NetApp, Cisco bring SolidFire software to all-Cisco platform with FlexPod SF

The second stage of the NetApp transformation strategy emphasizes expanding their market to buyers beyond traditional storage and infrastructure decision makers, and they think FlexPod SF will help them there.

George Kurian, NetApp CEO

SANTA CLARA – Today, NetApp and Cisco are announcing the FlexPod SF, an extension of the two companies’ joint converged infrastructure portfolio. This one, for the first time, adds NetApp’s SolidFire technology and its powerful software-defined scale-out capabilities to FlexPod. The SolidFire stack is also being made available, also for the first time, on an all-Cisco hardware platform.

The FlexPod CS is the latest iteration in a systematic strategy of innovation from NetApp. Since George Kurian assumed the company’s CEO mantle two years ago, NetApp has been engaged in a strategy of transforming itself. They have focused on the innovative parts of its portfolio like cloud, all-flash, and converged infrastructure. They have also attempted to dispel the view that NetApp, which had been at the forefront of innovation in network-attach storage back in the day, had become staid and stodgy – basically your grandfather’s IT storage company. FlexPod, the converged computing, networking, and storage solution NetApp developed with Cisco and NetApp, preceded Kurian, but has become an important component in NetApp’s shift from shifting focus from its legacy filer base to its growth products.

“In our first phase of our transformation strategy we focused on our innovation portfolio, radically improved our cost structure to improve margins, evolved our executive leadership team, including establishing a new business unit focused on the cloud, and returned the company to profitability,” Kurian told a media audience at NetApp’s Santa Clara offices on Wednesday.

“We have made enormous progress in our mix of revenue, to the point where 70 per cent of our product revenue is now from strategic solutions,” Kurian said. “We had 17 per cent year-over-year growth. Our mature products have stabilized. We have had the best year of market share gains in the history of the company, with solutions that have reimagined traditional storage.”

Kurian said that the second phase of NetApp’s transformation strategy kicked off May 1 with their new fiscal year, building on the new base they have established.

“We want to expand the range of customers we serve,” Kurian said. “We feel we have strategic relevance to new buying centres for our customers. Our data fabric brings radical simplification to customers, the same as NetApp originally brought them, but at much larger scale. Originally we provided them with a single appliance. Now we provide them with hyperscale clouds as part of our hybrid cloud strategy.”

The second phase of the strategy also emphasizes modernizing enterprise data centres and building next generation data centres.

“We provide technology to enterprises that mirror what the big hyperscale cloud providers have themselves, where things are software defined, and built on commodity servers,” Kurian said. “SolidFire, which we acquired in 2016, is a backbone of this.”

The evolving strategy is also paralleled by an evolving go-to-market strategy.

“In addition to our traditional buyers, the storage and infrastructure decision markers, we are increasingly reaching a new set of buyers – cloud and enterprise architects, CIOs, and dev/ops,” Kurian emphasized. “We have new audiences that we can reach.”

This is where the new FlexPod SF solution, which brings the SolidFire software stack into FlexPod, fits into the larger strategy, extending the range of innovative converged infrastructure and addressing the market needs of these new audiences.

“The new FlexPod SF is a ground breaking converged infrastructure solution,” said Joel Reich, NetApp’s EVP of Products and Operations. “It goes into a space we haven’t taken FlexPod before – the software- defined stack, along with the full range of compute options and leading network infrastructure. And it is aimed at that new target – the next generation data centre end-users, line-of-business users, cloud architects, dev/ops – all these next-gen data centre workloads. This is the beginning of a new opportunity for us.”

“This market wants what the hyperscale vendors have — cloud native, uniform boxes, and ethernet to the top of the rack,” said Dave Hitz, NetApp co-founder and EVP. “Customers want to copy that, so we help them do that, to build a next-gen data centre. FlexPod SF is one way that we do that. These are tools that let you act like the cloud guys, but you do it yourself.”

John Rollason, NetApp’s Senior Director Product Marketing, Next Generation Data Center, NetApp, who originally left NetApp for SolidFire, and then rejoined NetApp when SolidFire was acquired, offered his unique perspective on how the SolidFire technology takes FlexPod to the next stop.

“I know this concept of a ‘newer buyer’ can look contrived on a slide, but I’ve met some of these next generation architects, and they have different requirements, and different ways of thinking,” Rollason told the media audience. “The new SF9608, which provides the SolidFire software on the first fully Cisco converged infrastructure platform – compute, network and storage – addresses this audience and expands the FlexPod opportunity.”

Rollason emphasized that the SF9608 provides high-end predictable performance, which can meet guaranteed SLAs and quality of service (QoS) at minimum, maximum, and burst performance levels.

“With this market, predictability rather than screaming performance is critical, and the key tenets of the SolidFire architecture are predictable VM performance driven by SolidFire QoS,” he said. “The SF9608 also offers true scale-out flexibility, with the ability to scale from 4 to 40 nodes in minutes on demand. It also provides programmable agility, where it automates as much as possible to provide converged infrastructure simplicity.”

Siva Sivakumar, Senior Director Product Management, Data Center Solutions, at Cisco, noted that FlexPod already has tremendous traction in the market, with 8400 customers worldwide, a significant expansion of enterprise use cases since the product’s inception, and 8 billion in revenue to date, the latter a nice new jump from the 7 billion figure Cisco and NetApp have been using.

“The original idea behind FlexPod was compute, fabric and storage layers, each with their own design guidelines, but all being able to scale on their own within the architecture,” Sivakumar said. “We support both 10GbE and 40GbE network design, so we have to match this with a very scalable fabric design as well and a storage subsystem that can scale massively in a single architecture. SolidFire brings in these elements, giving us a whole new set of capabilities that let us go after new use cases.

“FlexPod got us to $8 billion and FlexPod SF will get us to the next level,” Sivakumar said.

Tim Rod, ‎Director, Sales Business Development at Cisco, who focuses on Cisco’s Technology Partners and their Global and Strategic Partner Organization, stressed that FlexPod SF also takes their partnership with NetApp to the next level.

“Cisco partners with many companies and we compete with many of them in many ways, but there’s little overlap with NetApp, which makes them a great partner,” Rod said. “From my perspective, what’s really important here isn’t even the product itself. It’s a new product and it’s a good product, but what’s really significant is the way in which it strengthens what had already been a very strong relationship between Cisco and NetApp.”

The companies emphasized as well that FlexPod CS will create new opportunities for their channel partners.

“The alignment between our vision for the next-gen data centre opportunity and that new type of buyer is enhanced by the hidden power of our joint partners,” Rollason said. “We are really looking forward to see what they can do with that technology.”

John Woodall, Vice President of Engineering at Palo Alto-based Integrated Archives Systems, a long-time and prominent Net App partner, was excited about the new solution.

“FlexPod has always been a strong offering for us,” Woodall said. “FlexPod CS is a strong addition because it shows the practical effects here of the SolidFire acquisition. I think having an all-Cisco platform for the first time will help as well.”

The two companies will be heralding FlexPod CS extensively at next week’s Cisco Live event. The product will be availability to be ordered July 17, and will ship in the same timeframe.