FlexPod 101 – What is a FlexPod?

I haven’t posted for a while, I started a new job, getting out of IT support, and into the area I want to be, designing and implementing infrastructure solutions as a FlexPod consultant. I have not worked with FlexPod as a concept before, but I have worked with the integral technology stack which comprises it. So far so good, it seems like a robust solution which provides a balance between scalability, performance and cost. I have decided to do a set of blog posts going through the concept and technology behind FlexPod, hopefully highlighting what sets this apart from the competition.

FlexPod: what the hell is that?

Over the last few years, the IT industry has moved from disparate silos for storage, compute and network, towards the converged (and later hyper converged) dream. One such player in this market is the FlexPod.

A collaboration between NetApp and Cisco, at a basic level this comprises the following enterprise class hardware:

  • Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS)
  • Cisco Nexus switching/routing
  • NetApp FAS Storage Arrays

This forms the hardware basis, and as is the industry’s want, there are a swathe of virtualisation solutions and business critical applications which can be used on top of the hardware:

  • VMware vSphere
  • Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Openstack
  • Citrix XenDesktop
  • SAP
  • Oracle
  • VMware Horizon View

I have been a fan of NetApp storage, and Cisco UCS compute for a while. They both offer simplicity and power in equal measure. My preference for hypervisor is ESXi but Hyper-V is becoming a more compelling solution with every release.

You throw an automation product like vRealize Automation or UCS Director on top of the stack and you have a powerful and modern private cloud solution which takes you beyond what a standard virtualised solution will deliver.

Why not just by <enter converged/hyper-converged vendor here>?

But you can run this on any hardware, right? So what sets FlexPod apart from VCE’s Vblock, hyper-converged systems like Nutanix, SimpliVity, or just rolling your own infrastructure?

The answer is the Cisco Validated Design (CVD). This is, as the name suggests, a validated and documented build blueprint, which details proven hardware and software configurations for a growing number of solutions. This gives a confidence when implementing the solution, that this will work, and goes towards putting the ‘Flex’ in FlexPod.

The other advantage of FlexPod over other converged/hyper-converged solutions is that you can tweak the scales on the hardware components (conpute/storage/network), to make the solution larger in the areas you need capacity boost, but keep it the same in the areas you don’t. You need 100TB of storage, just buy more shelves. You need 100 hosts, just buy more UCS chassis and blades. This non-linear scalability, and flexibility, separates FlexPod from rival solutions.

As far as the software, and general protocol usage goes, FlexPod is fairly agnostic. You can use FCoE, NFS, FC or iSCSI as your storage protocols, you can use whatever hypervisor you want as long as there is a CVD for it, and chances are you can find one to suit your use case.

Where can I find more information on FlexPod?

The NetApp and Cisco sites have information about what a FlexPod consists of:

http://www.netapp.com/ca/solutions/cloud/flexpod/

http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/data-center-virtualization/flexpod/index.html

The Cisco site also has links to the CVDs, these give a good overview of what the FlexPod is about.

What’s next?

Part 2 of my FlexPod 101 series will go over the physical components of a FlexPod.

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