FlexPod Review

Enables full-stack VMware integration and rapid cloning

What is our primary use case?

The primary use case that we have for most of our customers is where they're in a converged environment and they also have file system storage. It's primarily where they're looking for a solid NAS-based appliance that also runs business-critical workloads well, with a highly available architecture.

The focus is data center workload as well as VDI workload. And once they've already got it, why not use it for file storage as well as other things to replace Windows file servers. It's easier to deal with a NetApp - which is typically more secure - than a Windows Server that you're going to have to patch constantly.

How has it helped my organization?

For most of our customer base, the benefit is the cooperative support model. While we tend to offer ourselves to our clients as a first call for support - because we are familiar with the environment - when they choose to call NetApp or Cisco directly, the cooperative support model means they can get passed back and forth between the two organizations freely. It works really well.

What is most valuable?

For me, it really goes back to the protocols; the fact that it can run the entire stack in terms of protocols. The integration for most of our customers is VMware; the full-stack integration. They're into the VMware environment. Also, the ability to do rapid cloning, the whole nine yards. I don't know that there's anything I wouldn't pitch it for in most data center workloads.

What needs improvement?

In terms of a future release, I don't know that there is anything that I would specifically ask for. I'm happy with it and I like to see how they continue to evolve it.

As the industry as a whole is moving more toward the simplification of IT, that is something where both Cisco and NetApp could look to improve further. Just simplifying the day to day management, the day to day issues that arise, and building more intuitiveness into the interfaces would help. Especially from our customers' perspective, thinking about it from their shoes, a lot of them are wearing a lot of hats. Having things built into monitoring tools that actually provide suggested workarounds or suggested resolutions; continued improvement there is going to go a long way.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

It is an incredibly stable solution. Back when I was a customer still, we were previously an all-HPE shop that switched to UCS. Stability with UCS was unparalleled, and it's the same thing with NetApp. I have never seen a more resilient HA product out there then NetApp's solution. If I want to know that I'm putting my workload on a solution, from a storage perspective, that is going to be up 100% of the time, I'm going to choose NetApp.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Scalability is an area where NetApp has definitely grown, once they got out of strictly 7-Mode and moved over to cluster data on tap. The scale-out architecture versus scale-up architecture was more beneficial there and actually carried more weight within the industry when you started to see what some others were doing.

On the UCS side of things, I struggle with it back and forth, tying everything back through the fabric interconnects. I see that over time they're not going to scale out as well as they scale up, and you're going to have to replace them at some point. But it's still a much more scalable architecture compared to some of the competing solutions that are out there, like HPE Synergy.

How is customer service and technical support?

I get frustrated with TAC (Cisco's Technical Assistance Center) from time to time. Whether it's TAC or NetApp, working through level-one technical support has always been a challenge because it's usually a very scripted conversation. When you're an organization like ours, where we're troubleshooting for our customers all the time, you run through the common scenarios already, before turning to support. I like to be able to work my way up a little bit more quickly, and I've learned some tricks over the years to get to a level-two or level-three tech before burning too much time. 

Especially when you look at the fact that we also sell a lot of HPE and Nimble, solely because Nimble had great tech support - when you made that phone call, they picked up immediately - that's something that really went a long way toward improving their customer satisfaction. I'd love to see NetApp and Cisco do something similar to that. 

Which solutions did we use previously?

When I was a customer we still had NetApp, but it was all 7-Mode and then we were running HPE c7000 chassis. When we switched over we went to UCS Nexus and had upgraded to CDOT with brand new clusters at the time.

With my current organization, we sell a lot of solutions in many different categories but this is my go-to solution because of my comfort level with it, for sure.

When I'm having these conversations with customers, ultimately it's based around what the solution outcome needs to look like, what are the business requirements, what are the business needs and building it out from there. The biggest thing to take into account is the challenges that they're having, whether it's performance, or specific workloads and specific needs they have. A lot of customers use NetApp as just a NAS box, and I really try to do my best to get out there and evangelize that it's far more capable than that. I would say the same thing with UCS.

How was the initial setup?

I have a lot of experience with setup. I'm somebody who loves to dive into CLI on the NetApp side. I love to build the entire thing from scratch and not really use any of the setup tools that are out there. There is definitely a little bit of a learning curve for FlexPod still, especially as you're building out from scratch. But, at the same time, they have both done a great job at working to simplify that deployment process and make it more straightforward.

What other advice do I have?

In terms of maintaining the same level of guidance, had we been working with one vendor as opposed to two vendors at the same time, they both have their own individual best practices and there are a lot of best practices out there. There isn't necessarily one that's really the best. I think that there is enough crossover between them that I don't know that it really makes a big difference.

I rate FlexPod at eight out of 10 because there is always room for improvement, although there is nothing off the top of my head that I can specifically call out. Going back to the simplification of IT, everybody can always do more to really simplify things because we live at a time where so much of what we do is "a little bit of everything."  As we go through the continued evolution there, that is really the biggest area that both NetApp and Cisco could really improve: to simplify management, to simplify the monitoring, and the maintenance. 

Also, bringing down that cost of entry as well and keeping the costs lower would help to us get it into more small to midsize businesses. FlexPod Express is a great product, but continue to bring down that cost of entry.

My advice is "do it." It meets the needs of small to midsize business all the way up to the large enterprise that needs to scale in a massive fashion. It's a great product, it's a great solution, and we're really happy with it.

Disclosure: My company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Partner.
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