FlexPod XCS Review

When Cisco and NetApp’s converged infrastructure storage platform FlexPod launched in 2010, commercial cloud computing was still in its infancy. Now over a decade has passed, and the enterprise storage paradigm has shifted dramatically as companies embrace the hybrid cloud. In face of this new reality, the developers of FlexPod have announced an upcoming refresh of the platform, one that better postures the solution for hybrid cloud environments with a new suite of tools.

Dubbed XCS, the updated product ties together Cisco’s Intersight Platform with NetApp’s ONTAP software, granting users full-stack visibility, end-to-end automation, and native integration with three major cloud service providers. 

See below to learn all about what does FlexPod XCS offer in relation to its prior version and the converged infrastructure storage market:

FlexPod and the converged infrastructure market

Data centers built under the traditional three-tier model consist of servers, storage devices, and networking switches. Often, this group of hardware is built by different manufacturers, and many resources have been expended to ensure compatibility and functionality between the layers. Converged infrastructure such as FlexPod was developed in response to this, by establishing best practices and pre-validating all the hardware to be used in a data center. 

Platforms like FlexPod also often deliver their converged solutions with a converged system adviser, giving administrators the ability to monitor and control the broader system quickly and efficiently. FlexPod also ships with UCS-Director, which can pre-provision applications, automate services, and allocate CPUs and memory as needed. 

In the case of FlexPod, the hardware is made by Cisco, and it’s bundled with NetApp software. The integrated hardware and software, coupled with the streamlined support channels from limited vendors, has made converged infrastructure a more modern solution to the challenges that arose within the traditional model. Other converged infrastructure solutions include Dell PowerEdge VRTX, HPE Converged, and Oracle Supercluster.

By contrast, hyperconverged infrastructures unify all elements of a data center into a single appliance. While this carries furter benefits toward simplifying network and storage management, with potential reductions in cost, hyperconverged infrastructures often pose challenges to scalability.

FlexPod XCS features

Some of the new tools that help FlexPod XCS span on-premises workloads into the cloud include:

Cisco Intersight Platform: A cloud-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that monitors and controls the underlying FlexPod components, whether they be on the edge, the cloud, or in-house, managed through a single pane. The software unites Cisco and NetApp storage as well as Kubernetes containerization management through a single dashboard.

Cloud integrations: The converged infrastructure platform features native integration with the three preeminent cloud service providers: AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. This integration extends the single-dashboard visibility of the broader storage environment, bridging on-premises servers and the cloud. FlexPod XCS includes health status alarms, monitoring of storage capacity and network usage, and compliance checking and enforcement.

As-a-service model: FlexPod XCS introduces the service model, lowering startup costs to use the platform. Pricing is scalable with customer usage and needs.

Automation: Cisco’s Cloud Orchestrator optimizes workloads, automates tasks, enforces policies, and enables users to self-serve. It is designed to be low/no code. Automation services are configured out of the box, servicing day zero configuration workflows and beyond.

Hybrid cloud readiness: Designed to manage cloud backups, disaster recovery, and fulfill burst needs for processing and capacity.

Containerization: Using NetApp’s CSI Trident, FlexPod XCS manages Kubernetes containers with community-developed, standardized APIs. Kubernetes deployment is further managed with Cisco’s Intersight Kubernetes Service (IKS). Cloud-native applications can be deployed either locally or in the cloud.

NetApp ONTAP: FlexPod XCS comes with NetApp’s ONTAP data management software, designed for file and block workloads.

Existing FlexPod features: While XCS branches FlexPod into the hybrid cloud, it still retains the core converged infrastructure features of its previous iteration, uniting the three tiers of server components under one management tool with pre-validated hardware.

Case study

Mantra Group

Although FlexPod XCS is in limited debut, with full availability expected later this year, the FlexPod platform has enjoyed widespread market adoption. One such client is the Australia- and New Zealand-based high-profile hotel chain Mantra Group. With over 11,000 rooms for rent across 117 properties, Mantra is one of Australia’s largest hotel operators. The company experienced rapid growth and expected more on the horizon, as it targeted Asia-Pacific developments. Back ending its operations is a central reservation system, one that is accessed by nearly all its employees and many of its customers. While the previous system was performing well, Mantra knew it required future proofing to avoid performance loss as the chain grew.

The company adopted several components in securing a more responsive, broader IT infrastructure, including all-flash storage units from NetApp, Cisco unified computing system servers and network switches, and NetApp’s Data ONTAP OS, much of which was deployed in a FlexPod environment. The resulting solution “could double the number of properties [Mantra] manages over the next three years,” while maintaining a high level of performance, according to Manta’s IT general manager.

Use case

Data center for AI

Cisco and NetApp offer configurations of FlexPod for different use cases, including a setup optimized for the high computing and storage demands of artificial intelligence (AI), deep learning (DL), and machine learning (ML). These high-performance computations require complex integrations of hardware and software components that can make deployment, scaling, and maintenance operations burdensome under traditional data center models. FlexPod’s Data center for AI solution is optimized for these types of workloads, with high-performance Cisco servers, NVIDIA GPUs, 3 TB of memory, and support for up to 24 hard disk drives (HDDs) or solid-state drives (SSDs). FlexPod has deployed these solutions in the financial industry to thwart fraud, in the health care industry to process medical image screening, and in media and entertainment to produce virtual reality (VR) environments. The data center also stands ready to collaborate across cloud platforms.

Differentiator

FlexPid XCS is a converged infrastructure platform integrated with AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. As most enterprises are already hosting their hybrid cloud platforms with these providers, the integrations could stand to simplify deployment and management of hybrid cloud platforms, and give FlexPod users better service and support. 

User reviews

The presently-available version of FlexPod is PeerSpot’s No. 2 converged infrastructure tool, with a customer rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars. Users praise the unified, full-stack solution, its scalability, and its high availability.

Pricing

Pricing for XCS is yet to be determined, but XCS will be available for purchase later this summer and available with a pay-as-you-go model.

Conclusions

FlexPod already enjoys adoption from thousands of enterprise clients across the world. We’ll be following how its next iteration empowers IT with more intelligent insights, serves data storage, and supports web application deployment in multicloud environments later this year when the updated converged infrastructure solution hits the market.

Litton Power
Litton Power
Litton Power is a writer and public affairs consultant. He has an extensive background in science, technology, and the energy sector and was a former science communicator at Idaho National Laboratory. He lives in Tennessee, where he spends his free time hiking, camping, and building furniture.

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