Although the FlexPod® data center platform from NetApp and Cisco has been tremendously successful, we knew we needed to do something a little different to address the needs of small and midsize businesses. Companies of this size are not only extremely cost sensitive, they often have limited IT staff to manage important data center infrastructure.
ExpressPod is an infrastructure solution intended specifically for situations in which the workloads are more modest and available IT expertise is limited. Whereas FlexPod is designed foremost for scalability and flexibility, the primary considerations for ExpressPod were to keep it affordable, simple to deploy, and easy to manage. To this end, ExpressPod consists of two standard and tested configurations with an open ecosystem of infrastructure management software available to streamline management.
Judging from the reaction ExpressPod received when it was announced at VMworld Europe in Barcelona on October 10, NetApp and Cisco got the formula right. A record number of partners turned out to learn more.
In this article we take a closer look at ExpressPod, including where it fits, its main components, and when to choose it.
Figure 1) New ExpressPod data center solution from NetApp and Cisco on display at VMworld in Barcelona.
Where ExpressPod Fits
ExpressPod was designed primarily for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Smaller businesses need a set of features similar to FlexPod, but cost and manageability are paramount—especially for companies that may have only one or a few people handling IT.
Growing small and midsize businesses need to improve IT efficiency while also reducing complexity and cost. We designed ExpressPod to help you consolidate applications such as e-mail, collaboration, content management, and others on a single platform. With the integrated architecture and simplified processes that ExpressPod provides, you can better manage your IT resources and ease the transition to a shared, virtualized environment.
Initially, ExpressPod was tested up to the hypervisor level with VMware® vSphere® 5. Over time, we’ll validate ExpressPod with other hypervisors and a variety of workloads, prioritizing the applications that are most pervasive in the markets that ExpressPod serves.
ExpressPod makes it easy to deploy shared infrastructure. Components are integrated and standardized for fast, repeatable, consistent deployment, eliminating much of the guesswork involved in:
ExpressPod advantages include:
ExpressPod uses NetApp and Cisco components and has been fully validated by both NetApp and Cisco. It comes in two standard configurations based on Cisco Nexus 3048 switches, Cisco UCS C220 M3 rack-mounted servers, and either a NetApp FAS2220 or NetApp FAS2240 storage system.
Table 1) ExpressPod configurations.
Figure 2) ExpressPod is available in small and medium configurations.
ExpressPod utilizes NetApp FAS2200 series storage systems running Data ONTAP® 8.1.1 or later software operating in 7-Mode. All storage is configured with two storage controllers for high availability (HA), so if one controller fails for any reason, the other takes over its workload. You can also have a single controller take over the entire workload, allowing nondisruptive maintenance.
The NetApp FAS2220 is used in the small configuration and supports 12 drives internally and up to 2 additional disk shelves, for a total of 60 drives. The NetApp FAS2240 is supplied with the medium configuration and supports up to 24 drives internally and up to 144 total disk drives using external shelves. The Unified Storage Architecture of the FAS2200 series allows it to be configured to meet both NAS (NFS and CIFS) and SAN (iSCSI) data access requirements. It delivers all the capabilities you would expect from a NetApp storage platform, including Integrated Data Protection and leading storage efficiency, with built-in support for thin provisioning, deduplication, and compression.
The FAS2200 series runs the same Data ONTAP operating environment as larger NetApp platforms, so it provides the same capabilities and is managed the same way. Staff trained on other FAS storage systems or FlexPod will find the FAS2200 series and ExpressPod just as easy to configure and use.
On the compute side, ExpressPod configurations provide two or four Cisco Unified Computing System™ (UCS) C220 M3 rack servers, each with two 8-core CPUs and 64GB of memory. This is a 1U, high-density, general-purpose server optimized to deliver high performance for a large range of business workloads, including:
The Cisco Nexus 3000 series switches supplied with ExpressPod are low-latency, high-density layer 2/3 switches that offer mission-critical features including Virtual PortChannel and Network Address Translation (NAT). The Nexus 3048 used in ExpressPod is a 1RU switch that supports 48 100/1000 Mbps RJ-45 ports and four 1/10 Gbps SFP+ uplink ports. The Nexus 3000 Series runs the same version of NX-OS as the Nexus 3000 Series Switches, so there’s consistency.
ExpressPod substitutes Nexus 3048 switches in place of the Nexus 3000 Switches, Nexus fabric extenders, and UCS fabric interconnects used by FlexPod. This significantly reduces the complexity and expense of the network fabric.
ExpressPod supports an open ecosystem of management software for you to pick from. For example, the Cloupia Unified Infrastructure Controller allows you to manage all resources from a single interface to provide precise control over both physical and virtual infrastructure with full management and monitoring from a unified dashboard.
Service and Support
A cooperative support model between Cisco and NetApp provides a more streamlined response to identify and quickly solve potential issues related to ExpressPod. This is the same support model that has worked very successfully for FlexPod. This saves you valuable time and resources when requesting support.
You can either scale up your ExpressPod system by adding additional components or scale out your environment by adding additional ExpressPod configurations.
ExpressPod scales up by adding server or storage capacity in a modular fashion to meet the needs of the workload.
ExpressPod or FlexPod?
ExpressPod is an affordable, easy-to-deploy platform for environments with fewer than 500 users. Its simplicity and lower price point make it a good choice for small and midsize organizations looking to consolidate IT infrastructure. ExpressPod can be purchased completely configured and tested to reduce the burden on IT staff.
For IT organizations with more than 500 users or those with an immediate need for growth and customization, FlexPod may be a better choice. Starting with an entry-level configuration and scaling to very large enterprises, FlexPod provides the management, customization, and integration necessary for successful large-scale IT deployments. FlexPod supports higher-performance versions of Cisco UCS (including B-series blade servers) and NetApp FAS (including the industry-leading FAS6200 series). The 10-Gigabit Ethernet Nexus fabric of FlexPod may be advantageous for high-throughput and latency-sensitive applications.
In short, choose ExpressPod if you need a cost-effective solution to consolidate IT infrastructure and meet immediate business needs. Choose a FlexPod solution if scalability and flexibility are your biggest concerns and your organization has immediate plans for IT growth and expansion.
ExpressPod offers significant advantages for small and midsize businesses that need to consolidate IT resources and accelerate the deployment of a virtualized IT infrastructure. ExpressPod brings together proven technologies for compute, networking, and storage in an affordable, easy-to-deploy solution that improves efficiency and reduces complexity. A detailed implementation guide streamlines the process of getting started, particularly in situations in which IT expertise is limited.
For the latest information on ExpressPod, keep an eye on the NetApp midsize business solutions page.
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