FlexPod Systems From Cisco and NetApp Upend Conventional Wisdom

by Peter Howard, NetApp Vice President, Worldwide Channels

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The analyst firm IDC recently published research results for worldwide integrated infrastructure and platforms for the second calendar quarter of 2013. IDC segments the market into integrated infrastructure (that is, horizontal infrastructure solutions such as the FlexPod® data center platform, Vblock and VSPEX) and integrated platforms (workload stacks that include the application, such as Oracle® Exadata).

Though just the first snapshot of a rapidly expanding market segment, the results are likely to surprise casual observers who have not yet begun their own research into converged architectures. The IDC results, along with data that we track internally at NetApp, upend some “conventional wisdom” in three areas:

  • Reference architectures versus single-source solutions
  • Best-in-class systems versus single-vendor solutions
  • Horizontal infrastructures versus workload-specific platforms

FlexPod Tops Single-Source Rivals for Integrated Infrastructure
Although it’s not a surprise to our channel partners, it turns out that FlexPod—which is a flexible, jointly defined, tested and supported reference architecture from Cisco and NetApp—ranked No. 1 in worldwide revenue and capacity shipments for integrated infrastructure, outpacing VCE, HP, IBM and other single-source suppliers. The IDC results clearly validate the FlexPod business model, which is based on strong technology partnerships, cooperative support agreements and reliance on a select group of authorized integrators to provide the “last mile” of installation and professional services for our joint customers.

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Best-in-Class Solutions Dominate for Integrated Infrastructure
A common misconception, perpetuated by some industry pundits, is that integrated solutions from a single vendor are somehow superior to a best-in-class approach that uses components from multiple companies because, well, it’s just intuitive that all the pieces will fit together nicely. This line of thinking ignores the reality that the solutions offered by large, single-vendor suppliers have been assembled out of separately developed products, some of which were built internally but most of which were acquired over time. Additionally, in spite of their size, none of these large vendors has sufficient R&D resources to field industry-leading products across the three major market segments of compute servers, networking and storage.

Perhaps this explains why the various best-in-class integrated infrastructure solutions from Cisco, NetApp and others accounted for a combined 68% of the market share for that segment. In spite of the conventional wisdom, it turns out that most companies prefer a best-in-class approach for their integrated infrastructure rather than relying on “single logo” solutions that include major components that are not competitive as stand-alone offerings.

Integrated Infrastructures Are More Popular Than Integrated Platforms
One last piece of “wisdom” you’re likely to hear is that the best solutions are those that integrate both hardware and software stacks from a single supplier because, as noted above, that’s just intuitive—right? This argument is most often made by Oracle, and it has been the company’s go-to-market strategy for creating shareholder (and to a lesser extent, customer) value following its acquisition of Sun Microsystems.

However, as with other single-vendor solutions, you can expect tradeoffs between functionality and the comfort and convenience of buying a single SKU from a well-known brand. Based on the IDC research, many Oracle customers are clearly comfortable with an integrated platform approach, but it’s not yet clear whether their purchases are a new way of deploying IT infrastructure or just a new way of buying the same hardware in a different package. For example, although Oracle leads in the integrated platform category by a substantial margin, other reports show a steady decline in its overall sales of servers and storage systems.

Another way to view the results is to observe that integrated infrastructure solutions, which are designed to support multiple applications, including databases, account for 59% of the total market for integrated systems. On top of that, NetApp internal analysis shows that nearly half of all FlexPod customers run Oracle or Microsoft® databases, sometimes on virtual machines along with other applications and other times as dedicated “bare metal” designs. For the majority of companies, a general-purpose, best-in-class infrastructure solution offers greater flexibility, higher functionality and better overall value than an integrated platform that is limited to the hardware and software of a single supplier.

For More FlexPod News
The takeaway? Don’t rely on the conventional wisdom when making important decisions about your IT infrastructure. Keep up to date with integrated infrastructure news and announcements at the NetApp FlexPod Community page.

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