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.
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.
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.
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.
Can FlexPod help oil and gas deploy IT faster?
Written by Martin Kucharcik on July 3rd, 2012
(Photo by Tech Sgt Kevin Wallace - US Air Force)
ISN technical expert explores FlexPod and what it can do for oil and gas
In June I attended the NetApp Partner Academy. ISN had heard a lot about some interesting technology from NetApp, Cisco and VMware called FlexPod and I was tasked with investigating further on behalf of the company.
For anyone not familiar with FlexPod, it’s essentially a pre-integrated compute platform consisting of blade server (the latest Unified Computing from Cisco), virtualisation software (VMware) storage (NetApp) and networking (again Cisco). Apparently it offers some impressive scalability and I wanted to see the technology in action first-hand.
I joined various sessions looking at different elements of the solution and was struck by the simplicity of the solution. For IT departments looking at dramatically cutting down on the management overheads for systems, this is a great candidate – highly automated, the solution is largely self-managing and, in the majority of cases, will detect potential problems before those using it.
Similarly, the pre-integrated nature of the solution does away with many of the ‘points of failure’ attached to traditional systems – fewer network connections, no more difficult cable infrastructure, scalable storage across a common platform and the ability to flexibly move workloads generally means less to go wrong – something I think IT administrators and managers alike will be glad of! Maintaining and upgrading systems is really straightforward too being based on a blade-chassis architecture as workloads can be moved from one blade to the next and then swapped for greater memory or CPU capacity, providing lots of flexibility.
For anyone looking at an alternative virtualisation platform the solution can be interchanged with Citrix also. I was particularly impressed with the fact that Cisco, who is still relatively new to server based computing has created a dedicated XenDesktop blade loaded with 0.5 TB of memory – which is far greater than anything else on the market and enables large numbers of VMs (literally 100s) to be managed on a single host. ISN has helped several oil and gas companies deploy Citrix, so the application of this technology shows a lot of promise for our customers and improving the performance of this type of environment.
For oil companies looking at provisioning overseas offices, rigs or supply bases this solution would be a great fit as it can be deployed quickly and is significantly more simple to then manage compared to solutions made up of the component parts of server, storage and network. My thoughts are this could also be built into a shipping container as a convenient method of housing the technology in more remote locations.
NetApp, Cisco and VMware are not the first people to collaborate on a solution of this kind however. On returning from the event I thought I’d do some further research and see that EMC, Dell, HP and IBM all have similar offerings. On balance though, I still think the FlexPod solution stands apart. There appear to be few ties in operating system choice and scalability and flexibility across the blade chassis and storage platform is unrivalled in the humble opinion of this engineer!
The FlexPod solution has been installed by 1100 companies across the globe, 88 in the UK. With a starting price of £15,000 it’s surprisingly economical too. I’m excited about exploring this technology further in the context of some of our customers and hope to report back again in the future about our progress on this front.
All in all a great day and something which really got my propellers spinning!
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.
#NetApp Accredited Storage Architect Professional (ASAP!)
Written by David Ellison on June 26th, 2009
Congratulations to Tom Clowes, ISN’s senior support consultant, for passing NetApp’s Accredited Storage Architect Professional exam with a score of 90%!
This followed an intensive course at #NetApp UK HQ in Stockley Park where Tom was able to brush up on his knowledge of storage technology in general as well as learn all there is to know about the range of SAN and NAS storage solutions offered by NetApp.
This covered training on FAS2020, FAS2050, FAS3000 series and all the way up to FAS6080 filers as well as the core Snapshot technology which translates to easy data backup, file and volume restore (in seconds, not hours)and storage replication technology that is unmatched by any other vendor.
If you would like to explore how NetApp storage solutions can help your business, please contact us on 020 7313 9900 to arrange a demonstration, or come along to one of our short Demo Cafe briefings.