NetApp, Cisco Advance Converged Infrastructure Genre with FlexPod SF

Companies say FlexPod SF converged array enables high-end predictable performance, programmable agility and scale-out value for multitenant environments.

SUNNYVALE, Calif. -- Storage maker NetApp, once described as a "nice little server company" but is now among the world leaders in storage hardware marketshare, is celebrating its 25th year in business. It has been a true survivor in the cutthroat IT products and services business.

In this regard, please note: Only about 15 percent of companies that go public on the Nasdaq index last 20 years. NetApp has been on the index almost 22 years, since December 1995.

Why has NetApp forged on when others have fallen? Well, if you ask co-founder Dave Hitz, it's probably because the company has been able to change lanes fairly quickly when it comes to seeing market trends as or before they happen and then adjust to them.

"People ask me: 'Why are you still alive?'" Hitz told a small group of IT journalists June 21 at a media event at company headquarters. "I tell them I exercise, try to eat well ... 'No!' they say. 'NetApp!' Well, the odds were against us. There are probably a lot of reasons why we've endured--our culture, awesome management, great products, etc.--but my personal favorite is that I think NetApp has always had an enormous capacity to change-- when necessary."

FlexPod SF: Newest Converged Storage Array Ready for Prime Time

Hitz reminisced about the history of his company on a day when the company launched its new FlexPod SF (Solidfire) all-flash storage array, which we describe in this article. FlexPod has been a highly successful converged infrastructure project done in cooperation with Cisco Systems for seven years. In fact, the two companies have sold more than 8,400 systems during that time, and the NetApp/Cisco partnership is the only one in the converged infrastructure market showing growth of any kind.

Long before NetApp started providing the whiz-bang all-flash arrays it sells today, it started small, doing storage appliances for 10 to 20-person engineering workgroups. Then, when the internet happened in the mid-'90s, "we spotted it, radically changed our roadmap, changed strategy, and we rode that internet thing like crazy," Hitz said. "We had a compound growth rate through the '90s of 93 percent, and we rode that internet curve up to a $1 billion [in revenue]."

NetApp's second transition also involved the internet. "Remember that thing in 2000, when the internet crashed?" Hitz asked, referring to the infamous "IT bubble" that burst when too much venture capital money went to unproven internet businesses, such as Pets.com and Webvan, which eventually failed. "We pivoted from serving largely serving internet and technology companies to really focusing on enterprise companies, banks, automotive, government and health care. That took us out of the slump from the internet, and took us into a whole new zone of growth. That was getting back to a $1 billion, then up to about $3 billion."   

Virtualization Only Made NetApp Stronger

NetApp didn't have to wait long for its third big transition: VMware and server virtualization. "That was going to kill NetApp," Hitz said. "There is a theme here: Each of these big transitions was going to kill us. Data centers were all going software-defined, and VMware was going to virtualize servers first and storage next, so we were doomed. And we pivoted in and said, 'They're virtualizing servers, so we'll virtualize storage.' We did a lot of work to integrate tightly with VMware. That partnership is one of our highlights. I can tell you the day that EMC bought 'em (in 2003) ... oh, my God. Most analysts will tell you that we continued to partner better with VMware after the acquisition better than EMC did."

So here we are into the next big transition with cloud computing, Hitz said. "Yeah, and it's the thing that's going to kill us. Everything's moving to the cloud, there's no more room for NetApp," he said. "Sure, it could kill us if we didn't respond."

But of course NetApp is responding. A mainstay of that response is the FlexPod converged all-flash initiative, launched in 2010 and built upon a partnership of NetApp, Cisco and VMware.

The new FlexPod SF solution is aimed at data-intensive scale-out workloads. It features innovative NetApp SolidFire all-flash, scale-out, cloud-connected storage, Cisco Unified Computing System (Cisco UCS) B-Series servers, and Cisco Nexus switching. The new solution can support enterprise and emerging architectures with precise storage capacity and performance tailored to the needs of individual tenants in multitenant environments.

New FlexPod Features Support Fast-Paced Cloud Environments

The new solution extends the FlexPod technology portfolio that has been deployed by over 8,400 global customers and 1,100 partners that serve 100 countries. Representing over 250 years of combined engineering experience, the portfolio has generated a total of $8 billion in combined revenue across Cisco and NetApp to date.

The new solution offers:

  • High-end predictable performance: Admins can reliably run hundreds of applications on a single platform with guaranteed SLAs to independently set capacity and quality of service at minimum, maximum or burst performance levels across the entire infrastructure. FlexPod SF is built on Cisco UCS, which has more than 120 world-record benchmarks, combined with the dedicated performance of NetApp SolidFire storage.  
  • Programmable agility: Users can meet business demands with SolidFire software-defined architecture, simplified management and scale by automating each aspect of provisioning and reporting with programmable SolidFire storage and UCS B-Series servers. Cisco UCS compute offers up to 56 percent faster time to market and the ability to deliver up to 59 percent more business applications to end users. NetApp SolidFire storage also enables virtual machine  deployment up to five times faster and provides granular scale-as-you-grow capabilities with independent storage nodes.
  • Scale-out value: Enable customers to align business expenses with business growth by reducing initial capital expenditures. This flexible solution delivers controlled performance at lower operating costs by allowing customers to buy only as much compute and storage as they need, when they need it.

FlexPod SF will be demonstrated next week at the Cisco Live conference in Las Vegas.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he has...