NetApp FlexPod takes on EMC's Vblock bundles

NetApp trails EMC by a year in its pre-configured stack with partners Cisco and VMware but claims its FlexPod bundles scale better and are more interoperable than EMC's Vblocks.

NetApp is rolling out FlexPod storage, network and virtualisation bundles in partnership with Cisco and VMware to counter EMC's Vblock bundles.

EMC has been shipping pre-sized and standardised Vblock bundles since last November as part of its VCE alliance with Cisco and VMware. Like Vblocks, NetApp's new FlexPod systems include Cisco's Unified Computing System servers and Nexus switches, as well as VMware vSphere and vCenter server virtualisation applications, but the standard storage is NetApp's new FAS3200 arrays instead of EMC Clariion or Symmetrix boxes. NetApp will also sell FlexPod systems with FAS6020 for customers looking for larger implementations.

VCE's Vblocks come in three configurations -- Vblock 0 (for 300 to 800 VMs with EMC Celerra storage), Vblock 1 (for 800 to 3,000 VMs with Celerra or Clariion storage) and Vblock 2 (for 3,000 to 6,000-plus VMs with Symmetrix storage).

"Vblocks 0, 1 and 2 each have completely different EMC storage subsystems [that] can't talk to each other, are not interchangeable and you can't scale through them," NetApp EMEA Solutions Marking Manager John Rollason said.

"If you go from Vblock 1 to 2, for example, you have to throw away the Clariion subsystem and put in a Symmetrix. With FlexPod the storage component offers unified storage, and you can scale from one NetApp subsystem up to the next."

NetApp targets FlexPod at organisations supporting 1,000 to 2,000 users, with a sweet spot of 1,500 users. Customers cannot cluster FlexPods to scale, but can upgrade to a larger storage array.

"You can build FlexPods in one go or buy the components in stages, adding in storage or UCS in a way that's not fixed," Rollason said. "It's just the start of our FlexPod strategy. There will be more."

Analysts said NetApp is looking to keep up with the trend of pre-configured bundles without altering its primary product architecture.

"With so much going on with converged stacks today with [Oracle] Exadata and Vblocks, NetApp is saying, 'We have standardised building blocks too,'" Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Mark Peters said. "NetApp also has to take the best-of-breed approach because it is a pure-play storage provider. So NetApp is betting on both sides, which isn't a bad thing to do. For customers going down the converged infrastructure path, FlexPod allows NetApp to have that conversation."

"EMC is generating a lot of business through its Vblock bundles," Silverton Consulting President Ray Lucchesi said. "It's a way to quickly spin up a data center and deploy massive amounts of storage, servers and networking. This is certainly NetApp's response to that."

Ryan McDonald, IT director at Web-based monitoring service provider eLynx Technologies, said his shop uses NetApp FAS3140 and FAS3160 storage along with Cisco Nexus switches and VMware. He said he would consider a FlexPod bundle down the road.

"A pre-validated standard implementation is attractive to me," he said. "That way I know when we're trying to put a solution together the vendors have already done a lot of work, and it's all going to come together as it should."

EMC expands Vblocks for VDI, SAP

Likely in anticipation of NetApp's announcement, EMC today began shipping Vblock solutions for VMware View and SAP. The Vblock Powered Solution for VMware View 4.5 is targeted at customers who want to accelerate virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) deployments, and the Vblock Powered Solution for SAP is for customers looking to move SAP applications to a virtual environment. EMC also said it supports end-to-end Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and automated storage tiering for the Vblock platform.

Senior News Director Dave Raffo contributed to this story. 

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