FlexPod: The Joint Wonder From NetApp & Cisco (often with VMware vSphere on Top)

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During attending the NetApp Insight 2015 in Berlin this week, I was reminded of the monumental growth in the number of customers who has been deploying FlexPods as their preferred converged solutions platform, which now celebrates its 5th year in operation. So I thought I’d do a very short post on it to give you my personal take of it and highlight some key materials.

FlexPod has been gaining lots of market traction as the preferred converged solution platform of choice for many customers of over the last 4 years. This has been due to the solid hardware technologies that underpins the solution offering (Cisco UCS compute + Cisco Nexus unified networking + NetApp FAS range of Clustered ONTAP SAN). Often, customers deploy FlexPod solutions together with VMware vSphere or MS Hyper-V on top (other hypervisors are also supported) which together, provide a complete, ready to go live, private and hybrid cloud platform that has been pre-validated to run most if not all typical enterprise data center workloads. I have been a strong advocate of FlexPod (simply due its technical superiority as a converged platform) for many of my customers since it’s inception.

Given below are some of the interesting FlexPod validated designs from Cisco & NetApp for Application performance, Cloud and automation, all in one place.

There are over 100+ FlexPod validated designs available in addition to the above, and they can all be found below

There is a certified, pre-validated, detailed FlexPod design and deployment guide for almost every datacentre workload and based on my 1st hand experience, FlexPod with VMware vSphere has always been a very popular choice amongst most customers as things just work together beautifully. Given the joint vendor support available, sourcing support from a single vendor for all tech in the solution is easy too. I also think customers prefer FlexPod over other similar converged solutions, say VBLOCK for example, due to the non prescriptive nature of FlexPod whereby you can tailor make a FlexPod solution that meet your need (a FlexPod partner can do this for a customer) which keeps the costs down too.

There are many FlexPod certified partners available who can size, design, sell and implement a FlexPod solution for a customer and my employer Insight is also one of them (in fact we were amongst the first few partners to get FlexPod partnership in the UK). So if you have any questions around the potential use of a FlexPod system, feel free to get in touch directly with me (contact details on the About Me section of this site) or through the Flexpod section of the Insight Direct UK web site.

Cheers

Chan

NetApp Integrated EVO:RAIL

NetApp has announced their version of the VMware EVO:RAIL offering – NetApp Integrated EVO:RAIL solution. So I thought I’d share with you some details if you are keen to find out a bit more.

First of all, VMware EVO:RAIL is one of the true hyper-converged infrastructure solutions available in the market today and I’d encourage you to read up a little more about it here first up if you are new to such hyper-converged solutions. A key element of this traditional VMware EVO:RAIL offering is that the underpinning storage is normally provided by VMware VSAN.  While there’s lot of good things and a great vibe in the industry about VSAN as a disruptive software defined storage technology with lots of potential, if you come from a traditional storage background where you understand the importance of specialist storage solutions (SAN) that’s built up their storage capabilities for years of work in the field (think EMC, NetApp, 3PAR, HDS), you may feel a little nervy about having to put your key application data on a relatively new storage technology like VSAN. So some of these storage vendors recognised this and added their storage tech to the same VMware EVO:RAIL offering, with a view to complement the  basic VMware EVO:RAIL offering. A list of those available can be found here (but please note that not all the vendors that appear here offer their own storage with VMware EVO:RAIL offering but simply the server hardware with VMware VSAN as the only storage option and its not very clear). NetApp integrated EVO:RAIL is NetApp’s version of this solution where, alongside VMware VSAN to storage temporary and less important data, a dedicated NetApp enterprise SAN cluster with all the NetApp innovation found within its Data ONTAP operating system is also made available to customers within this Evo:RAIL solution automatically. (EMC also announced something a little similar recently where they offer a VXPEX BLUE hyper converged appliance with VMware EVO:RAIL which you can read up about here. Until then, they only sold EVO:RAIL with just VMware VSAN rather than with a bundled EMC storage offering behind it so be careful if you are considering an Evo:RAIL offering from EMC).

