FlexPod Review

Easy to set up and maintain, increased our uptime, and improved application performance

What is our primary use case?

Our primary use case for this solution is virtualization. We run both VMware and Hyper-V.

We currently have an AFF8040 that is running with Cisco UCS in our FlexPod solution. We have a four-node cluster, where we have the AFF but we also have a second cluster with spinning disks. It's nice to have them clustered because I can move my high-performance workloads over onto the SSD, easily. If we have things that we determine aren't taking advantage of the SSD, I can volume migrate it back to the spinning disk and not waste high-performance capacity on workloads that aren't utilizing the speed of the SSD.

The solution's validated designed for major enterprise apps are very important to us because we would prefer not to open support calls, and with the validated configuration, it just works.

We are not yet using this solution for tiering to a public cloud, but it is something that we're looking into.

How has it helped my organization?

This solution has improved our organization in that we have reduced administration time and reduced troubleshooting time. We know that the performance is there when we need it.

The history of innovations has had a positive effect on our organization. NetApp is always coming up with features that I want before I know that I want them. For example, it was helpful when we no longer had to dedicate a certain number of disks to our root volume.

In terms of application performance, bringing the AFF in has made a huge difference in some of our manufacturing and labeling applications.

What is most valuable?

With the Cisco UCS, having the profiles and being able to swap hardware in and out is super valuable.

This solution is easy to set up and maintain.

I like the fact that NetApp has fully embraced the cloud and the SaaS backup is available. I always hear from my other cloud engineers that Microsoft backs it up, but I don't trust that. I want my snapshots.

What needs improvement?

The only support call that we have had in six years was related to an ONTAP upgrade, where one of the controllers didn't patch properly.

For how long have I used the solution?

We have been using this solution for six or seven years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

This solution is incredibly stable. In the past six or seven years that we have been using NetApp, aside from the disk replacement calls that we get occasionally, I have only had one other support call. We see disk failures once or twice per year.

The other support call was related to an ONTAP upgrade where one of the controllers just did not patch properly. The other clusters were still working fine on the other controller, and we got support involved. It was a known bug and they took care of it. The cluster was back up and running with full stability in under an hour.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

We have not had to scale this solution much, although our CAO has tasked us with being fully cloud by 2025. 

How are customer service and technical support?

I haven't had to open up any support cases recently. That said, the unified support for the entire stack is very important to us. If we ever did need to open a support call, we know that NetApp and Cisco are going to work together for a solution. When you get solutions that aren't paired like that, a lot of the time you get vendors pointing the finger back and forth at each other and bounce the support tickets back and forth. Knowing that NetApp and Cisco have worked together to verify this solution and are committed to working together to solve problems is very important for our organization.

On the occasion where we needed to use technical support, it was excellent.

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

We were using IBM SAN and HP servers before this solution, and our uptime has increased from about ninety-five percent uptime to five-nines or six-nines.

Our IBM SVC SAN was over-engineered. The person that brought it in didn't want to take the time to properly size the solution, so they just overbought. We switched to this solution because management wanted us to look for ways to cost-save.

I had a very small amount of experience with NetApp while I was with a previous employer, but the storage people at the company spoke very highly of NetApp. We brought them in to compare cost, features, and performance, and NetApp was brought into the environment after that.

How was the initial setup?

This solution is super easy and straightforward to set up. It is almost "set and forget", and everything works really well. It actually took longer than it should have, simply because I stopped the engineer and had him walk me through every single step so that I understood what he was doing and why he was doing it.

Without my interruption, he could have spun it up himself in a couple of hours. However, it was important for me to understand how the system was deployed and why things were set up the way that they were so that I was able to support it going forward.

What about the implementation team?

We brought in a company called MCPc to help us deploy initially. Interestingly, the technician from MCPc who helped us with the deployment ended up becoming our NetApp sales engineer, so I still work with him to this day. I knew nothing about NetApp at the time, so he got me up to speed initially. Then I went to a couple of NetApp Insights and took a couple of certification courses, and I am very comfortable with it now.

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

The total cost of ownership with this solution is good.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

Prior to choosing this option, we looked at a smaller IBM solution, as well as solutions from EMC. The big winning factor for NetApp was cost. At the same time, since we've brought NetApp in, I've found that NetApp's storage efficiency is unparalleled.

I recently had a discussion with a business unit in one of our remote sites that needed some more performance out of their 2650 and they were telling my bosses that they could get an IBM SSD solution for $10,000 USD. Their cost of adding a NetApp shelf would be $26,000 USD. I have no idea where they got those numbers, but never in my entire career have I experienced IBM being cheaper than anybody else.

When we factored in storage efficiency and cost savings that we get from using Commvault IntelliSnap for backups, it makes absolutely no sense to use anything other than NetApp.

When we originally looked at bringing Commvault into our environment for backup, using Commvault streaming technology, we were looking at several million dollars for backup. When we went through this with the NetApp rep and actually looked at how much streaming backup we needed for Commvault, and how much could be done natively with IntelliSnap, that cost went from several mission dollars down to a quarter of a million dollars. That was huge.

What other advice do I have?

We are a very lean organization, so this solution has not necessarily made our staff more efficient. If we were not already that way then we wouldn't get anything done.

My advice to anybody who is researching this type of solution is to make sure that you include FlexPod and be sure to consider the costs in the evaluation. I cannot imagine a situation where the total cost of ownership is not comparable. 

This is a solution that makes my life easier and I can always count on it being up. For me, that is the most important thing.

I would rate this solution a ten out of ten.

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