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Deep dive into NetApp Converged Systems Advisor for FlexPod

Converged Systems Advisor from NetApp helps FlexPod customers better manage their converged infrastructure deployments. Dive into its features to see if it is right for you.

NetApp Converged Systems Advisor is a cloud-based management platform for monitoring, validating and optimizing NetApp FlexPod converged infrastructure deployments. The platform helps simplify the ongoing administration of FlexPod systems throughout their lifecycles. It also ensures optimal performance and availability for business applications running on those systems. FlexPod customers can use NetApp Converged Systems Advisor to help streamline operations and make certain they're getting the best value out of their FlexPod systems.

FlexPod converged infrastructure systems are made up of prevalidated storage, network and server components from NetApp and Cisco. IT teams that support NetApp FlexPod systems can use Converged Systems Advisor to manage FlexPod operations more efficiently. The platform validates the FlexPod deployment and continuously monitors system configurations, providing comprehensive health checks and insights into configuration states.

The Converged Systems Advisor platform offers a single view of the FlexPod environment and ensures it aligns with best management practices throughout its lifecycle. Administrators have ongoing access to the status of FlexPod infrastructure and can easily see details about capacity, availability and virtualization configurations. They also have access information about the interoperability of components within the stack.

It also enables IT teams to control their FlexPod systems more efficiently, improving business continuity and providing more time to focus on other efforts. The platform makes it easy to assess infrastructure configurations and prevent gaps in system administration. At the same time, organizations get FlexPod systems that adhere to best practices coming from experts on the FlexPod team.

Put simply, NetApp Converged Systems Advisor helps administrators ensure their applications get the necessary configurations and they can quickly address infrastructure issues when they arise.

NetApp FlexPod converged infrastructure features

How NetApp Converged Systems Advisor works

NetApp Converged Systems Advisor is a SaaS platform that runs in the cloud. The platform also requires an on-premises agent that runs alongside the FlexPod system. The agent is installed as a virtual machine that has network access to the FlexPod environment. The VM includes an auto-discovery tool that maps out a comprehensive list of FlexPod components, along with the environment's topology, cabling and connectivity.

To collect system data, the agent requires the credentials necessary to access components in the FlexPod environment. The type of credentials depends on the FlexPod component. For example, the agent requires read-only credentials to retrieve data from Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) and Nexus switches, but it requires administrative credentials for NetApp's OnTap storage operating system. However, the agent only collects configuration data from these components; it cannot access customer data.

NetApp FlexPod converged infrastructure
NetApp FlexPod converged infrastructure

The agent sends the collected data to the NetApp Converged Systems Advisor cloud service, using HTTPS and NetApp's Transport Layer Security 1.2 certificate. The data resides within the NetApp network and is protected with strict access controls.

Once the data has been collected, the Converged Systems Advisor service analyzes it against over 100 best practices, component support updates and resilient design requirements. The service then makes the results of that analysis available to FlexPod administrators through a centralized web portal, where they can easily access information about a wide range of issues, such as outdated firmware and equipment or firmware interoperability.

The NetApp Converged Systems Advisor service and agents provide ongoing monitoring and analytics that administrators can access at any time. The platform also includes Red Hat Ansible-powered configuration healing capabilities, which can target any tier in the FlexPod stack and help accelerate the process of identifying and addressing problems. With these features, Converged Systems Advisor can detect potential issues, notify administrators of their existence and provide one-click remediation that greatly simplifies issue resolution.

Getting started with NetApp Converged Systems Advisor

NetApp offers Converged Systems Advisor to FlexPod customers who have purchased NetApp Solution Support, which provides single point-of-contact support for the full infrastructure stack. For FlexPod customers who have not signed up for Solution Support, NetApp offers a subscription-based license that's available in two tiers: Standard or Premium.

The Standard license includes continuous monitoring, health dashboards, firmware interoperability information, lifecycle management tools, and inventory and system diagrams. The Premium license includes all these features and adds reporting, alerting and configuration healing. In addition, NetApp offers a limited Converged Systems Advisor version that organizations can use for up to 24 hours for free to try out the platform's features.

To get started using Converged Systems Advisor, an IT team needs to take the following steps:

  1. Verify that their FlexPod configuration is supported.
  2. Register for a NetApp Support Site account.
  3. Create the applicable access accounts for FlexPod components, including Cisco UCS Manager, Nexus switches, OnTap, VMware, Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller and Terminal Access Controller Access Control System+ server, if one is used.
  4. Deploy and configure the open virtualization format template agent on a VMware ESXi server.
  5. Use the Converged Systems Advisor portal to add the FlexPod system to the platform so it can be viewed and monitored.
  6. Configure the necessary notifications to provide administrators with email alerts about changes to FlexPod infrastructure (Premium license only).

IT teams can add multiple FlexPod systems to the Converged Systems Advisor portal, even if they're distributed across geographic regions. In this way, they have a single, centralized interface for accessing all their FlexPod systems, while being able to drill into specific information about each one. For example, the portal includes dashboards with component configuration views that provide comprehensive details of a system's configurations, including memory, firmware, modules and interfaces.

Administrators can also use the Converged Systems Advisor portal to view mapped topologies of cabling and connectivity, as well as to access information about the health of system connectivity. In addition, they can view summary data about compliance rules and recommended best practices, as well as access health check histories. For instance, if an administrator receives an alert about a failed rule, that individual can view a history of what changed in the configuration and use that information to resolve the issue. The portal makes it easy to review previous FlexPod configurations and compare changes between them.

The NetApp Converged Systems Advisor platform continuously monitors the FlexPod infrastructure and analyzes the collected data, based on a set of defined rules.

Working with NetApp Converged Systems Advisor

The NetApp Converged Systems Advisor platform continuously monitors the FlexPod infrastructure and analyzes the collected data, based on a set of defined rules. Administrators can view the list of rules, and even suppress them, so they do not show up in the dashboard or generate email notifications. For example, IT might decide to enable telnet when implementing a FlexPod system, even though it's not recommended. In this case, an administrator could suppress this rule to avoid the alerts. (Administrators can also end rule suppression when needed.)

In addition, administrators can check firmware compatibility among components in the FlexPod converged infrastructure system and view details about support contracts for each component. If they have the Premium license, they can also generate reports about the FlexPod environment. For example, they can create reports that list component inventory or that show the health of the environment. Additionally, users can schedule notifications that send reports and updates to administrators.

Unlike other cloud-based infrastructure management platforms such as HPE InfoSight, NetApp Converged Systems Advisor focuses on only the FlexPod system. In contrast, InfoSight targets multiple storage systems, as well as hyper-converged systems and composable disaggregated infrastructure appliances. InfoSight also collects telemetric data from HPE systems across the globe and then uses AI and other advanced technologies to analyze the data. NetApp Converged Systems Advisor is based on NetApp best practices and the analysis is limited to the specific FlexPod system.

Even so, NetApp Converged Systems Advisor can still benefit organizations looking to streamline FlexPod management. If they're already paying for NetApp Solution Support, they have little to lose by trying out the service. If they're not Solution Support subscribers, they'll need to weigh the licensing costs against the potential savings in IT resources, taking into account the benefits that come with streamlining IT operations.

At the very least, FlexPod customers should consider giving Converged Systems Advisor a 24-hour test drive to get a better sense of the available features and how the cloud-based management platform could benefit their organizations going forward.

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