Couple of background info points on the concept of hyper-converged infrastructures first,

  • Integrated / converged infrastructure market is and has been growing for many use cases of late. For example, FlexPod & VBLOCK have been massive successes and it is estimation is that 14,6% of the hardware market (server, storage & networking) is to be a part of an integrated infrastructure.
  • Hyper Converged infrastructure such as VMware Evo:RAIL is the next evolution of this naturally. Evo:RAIL can be classed as a true Hyper Converged solution compared to some other popular integration solutions (that uses a 3rd party hypervisor) such as Nutanix, Simplivity also often referred to as hyper-converged platforms.
  • It was estimated that the hyper-converged market was worth around $400-500 million for 2014
  • Amongst many use cases, Hyper Converged solutions are touted to be a good solution for the likes of branch offices…etc, where due to limited staff and infrastructure isolation requirements, simplicity of the solution setup and modular, self sufficient nature of the solution has been seen a good fit.
  • NetApp’s view seems to be that this (VMware EVO:RAIL) is very much a prescriptive solution that is not as scalable as a traditional infrastructure consisting of separate compute, storage & network nodes (i.e. FlexPod, VBLOCK) and its probably a view shared by the majority of the storage vendors.

Lets take a closer look at what the NetApp Integrated EVO:RAIL solution is and what its going to give you.

  • NetApp and VMware has had a long standing history of joint innovation together with more than 40,000 joint customers to date

1. History

  • NetApp Integrated EVO:RAIL provides a trusted storage platform vendor in to the existing VMware EVO:RAIL architecture and naturally only targeted at VMware customers.
  • Given below is the technical summary of the NetApp Integrated Evo:RAIL solution.
    • NetApp branded compute nodes (Co-branded with VMware)
      • Fixed server configuration similar to other competitive EVO:RAIL solutions.
      • 4 independent server nodes per NetApp server chassis
      • Dual Intel E5-2620v2 CPUs per server with 48 cores total per chassis
      • 192GB of RAM per server with 768GB of RAM total per chassis
      • Dual 10GbE NIC (optical or copper) SFP+ per server
      • NetApp fully provide all the server hardware support (actual OEM name is a secret) – This should not be too much of a concern to customers as a compute node is not massively different to their SAN controllers (both x86 systems) that they’ve been supporting for years.
    • NetApp Storage nodes
      • Comes with a NetApp FAS2552 high available SAN with Flash Pool (Flash pool is a way of NetApp using SSD disks in the shelves acting as a caching layer to optimize random reads and random overwrite workloads-typically seen in VDI, OLTP databases, Virtualisation. More info here.)
      • include Premium software bundle that include,
        • NetApp® Virtual Storage Console
        • NetApp NFS Plug-in for VMware VAAI
        • NetApp clustered Data ONTAP
        • NetApp Integration Software for VMware EVO:RAIL
        • NetApp FlexClone, SnapRestore, SnapMirror, SnapVault, Single Mailbox Recovery, SnapManager Suite
      • 12.6TB approximate NetApp usable capacity for enterprise data with SSD’s included for FlashPool (+6.5TB VSAN useable capacity)
      • Based on FAS2552 in a switchless cDOT cluster
      • Virtual SAN for vSphere infrastructure (as a base component to bring up the solution components up and running initially)
    • VMware Software Included
      • VMware EVO:RAIL software
      • VMware vCenter Server
      • VMware vSphere Enterprise Plus
      • VMware vRealize Log Insight
      • VMware Virtual SAN

Given below is the physical connectivity architecture of the NetApp integrated Evo:RAIL

