FlexPod Review

A reliable, versatile solution that offers great value and proven performance

What is our primary use case?

We use this solution for backing up and storing banking and financial data. It is especially important for protecting data mirroring between multiple data centers using a hybrid cloud type approach. We have our own cases for what we use but we do like the input we get from the manufacturers and their suggestions on how we should deploy things.

How has it helped my organization?

Before we had FlexPod, we had just stacks and stacks of servers. You know, every time you wanted to build a server you had to go buy a whole pizza box (case for computers or network switches), put it in a rack, plug it up. We had EMC, we had a bunch of different storage providers, the way it connected was makeshift, a couple of late servers here and there. So to be able to put everything in one rack, one solution with the storage, was a big step up. Plus, every time we need to expand the storage for the old system, it wasn't easy. Cisco blades simplify everything from a compute standpoint and you can easily upgrade the blades. All you got to do is add a new chassis, change out your blades, and the blades are done. If a blade dies, you pull it out, you get a brand new one or you change the motherboard and you just slide it back in depending on the policy that you create for the surface profiles and you are good to go.

What is most valuable?

A valuable feature of the FlexPod solution is that it is all one architecture and I can call one number and get support for Cisco and NetApp without having to jump through open TAC (Technical Assistance Center) cases and do multiple things to get issues addressed. When integrating with VMware, I know all the parts that came with it and all the parts and when I need to update something in it, I can just get the complete package, do all the firmware stuff and the fabric interconnects.

What needs improvement?

The real improvement I could see on the FlexPod side is it falls on the NetApp components. The upgrades that they had to go through from 7-Mode to CDOT (Clustered Data OnTap) did not make for a good transition. I'm pretty sure they learned the lesson from that because you basically had to stand up a side-by-side system, copy your data over, upgrade your stuff and move your data back. No one wants to do that and it is a nightmare.

It would also be nice if you could manage everything through a single pane of glass — but that won't happen. With a single pane, we could look at everything at once in the UCS (Cisco's Unified Computing System) components as well as VMware and the NetApp components. It would be good to be able to do that without having to navigate into four different web pages.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The solution has decreased downtime incidents by close to 100%. With the resiliency built into the system, one component fails and the others still work. I mean, you just can't get any better than that. So the stability of the solution is really good.

We have lost a blaze server here and there. But we run about 30 servers on each side, so, losing one isn't that big a deal. Besides that, we don't have that many issues with it. It just works. This is our third iteration. Obviously we bought it the first time and we liked it enough that we bought it again.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Scalability does have some issues being that NetApp is all part of the FlexPod. It could limit how much you can scale. Depending on what head system you bought that came with NetApp it will make a difference for you to be able to scale. I don't remember off hand what the step-by-step is to upgrade. But I know sometimes that it can turn into an issue. If you didn't gage right and you bought the wrong piece and you went too small on your storage and you need to expand, you might have to change stuff out.

How are customer service and technical support?

The technical support is good. We've never had an issue with them. We paid for a service and we have a dedicated support person. We call him, he opens the case, then the engineers call us back. We don't wait on hold or do any of that. So it works really well for us. I like that. The solution's support for the entire staff has been very important. That I can get the help that I need and help find solutions to fix issues that happen between the stacks is really valuable.

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

Before we started using FlexPod we just had a regular old hodgepodge of different IT systems. A couple of Dell servers, a couple of HPs, a couple of IBM blades, and that kind of network doesn't really function well as a solution once your organization starts to get to a certain size. You need to commit to a solution that you will be able to grow with for the next five or six years.

The fact that the product integrates with all major public cloud services did not influence our decision to go with FlexPod, although I think that maybe the case with some people.

In the end, we went with FlexPod because of everything that they offered. The complete scalability of the system, the recovery capabilities of it, and the whole integration opportunity. The NetApp part was a big deal and a component we wanted because the NetApp storage solution could do everything that we wanted it to do. We didn't have to buy 60 licenses just to make it do what it was supposed to do right out the box. That was a big thing.

How was the initial setup?

I was involved in the initial setup and it was a bit complex. It was complex at first because I mean it was a new system and stuff and there were some parts that we had not managed before that we had to learn. Using the UCL software was new to us. We can easily manipulate the fabric interconnects. You don't have to get the networking people every time you need to do something. They just have to touch the 9k or the 5k or whatever you running.

What about the implementation team?

We integrated through Sigma Solutions as a reseller and consultant. They were excellent. We enjoy working with them. They worked with us on the first installation and then again when we redeployed our data centers and helped us get the FlexPod solution. They actually took us and brought us to California and we actually went to the EMC shop and we went to the NetApp shop there in California. We toured the main offices and looked at the solutions there and where we ultimately went for the next NetApp FlexPod instead of the EMC FlexPod version.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

Our shortlist included a Dell EMC.

What other advice do I have?

We have found that the solution simplifies infrastructure from edge to core to cloud — although we have not really implemented the cloud yet.

The solution has made our staff more efficient and enables them to spend more time driving the business forward. It's primarily what we do. We don't really have other tasks. But as far as not having to worry about daily maintenance on the network very much — it just works. I'm not messing with it every day and trying to get something to work right. It is set up, it is configured, We have got our policies in place and you pretty much roll. We can focus on doing other things like analyzing the data, mixture throughput, things like that when you don't have to worry about the hardware tripping you up.

I think the integration improved application performance in our organization. The back end on the FlexPod with the 40 gig connections on the NetApp makes the DB admins life a whole lot easier with a lot less latency for them. And not only that, with the components, we can monitor it and see where they are being affected and then we can fix those issues for them without a lot of back-and-forths.

I'm sure the solution has saved the organization money. Because it creates a smaller footprint you do not need as many servers. I don't know offhand how much power and storage and residual costs we saved. But the solution has decreased organization data center costs.

The solutions have affected our operations with the opportunity to use things like All-flash, CI, Private and HyperCloud. I'd say that one of the biggest improvements was All-flash. Before we were still using mechanical drives and actually we did on the first generation of FlexPod. We are on our third generation. They did have mechanical drives in the first iteration. So for us to move to all-flash, which we have now, was a really good step up.

On a scale of one to ten where ten is the best, I would rank the product against the competition as a ten.

My advice to anyone considering this solution is that they really start out looking at their needs depending on the size of the company. The product is kind of expensive even from an entry-level standpoint. I know they have the edge systems for branches, but if you have a small to medium-size business you probably have to have a lot of data to make it worthwhile. I would say FlexPod would be the way to go if you are a larger business or one with large data volume.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

Private Cloud

If public cloud, private cloud, or hybrid cloud, which cloud provider do you use?

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