ExpressPod – FlexPod in a smaller package

Written by Martin Kucharcik on October 17th, 2012

Photo: ExpressPod at VMworld in Barcelona

Converged solution for remote and offshore offices

If you are already running VMware/Cisco/NetApp FlexPod in your datacentre you may be wondering if there is something similar, but smaller for your remote or offshore offices. The answer is ExpressPod, which has just been announced at VMworld by Cisco and NetApp. It is pre-packed and smaller FlexPod unit which provides computing, storage, storage networking and management tools for small to medium virtualisation customers with up to 500 users.

Choice of hypervisors

ExpressPod includes Cisco UCS C-series servers, NetApp FAS2220 or FAS2240 storage and datacentre Cisco Nexus 3048 switches, of course all comes with a choice of infrastructure management and hypervisor products including not only VMware but also Microsoft Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer technology. Support for application solutions comes as a welcome bonus: vendors as Oracle and SAP for instance, which increasingly rely on virtualisation.

ExpressPod can be configured with either two Cisco UCS C220 M3 servers and a NetApp FAS 2220 or four Cisco UCS C220 M3 servers and a NetApp FAS2240, both solutions are provided with a Cisco Nexus 3048 switch.

Highly scalable

NetApp FAS2220/2240 systems run the latest ONTAP 8 operating system in cluster mode, which enables enterprises to migrate data and virtual machines without any downtime. According to NetApp, storage clustering also facilitates load-balancing and adding more nodes to the storage cluster creating large storage pools spanning storage devices and which can scale almost infinitely. The FAS2220 supports 12 internal drives and up to 144 external SAS expansion slots and has a maximum capacity of 180TB. The FAS2240 supports a maximum of 24 internal hard drives and up to 144 external expansion slots for a maximum capacity of 432TB. The FAS 2220 supports iSCSI, NFS and CIFS, and the FAS 2240 adds fibre channel to that mix.

Cisco UCS C220 M3 servers are versatile, general purpose machines, well suited for enterprise infrastructure and applications. The C220 M3 takes up 1U of rack space and supports 11 of the 16 varieties of Xeon E5-2600 processor. This includes the newest E52690, which has eight cores spinning at 2.9GHz as well as the two low-volt, low-watt options – the E5-2650L and E5-2630L – which respectively have eight cores at 1.8GHz and six cores at 2GHz. The server has 16 memory slots and so tops out at a maximum of 256GB of main memory using 16GB modules. The server has eight hot-plug, 2.5-inch drive bays that can be filled with 7.2K RPM SATA, 10K RPM SAS, and 15K RPM SAS drives. It has the optional pair of 16GB SD flash drives as well as support for 100GB SATA SSD drives. Cisco has a variety of mezzanine and PCI-Express RAID disk controllers that plug into the C220 M3.

Verdict

Cisco Nexus 3048 is compact, 1U form-factor switch which provides exceptional performance, visibility, and control. It offers wire-rate Layer 2 and Layer 3 switching of up to 176 Gigabit per second (Gbps) and more than 132 million packets per second. This switch supports both forward and reversed airflow schemes with AC and DC power inputs.

    Cisco sum up the benefits of ExpressPod under three key concepts:

  • Start right, with a low-cost, easy-to-deploy solution.
  • Keep it simple, with the built-in system efficiencies of Cisco UCS servers, Nexus switching, and NetApp FAS storage.
  • Grow smart, with easy infrastructure scaling to keep up with business demands

Personally, I think that ExpressPod is an excellent product and I would recommend it as a combined server-storage-network solution for any oil and gas company with remote sites and little local IT support.

Martin Kucharcik
Systems Engineer

Swiss Army Storage – New NetApp box solves many problems

Written by Martin Kucharcik on July 27th, 2012

As one of NetApp’s top accredited partners we’re in the privileged position of getting the latest insight into the product roadmap and new technology releases. You’ll have seen in one of our recent blog posts we shared some insight on the NetApp-VMware-Cisco Flexpod solution and its relevance to growing oil and gas companies.

