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FlexPod Extends the Converged Infrastructure Standard to AI/ML Workloads

Ranjeet Sudan

Standards are ubiquitous in all areas of our lives. Sometimes it seems as if it’s always been that way.  In fact, standards evolve over time. One standard that comes to mind is electricity. Today we rarely think about electricity, but it wasn't always that way. Over time, mechanical power gave way to on-premises electrical power to centralized generation over standard voltages and frequencies. Today, we simply plug in without giving it a second thought. The voltage, frequency, and receptacles are all standardized.  Appliance makers only worry about the interface, not the generation. For the most part, electricity is very reliable; it’s always on. Electrical outlets allow us to plug in almost without thought. Thanks to standardization, new computers, appliances, servers, and phones can tap seamlessly into the electrical grid.

Like electricity, the FlexPod® converged infrastructure solution from NetApp and Cisco is becoming a standard. What makes a converged infrastructure a standard? It would be an industry leader, able to handle nearly all workloads, including different versions of applications. It would have a long history of growth and be built on existing standards and standard processes. And it would be growing and evolving to handle new workloads and technologies.

Let's look at FlexPod in the context of a standard:

  • Produced more than $10 billion in revenue in just 9 years
  • Added more than 3 new customers every day since launching
  • Totaled a cumulative investment of more than 250 person-years of engineering and growing
  • Is deployed in more than 9,000 customer sites, with more than 5,000PB of capacity shipped
  • Gained more than 5 points of market share over the past 2 years
  • More than 170 validated designs (the “appliances" of the standard), including nearly all data center workloads
  • New workloads like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and EPIC are being added over time

Like electricity, the FlexPod standard can handle both large, mission-critical applications and edge workloads. Exciting innovations like AI and ML or EPIC healthcare plug into the same industry-leading standardized components, like NetApp® FAS and AFF storage arrays, Cisco Unified Computing System™ (Cisco UCS®) servers, and Cisco Nexus® switches. FlexPod is constantly evolving and modernizing adding new Cisco Validated Designs (CVDs) and NetApp Validated Architectures (NVAs) to its family of 170+ standard solutions, ensuring the performance of modern enterprise applications that run the largest and most complex, mission-critical enterprises like Oracle RAC, Microsoft SQL Server, and SAP.  The FlexPod standard is also continuously adding new applications, workloads, and technologies to ensure that customers that they have a long roadmap of both application and technology improvements. In this area, FlexPod is unique in that this assurance has been built over years, over thousands of customers and hundreds of applications. It can’t be created overnight by a small storage company with a handful of new designs.

These standardized, combined roadmaps and technologies have delighted many FlexPod customers.  The best predictor of success for FlexPod is happy customers.  Worldwide FlexPod has thousands of happy customers running mission-critical databases worldwide.  Please take a look at these videos to get a sense of FlexPod running mission-critical applications

Cisco is voicing their support as are partners on FlexPod for AI:

Bob Olwig, Vice President of Corporate Business Development, WWT

“WWT is excited to partner with NetApp as they launch a disruptive solution that provides systems integrators like WWT with a compelling solution to address the exploding AI/ML segment and cloud connected CI or the Data Fabric that our customers expect from us. FlexPod is a trusted platform that combines a unified management and unified fabric with best-of-breed compute, network, storage, and management products into an easy-to-deploy architecture., “FlexPod is a trusted and proven architecture from NetApp and Cisco that complements WWT’s broad portfolio of solutions and services for deep learning, giving customers an AI stack that can be implemented quickly with extreme efficiency and reduce any risk."

Raphael Meyerowitz, Presidio, Vice President, Office of the CTO

“Presidio is excited to be a part of the launch of a break though innovation with AI/ML/DL on FlexPod which is an industry trusted and proven architecture” “Realtime movement of large datasets from edge to core or core to cloud is challenging, and visionaries are looking for ways to convert and maximize data value independent of any location. The FlexPod with its Data Fabric, unified UCS management, with all-flash technology and NVIDIA GPU-assisted compute and all packaged in a pre-validated configuration—gives customers the scale, choice, control, efficiency, and availability required for deep learning environments.”

Zeki Yasar, Director of Emerging Technology, ePlus Technology:

"FlexPod is a solutions architecture that many of our customers have trusted for years to provide a robust and scalable infrastructure foundation for critical technology initiatives. With the introduction of FlexPod AI, customers can now support adding state-of-the-art Deep Learning capabilities for their most strategic services without introducing the operational challenges that often accompany transcendent methods of application development.  ePlus is proud to be at the forefront of delivering optimized AI solutions by combining Cisco and NetApp technologies with our industry leading professional services offerings"

Today, FlexPod is bringing its leading position in mission-critical workloads and the FlexPod standard to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), powering these modern and enterprise applications with the latest platform innovations, including:

  • FlexPod for Artificial Intelligence
  • End-to-end NVMe
  • Next-generation technologies, like Cisco UCS 480 ML M5 servers with NVIDIA GPUs
  • Latest versions of enterprise applications
  • Enhanced cloud integration
  • One call single vendor support
  • CVD and NVA library of over 170 solutions

A quick example of where the FlexPod standard assures performance of modern enterprise applications with next generation compute, storage and fabric is the end-to-end NVMe validated solution.  FlexPod’s introduction of NVMe from storage, to switch to server, increasing overall application performance by up to 60%.  Due to NetApp and Cisco’s FlexPod commitment, these new technologies find their way into FlexPod at a rapid pace, much faster than non-standard, competing solutions.

