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Answers to NetApp FlexPod commonly asked questions

Wondering which version of FlexPod is ideal for your situation? In this FAQ, find out the answer to this, as well as other common NetApp and Cisco FlexPod questions.

Eight years ago, storage array vendor NetApp decided it wanted to compete with the giant in its industry, EMC, in converged infrastructure. EMC had introduced a CI platform it called Vblock, as part of a joint alliance among EMC, Cisco and VMware called VCE. So, NetApp also partnered with Cisco and VMware to launch its own CI stack system it named NetApp FlexPod.

NetApp FlexPod was followed by other storage vendor partnerships with Cisco, and soon, IBM, Pure Storage and others had CI offerings. These large CI bundles survive today, despite the rise of hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), which was nascent in the early days of CI.

"FlexPod continues to be a platform for customer innovation and investment protection," NetApp CEO George Kurian said during the vendor's quarterly earnings call this month, underscoring the ongoing importance of FlexPod.

Today, NetApp and Cisco have five types of FlexPod bundles, ranging from systems for large enterprise applications to those for SMBs and remote offices.

When was FlexPod launched?

NetApp launched FlexPod in 2010, as a response to the EMC hyper-converged infrastructure product Vblock. Since Vblock was the product of a team-up from EMC, Cisco and VMware called VCE, NetApp sought out Cisco and VMware as well to become partners in FlexPod. EMC rolled the joint company VCE back into its folds as the Converged Platform Division, and it remains as such since the Dell-EMC merger.

Is the VMware hypervisor the only one that works with FlexPod?

According to the documentation, NetApp and Cisco have tested FlexPod with the Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisor and Red Hat Virtualization in addition to VMware.

What technologies make up a NetApp FlexPod stack?

FlexPod includes NetApp Fabric-Attached Storage and SolidFire arrays, Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) servers and Cisco Nexus switches. Both UCS from Cisco and the Nexus switch OS, NX-OS, enable the functions of each to be abstracted from the underlying hardware.

How many varieties of FlexPod does NetApp sell?

NetApp provides five different versions of FlexPod. The core three are FlexPod Datacenter for enterprise-level virtualization and applications, FlexPod Express for small and midsize businesses and for enterprise branch offices, and FlexPod Select for specialized, data-intensive applications, such as big data analytics. The remaining two are FlexPod Modular Infrastructure, a preracked, plug-and-play system built on baseline versions of the various other models, and FlexPod SF, which runs the SolidFire OS Element on Cisco servers. NetApp acquired all-flash array vendor SolidFire in 2015.

What are the other CI stacks that include Cisco servers and networking?

Cisco technology is also included in Dell EMC VxBlock, IBM VersaStack and Pure Storage FlashStack IT platforms.

Is NetApp FlexPod a plug-and-play installation?

Aside from the FlexPod Modular Infrastructure version, all FlexPod varieties require assembly and customization. However, the components have been designed and tested to work together in certain configurations, so both Cisco and NetApp have reference standard design guides and documentation to accompany the configurations. NetApp has its Validated Architectures for FlexPod, whereas Cisco has Cisco Validated Designs for FlexPod.

How does FlexPod scale?

An IT department can scale NetApp FlexPod like an HCI system, as long as it uses the same design configuration for all FlexPod stacks. But FlexPod is a CI system and can have compute and storage scaled separately from each other if needed, enabling greater flexibility of expansion and less overprovisioning of IT resources.

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