2. Connectivity

  • The current offering has 2 types of storage:
    • VMware VSAN storage: Basic local server storage which is controlled by VSAN. Base application, SWAP space and temporary data can be placed here.
    • NetApp storage: Used for application deployment that require DR (NetApp SnapMirror…etc) and granular performance requirements (VST), Security and all traditional SAN requirements. For example, database servers like SQL, Oracle, and other applications like SAP, Sharepoint, Exchange as well as VDI that requires application integration for backup and recovery can have their data placed on the NetApp for the SnapManager application integration.
  • NetApp integrated Evo:RAIL also comes with the following benefit
    • NetApp Global Support providing,
      • Single contact for solution support
      • 3 years NetApp SupportEdge Premium Services for compute, storage, and NetApp and VMware software (note that NetApp specialise in this join support model already through the FlexPod support between NetApp, Cisco and VMware which they are presumably leveraging here)3 year hardware warranty (NetApp storage and server hardware)
      • Onsite Next Business Day and Same Day 4 hour parts replacement
  • Simple Deployment
    • Additional EVO:RAIL configuration engine integration software from NetApp (click and launch from the EVO:RAIL home page) is aimed to simplify the deployment of the NetApp storage as a part of the Evo:RAIL deployment.
    • Key points to note here are,
      • Simple setup and configuration & NetApp best practices automatically applied
      • Unified management across virtual and storage environment using vCenter Web Client with integrated NetApp Virtual Storage Console
      • Deep application integration: Exchange, SQL Server, SharePoint, Oracle and SAP
    • Overall deployment takes around 11 minutes approx. for the EVO:RAIL + about 5 mins for the NetApp SAN
    • A NetApp automation VM (called NTP-QEP) is deployed as a part of the initial deployment configuration automatically which acts as the glue between the EVO:RAIL management software and the NetApp hardware (I wonder if we can get this appliance with an API access so we can point this as a standalone NetApp?? That would be pretty awesome now wouldn’t it??)

4. Demo 1

    • The current prototype version of the integration software through this VM can be accessed when you login to the EVO:RAIL management console via the NetApp icon on the left and once launched, will take you to a simple data collection screen that asks for vCenter credentials, storage system pwd, management & data network details and the license details for the NetApp. Once they are provided and submitted, the automation engine will go ahead and configure the whole NetApp cDOT cluster including VSC VM deployed, cluster instantiated, node manage LIFS created, SP configured FP configured, SVM, FlexVol created & datastores are mounted to VMware for use based on NetApp best practise all automatically. Things like deduplication is also automatically enabled.
    • Since the NetApp Virtual Storage Console plugin is automatically installed, you can easily configure any additional NetApp configurations through that afterwards if you really wants.
  • Current planned use cases
    • Mainly aimed at branch offices as a solution
    • Also recommended as a point solutions aimed at achieving compliance and application integration such as database system deployments with built in backup and DR
    • Also positioned for VDI deployments (due to the built in flash option and the ease of deployment) with integrated backup and DR
  • Ordering & Availability
    • All components are available as a single product with 2 SKU’s, a product SKU and a support SKU. That’s it and include all NetApp and VMware software components in the SKU.
    • Targeted availability for ordering is somewhere around Q1/Q2 this year (2015)

Sounds like an interesting proposition from NetApp and I can see value, especially if you are an existing NetApp customer who knows and are used to all the handy tools available to you from the storage layer whos looking at VMware EVO:RAIL for a point solution or a branch office solution, this would be a simple no brainer.

Cheers

Slide credit goes to NetApp..!

Chan

 

NetApp Lanamark (HPAS)

If you are a NetApp presales SE working for NetApp or a reseller, or simply an IT consultant working onsite (customer) trying to procure & deploy a NetApp enterprise SAN storage system as a part of an IT solution, one of the hardest things you’d have to do is to figure out how big you’d need to make the SAN in order for it to last a decent while without having to upgrade it to something bigger and better few months down the line.  An accurate sizing is an extremely important part that you must pay enough attention to upfront to scientifically finalise the size & the specification of your new SAN, based on the workload your going to put on it. This is simply so that you procure a SAN storage that’s fit for purpose from capacity & throughput perspective so you wont have to look at adding additional nodes prematurely to your storage cluster too early in its life cycle.

