FlexPod Review

A sophisticated networking storage solution that has a flexible configuration and setup

What is our primary use case?

We use on-prem for our unified network communications solution, which is basically a Call Center. We have a Cisco call center running Cisco software on FlexPod. That is our primary and only use case right now for it. We use HP as a computer hardware solution for the enterprise. We'll probably expand our use of FlexPod and we use it for everything else including the entire production environment.

The components we are currently using are Cisco Blade Server Chassis. The blades are M4, Fabric Interconnect 6248, I believe. The very first version. They are very old. We'll probably be upgrading in a few years, or maybe next year. We have MDS switches, 9148 — they are pretty old too. We will have to upgrade them. And then we have NetApp FAS8040 disks.

How has it helped my organization?

This is a solution that's designed by Cisco and NetApp together. We have our reference designs, so we pretty much can skip the part where we need the implementation delivery. We can work directly with the vendor like NetApp, and tell them "We need this, and here is your validated design." But that's what helps right there.

What is most valuable?

The most valuable feature of the solution is the flexibility in configuration and the setup. We have not had any major issues so far.

What needs improvement?

I would like to see the FlexPod infrastructure get updated more often. Things like the firmware, the software packages, and the compatibility matrix have to update more often and seem to lag in development. We are kind of dragging on this. Because we were not performing all those updates more often, we are kind of delayed a few years.

For example, we are using the FlexPod for the Call Center and Call Center has specific versions of their software. Cisco has recommended that we use NetApp version 91 as the final version for the Call Center software. We can not go beyond 91 and 91 is a two-year-old OS. There have 96 out already and will probably be presenting 97 in a few days. So we are literally lagging behind by years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

We had a problem with the stability at one point. We found it through Cisco tech support while they were helping us to troubleshoot this solution. We found a drop in the Fibre Channel frames. This drop occurred on the HBAs (Hot Bus Adapter) of the NetApp controller. But we had to troubleshoot every step of the way to figure it out. Because basically what was happening was that the Call Center virtual machines were crashing.

However, the hardware stability is very good. We have no hardware issues on the server site.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The scalability of the solution is brilliant and works great. With the fabric interconnects, you can scale it horizontally. I don't know the actual stats, but I believe with the newer fabric interconnects, you can scale indefinitely pretty much.

How are customer service and technical support?

We did not purchase this product with the support contract, but I would like to try it. So our next purchase would be for sure including that part number for the FlexPod support.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

When we went to invest in a new solution we were looking for ease of implementation, peace of mind, future reference, and stateless design. That is the ability to take out any hardware piece, replace it with a new one, reboot and — boom — ready to go.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup was very straightforward, but you have to know the integration document for the Cisco validated design. It is a must to know. Basically, the guy who performs the implementation should know it like the bible. It is actually the bible for those guys, and for the people who are using it. Those validated designs make our engineer lives, much easier.

What about the implementation team?

We did involve a reseller. I can't mention them by name but they are a very well-known company. The process was great. They set up everything, and they are still helping us with the architecture and the new features, and so on so forth. As a matter of fact, they would be helping us updating firmware on the fabric interconnects in the next few months.

What was our ROI?

Our return on investment is that the solution has made us more efficient. It is a ready-to-go solution. It's like you can start using it almost within a week of the delivery.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

Our company makes purchases like CapEx (capital expenditure). So we do not have to maintain the license.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

Because I don't have experience with the Cloud integrations, that did end up affecting choices initially. For now, we are going to be staying with NetApp but we are also looking at other products like Pure Storage and Nimble.

What other advice do I have?

The solutions that validate the designs for major enterprise apps is a nice thing to have because there are many components. For a single person or even for an entire IT department, it will be impossible to correlate software versions, hardware versions, firmware versions, and everything else. It's a huge matrix.

The vendor has to provide the compatibility matrix, obviously and has to provide the complete vertical to give those numbers, per each component, for all software, and for the firmware. The customer can't figure it out by themselves. So, and that's the reason for the FlexPod, so they can buy and integrate everything together.

We are not on the Cloud yet at all. I would say we'll be looking into it when it's time because I understand this is inevitable. So we understand the push on us into this territory, and I know it is all about the Cloud now. A few years ago it was completely different. Now, it is all Data Fabric Cloud, Azure, and Usenet.

The product has decreased the unplanned downtime incidents in our organization. Even the incident I mentioned about the crashing virtual machines was identified and solved in one day.

On a scale of one to ten where ten is the best, I would rate FlexPod as a ten. I love it all. I could give it an eleven. 

My advice to people considering the solution is simple: read the Cisco validated design, remember it, and use it. It is a must to have and must to know, and must to use.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

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