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Cisco, NetApp Push Integrated Data Center Infrastructure

Cisco and NetApp add extensive storage capacity to FlexPod, and introduce ExpressPod, an integrated data center platform for SMBs.

As businesses continue to move toward the cloud and virtualized data centers, NetApp and Cisco want to ease the transition. On Wednesday, the companies announced upgrades to their FlexPod platform, an integrated, virtualization-optimized infrastructure launched in November 2010 that is aimed at large organizations.

FlexPod, which has since grown to more than 1,300 enterprise customers in 35 countries, now offers storage clustering technology that allows virtually limitless scalability and a validated VMware workflow for Oracle Real Application Cluster (RAC) users.

The companies also unveiled ExpressPod, a sibling platform aimed at SMBs that are beginning to virtualize their networking, storage and computing environments.

Adam Fore, director of virtualization and cloud solutions marketing at NetApp, says the simplification of infrastructure is a key trend in data centers and IT. Businesses are expected to respond to massive growth in both data centers and applications, he says, while also reducing costs and becoming faster--a tall order.

[ What lies ahead for Cisco? Read what some of its customers think at Cisco Customers Discuss Its Future.]

FlexPod is designed to ameliorate these challenges by integrating data center components into a single flexible architecture that marries NetApp storage products to Cisco's servers and switches while offering IT administrators a single control plane. The result is advertised as a scalable data center that can be optimized for a variety of workloads in both virtualized and non-virtualized environments, and that boosts efficiency while mitigating the risk of data loss or disruption.

The updated version now offers support and validation for VMware vSphere on NetApp Data ONTAP 8. It allows organizations to add nodes to their storage clusters to create larger pools that stretch across multiple storage devices, allowing for scalable capacity. This clustering approach allows pools to be dynamically allocated and securely isolated for multitenant clouds. It also enables non-disruptive data migration, meaning that hundreds of virtual machines can be moved simultaneously without interrupting apps that are already running.

Companies that rely on Oracle RAC databases with VMware vSphere and vCenter, meanwhile, can now take advantage of validated design support, including deployment best practices. Fore stated that validated data center workloads are intended to inspire user confidence, and that a channel community is available to help organizations get the integrated platform up and running in a matter of days.

This isn't Cisco's only foray into integrated systems. The company's switching and server gear is included in Vblock products, which also bundle EMC storage and VMware's vSphere software. Vblocks are sold by VCE, a standalone company that grew out of a joint venture among Cisco, EMC and VMware. In addition to selling the Vblocks, VCE handles all support issues for customers.

While FlexPod has been designed for heavy workflows characteristic of large enterprises, ExpressPod is aimed at SMBs with fewer than 500 employees. The prepackaged and tested bundles offer smaller businesses many of FlexPod's benefits--an integrated infrastructure that can be managed from a single console--at lower costs.

Starting in November, ExpressPod will be available in two varieties: a bundle aimed at smaller businesses that integrates a Cisco UCS C-Series server, Cisco Nexus 3048 switches and NetApp FAS220. Also so available is a similar offering for midsize enterprises that upgrades storage to NetApp's FAS2240 product.

Fore explains that both options should allow organizations to grow "without wasted investment" because the ExpressPod infrastructure can be easily moved to the full FlexPod platform.

Aside from all the technical enhancements and simplified management structures, Fore says, customer service is a primary reason ExpressPod and FlexPod should appeal as easy-to-deploy products. The companies recognize, he says, that when "two vendors provide a single solution, there are potential issues around finger pointing when [a customer] tries to isolate an issue."

He explains that if a customer calls Cisco with a problem and discovers that the issue involves NetApp, Cisco will not simply hand the call off to its partner. Rather, Cisco representatives will conference NetApp support into the call, and "together, the two companies will resolve the problem." The reverse is likewise true--if a Cisco problem is discovered while speaking to NetApp's service team, a Cisco representative will be called in to collaborate.

The new announcements continue a busy couple of weeks for Cisco, which is looking to maintain its market share even as networks move from the traditional physical realm, in which Cisco has been dominant, to new models based around software, clouds and hybrid configurations. Other October announcements include the company's acquisition of vCider, which is intended to bolster Cisco's SDN plans, and its Unified Access platform, which allows wired, wireless, and VPN networks to be treated like a single entity.

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