that compared to the control and other features I have, such as SSHing into my NetApps. It'd be nice sometimes for quick stuff, but it's not worth giving up the control I have with the NetApp filers there.

There's always something new down the road, something new that can be done, but I think it's doing as well as possible. It seems like they keep getting new features, new ideas out there. We have flash on all four of the different lines now, continuing to evolve more cloud control with the UCS Director; it keeps growing. I love it.

Use of Solution

We've been running it six years now.

Stability Issues

We've been running it six years now and I just ordered my gen-4 gear; it should be here at the end of the month. I've had no issues.

I do some consulting, too, and have deployed it for a bunch of clients at smaller scales. I've not had a complaint yet.

Customer Service and Technical Support

I’ve occasionally needed to use technical support; generally, just with drives. Half the time, our rep will contact us to schedule the drive shipment before we even notice the email from the alerting. We love it.

We’re absolutely happy with the technical support. NetApp has the best tech support, which I've heard is part of the interview process to get the job there. I've heard rumors that it takes multiple days and is brutal, but they're the best guys we've got. We deal with lots of large vendors, and NetApp definitely has the best support teams.

Previous Solutions

With our particular case, our previous company had spun us off without any IT staff, so we were using third-party IT and we were trying to bring IT in house. Because we were having to build our IT staff from the ground up, the flexibility and all of the things that FlexPod made easier means it is a whole lot easier to bring IT in-house. We didn't need multiple storage people, server people. We had it more integrated, and had the single company to call for any issues we had bringing that all up.

Initial Setup

I was not involved in the initial setup. Another couple of guys on the team did it. We did the initial setup with Firefly, who was our vendor, and provided week-long training. We each got to set up several of the blades, but Firefly did the initial UCS setup. I've done other UCS implementations since then from scratch, though.

I love the setup. I think it's very simple. I'm biased; I'm a CCIE Data Center. I like it enough that I have put a lot of time into it. I took a client from all physical to all virtual in a four-day weekend, with all-new switches, new SAN, new UCS, and in four days I already had, I think, their first 10 or 15 servers moved from physical to virtual on UCS setups.

Other Solutions Considered

We ran through all the primary vendors, but it was all one-off; there weren’t any converged solutions at the time, six years ago, when FlexPod first came out. It was either work with HP, Dell, Hitachi, EMC, etc., or have only one place; it’s better to have everything in one place.

Other Advice

Definitely take advantage of all the training you can, particularly the UCS portion of the setup. It's very much a one time setup if you do it right the first time. I use the reference install guide for the VMware on FlexPod, even for installs that aren't using NetApp storage because it's so well-written. It's 175 pages but it gives you not only what to do, but why to do it and even full configurations you can copy-and-paste in to make sure that everything really is "set it and forget it". You can just continue to operate your business, serve your clients as well as possible, and not have to go back and try and fix things.

We’ve never had an incident where we set it up and it hasn't worked; there have just been little things, such as when I didn't think and was setting up the first of the two fabric interconnects and put dash-A at the end of the name. I forgot that it adds A and B anyway, so that client is UCS-CompanyName-A-A or -A-B. As long as I followed the guides, I've never had an issue.

I really like good support when I’m looking at a vendor; that’s one of the most important criteria for me. I'm big on vendors that have good training. I want a vendor that wants to support their clients, wants their clients to be better educated. I don't want a vendor that wants you to always call them and maybe bill up a support call. I want the vendor that gives you the training so you can operate the equipment best yourself; still have good support when you do have to call, but give you the information you need so you can do it yourself and operate it as well as possible.

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

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