This month we wanted to provide an update on NetApp’s new FAS2200 series storage array following an opportunity we had to evaluate it and put through its paces at a NetApp community event. It builds on the success of its predecessors, the FAS2020 and FAS2040, and is an excellent midsized system capable of meeting a number of common challenges.

For anyone who’s not familiar with NetApp, the technology is underpinned by a robust operating system called ONTAP which, with its 12 year heritage, has all of the reliability characteristics oil and gas companies will be looking for when managing and protecting their data. It’s also where the “magic happens” – It’s ONTAP that includes all of those helpful features like snapshots, tiered storage and failback that really remove the headache from managing your data. What we really like about NetApp and ONTAP though is that its a common operating system across the entire range and, thanks to NetApp’s building block approach, as your company grows you can simply add more capacity and scale the system simply and easily.

So what’s so special about the new FAS2200 family? Well firstly it’s running the newest version of ONTAP – 8.1.1 which provides improved levels of storage efficiency. What that means to you and I is a host of new and useful functionality including multi-tenancy, which is helpful if deployed in a cloud scenario where multiple systems may need to be hosted on a single system, greater support for the growing number of data protocols (including CIFS, NFS and iSCSI which, incidentally, carry no additional cost) and dual controllers, making for a box that’s highly resilient due to this level of redundancy. We’re excited by some other stand out features too. Flash Pools in particular which enables up to six extra fast SSD hard drives to be combined into a SAS or SATA storage aggregate, dramatically improving read and write operations and decreases latency for example. If you’ve used NetApp before, this builds on the previous Flash Cache technology which improved only read operations.

There’s no escaping that this updated family is chock full of new technology and helpful enhancements. Thankfully all the “bling” is not at the expense of performance. NetApp claim that the FAS2200 series is 3-7 times faster than its predecessor the 2040 series due to trickle down technology used in the larger enterprise class FAS3000 and FAS6000 series products.

Finally management is provided by the new Netapp System Manager 2.1.1 console which incorporates new features for VMware integration, SnapMirror management and Infinite Volumes. Handily, System Manager will also work with other consoles you may already be using from VMware for instance to enable single pane of glass management across your environment using those vendors’ management consoles.

We think this solution is potentially a great fit for start-up to mid-sized oil and gas companies providing a proven and reliable unified storage environment. The FAS2220 for example is scalable to 432TB and would be ideal for a company with 10-15 virtual machines, CIFS shares and an Exchange server running on iSCSI volumes. Alternatively, for larger businesses the family can just as easily be deployed as a series of multiple arrays in a highly-scalable and resistant cluster or used as a disaster recovery solution or remote office storage. The starting price is less than £4000 too so as an economic step into unified storage or to meet discrete storage challenges across your company it’s a very viable and affordable solution.

If you’d like to hear more about this new box, see it in action or have a wider discussion about your storage needs, please give me a call on 020 7313 9900.

NetApp announce new FAS2220 addition to mid-range product suite

Written by Paul Reed on June 5th, 2012

New NetApp FAS2220

On the 5th June, NetApp announced an addition to their mid-enterprise product suite – the FAS2220. This filer effectively replaces the extremely popular FAS2020 that was marked as end-of-life last year. It seems perfect for small to medium businesses that require a versatile storage device for expanding data sets and virtualisation needs. Pricing is said to be “aggressive”.

An interesting new feature that is available for this new FAS2220 filer and its big brother, the existing FAS2240, is the concept of “Flash Pools”. NetApp have now brought the huge performance boost of Solid State Drives to their entry level filers. SSDs can be added to the controller itself, or additional shelves, to improve read and write times. By mixing SAS, or even SATA, disks with SSD, the filer will provide significantly more IOPS without having to add lots more spindles. Best of all, the administrator doesn’t need to configure anything, it is all managed intelligently by Data ONTAP (though I expect there will be ways of tweaking it).

OnCommand System Manager 2.1 has also been released which will ease the management of SnapMirror and SnapVault and also introduces other automated tasks to make administration simpler.

Companies using NetApp as their storage platform should have a serious look at the new models. Give me a call on +44 20 7313 9900 if you’d like to explore options for optimising your storage architecture.

Paul Reed
Solutions Architect

Call us on 020 7313 8300

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