The new FlexPod AI standard also ensures the performance and reliability of modern AI and ML enterprise applications with next-generation compute, storage, and fabric in a validated solution. The award-winning NetApp AFF storage arrays, the latest UCS C480  ML M5 with NVIDIA GPUs, managed with ONTAP OnCommand and the UCS Manager, make it an ideal solution for your AI and ML workloads. FlexPod is already doing the heavy lifting in mission-critical SQL Server and Oracle databases around the world. It’s a small evolutionary step to extend FlexPod leadership to AI and ML.   In addition, AI and ML depend on file storage—a field that NetApp pioneered and continues to lead.

The FlexPod standard also integrates advanced cloud services with the only hybrid, multicloud converged infrastructure stack that leverages the NetApp Data Fabric, an architecture and set of data services that offer consistent capabilities across a choice of endpoints spanning on-premises and multiple cloud environments. The Data Fabric simplifies and integrates data management across the cloud and on-premises to accelerate digital transformation. It delivers consistent and integrated hybrid cloud data services for data visibility and insights, data access and control, and data protection and security.  FlexPod customers can also use Cisco CloudCenter™ with FlexPod to securely deploy and manage applications in multiple data center, private cloud, and public cloud environments. This software solution helps you modernize and automate your data center or add public cloud application deployment to your service offering.

Like electricity, FlexPod is a reliable, standardized infrastructure that is trusted by customers around the world. In the same way that standardization led to greater innovation because electrical devices could focus on the application and not the electrical design, FlexPod allows customer to focus on their applications and business, not on their infrastructure.   This standardized collection and aggregation of technologies, along with a comprehensive portfolio CVD library of more than 170 designs, confirms that NetApp and Cisco are fully committed to FlexPod, now and in the future. FlexPod customers can be sure that their FlexPod investment is protected moving forward.

The following section describes the new workloads, innovations, and technologies that NetApp and Cisco are announcing, underscoring why FlexPod is the converged infrastructure standard.

Latest platform innovations

  1. AI and ML workloads with UCS 480 ML M5 with GPU support
  2. Power modern applications including SAP HANA, SAP vHANA, SQL 2017, Oracle 12cR2, VDI w/GPU
  3. Greater performance and efficiency with UCS M5, 100Gb Nexus, and ONTAP 9.5
  4. Ultra-low latency with end-to-end NVMe using MDS and AFF A800
  5. Rapid technology integration including upcoming persistent memory and MAX Data
Unmatched versatility
  1. Multi-cloud connected for cloud-based backup, DR, tiering on AWS, Azure and GCP
  2. Edge-to-core-to-cloud orchestration with enhanced Data Fabric and InterSight
  3. Multi-site HA with MetroCluster IP and ACI Multipod
Platform trusted worldwide
  1. Simplify support experience with one contact support from Cisco, NetApp or partner
  2. Continuously optimize operations with cloud-based monitoring and predictive analytics with NetApp CSA
  3. Most trusted platform as fastest growing converged infrastructure solution

Finally, no standardized converged infrastructure would be complete without customer support. FlexPod enables NetApp and Cisco partners to deliver a better customer experience with a platform that’s trusted around the world.  Solution Support offers single-point-of-contact support for FlexPod solutions from NetApp, Cisco, and the many partners that sell FlexPod worldwide.

If you attend Cisco Live EMEA, have a few minutes to spare, and are not a current FlexPod customer or partner, stop by booth P2 to learn more about the FlexPod standard. If you’re already a FlexPod customer, please plug in to the many FlexPod activities, including four breakout sessions presented jointly by NetApp and Cisco:

For more information, please visit:

Ranjeet Sudan

Ranjeet is Vice President of NetApp’s Converged Infrastructure Group. In his role, Ranjeet is responsible for NetApp's portfolio of converged infrastructure solutions including FlexPod, the jointly developed system from Cisco and NetApp. With nearly 30 years of industry experience, Ranjeet has been at the forefront of product innovations that have transformed markets and created new product categories, driving new business models and strategies across key networking products and data center converged infrastructure solutions. Ranjeet previously served as Senior Director of product management for FlexPod solutions at NetApp, establishing the FlexPod converged infrastructure solution as a market leading platform for datacenter workloads, private and hybrid cloud service offerings. Prior to joining NetApp, Ranjeet spent 13 years at Cisco Systems and 10 years at Digital Equipment Corporation in a variety of Product Management, Business Development and Manufacturing positions. Ranjeet holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University and a Master of Business Administration from Boston College.

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