Being involved as a channel SE, I go through this process day in and day out with my customers and the hardest part that usually gets in the way of doing an accurate sizing (apart from the impatient customer and the even more impatient sales guy who prefers to use the art of guessing to quickly come up with a “SAN configs that he can quote quickly for the customer”) is the lack of readily available storage statistics of the existing environment or the inability to effectively gather these storage stats from a distributed IT environment without laborious & time consuming tasks that involve lot of work with spreadsheets (I can imagine all NetApp SE’s nodding their heads in agreement right now 🙂 ). So far, a typical NetApp / Channel partner SE proposing a NetApp SAN solution for a customer, who’s supposed to be doing it properly would have had to ask the customer to provide storage stats for all of their estate (which almost always does not exist) or deploy a rudimentary monitoring and statistics gathering tool like virtualisation data collector (you need to be a NetApp partner with appropriate access to click on the link) and do lot of manual spreadsheet related work to manipulate the rudimentary data gathered before it can be fed in to SPM (NetApp’s official sizing tool) to produce a valid SAN storage configs for the given requirement. Having done this repeatedly myself for every single storage solution for my customers, I can say it has been painful and often very time consuming.

Like me, if you are involved in lot of NetApp SAN storage sizing for various customers,  you’d be really glad to know that there’s a new data collection tool been made available called NetApp Lanamark (HPAS). NetApp Lanamark is a lightweight, agentless data collector that is fundamentally very similar to how VMware capacity planner (and its data collector) works. NetApp Lanamark lets you deploy a single data collector on to a Windows server (could be a VM) and monitor and continuously collect resource utilisation statistics (mainly storage) which is uploaded to a central repository online. Once sufficient data has been collected, you can run an assessment (unlike VMware cap planner assessment which is little complicated to actually get setup initially and configure an assessment, all of that are automatically done for you, so all you really need to do is to create groups of servers if required) and export the results in the form of a JSON file that can directly be imported in to SPM (NetApp’s formal sizing tool) and voila… you have an accurately sized SAN configuration that can be sent to the customer….Its that simple.

Given below are some key points to note

  • It is supported to collect performance stats from a variety of host system OS’s such as (collecting data from none host systems such as arrays is not supported),
    • Most Windows versions
    • Following Linux versions (CentOS 3.x, 4.x, 5.x, 6.x, Debian 3.1, 4.0, 5.0, Fedora 4 – 10, Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise 9.x, 10.x, openSUSE 10.x, 11.x, Oracle Linux 4, 5, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.x, 4.x, 5.x, 6.x, Ubuntu 6 and up)
    • Though its officially not listed, when I trialled this, it successfully connected to my ESXi (5.5) servers and collected data from them too. But note that later on when you run the assessment, the stats for these servers seems to get omitted (when I trialled this in my lab, it seemed to omit all the stats for the ESXi hosts)
  • Each collector can gather data from <=2500 servers / systems
  • Stats collected are uploaded to a data warehouse server in US
  • Only available to NetApp employees or Start and Platinum partner SE’s (everyone else, you’d have to ask your NetApp SE to do this on your behalf)
  • If you are a NetApp SE or a partner SE, more details can be found on the live presentation that can be found here

I’ve attempted a simple assessment using my home lab and given below are the typical setup steps involved.

  • Go to https://lanamark.netapp.com and register a new opportunity (need a NetApp NOW account to login with. NetApp SE’s, Distribution SEs, Platinum or Start partner SE’s have rights to use this. If you are a different partner level, you need to request the aligned NetApp SE to do this on your behalf. Your NetApp CDM or the sales rep involved from NetApp in the opportunity also need to authorise the assessment. Anyone with a @netapp.com email address could usually do this)

Login screen

  • Once this is done, the designated customer contact receives and email with a link to download the data collector install with all the customer specific information is hard coded (no need to register collector ID’s with the online repository unlike the VMware cap planner for example). If you prefer to do this your self, you can too as the NetApp / Partner SE.
  • Once the collector is installed, you configure the collector with the list of servers and the appropriate credentials for each server being monitored as illustrated in the screenshot below.

Collector Screen

  • Once the systems have been fed in to the collector (in the form of an IP range, csv file….etc) and relevant credentials have been associated, it will automatically inventory each server and start collecting statistics which are uploaded once a day by default to the NetApp Lanamark Central online repository which you can view as the SE via http://lanamark.netapp.com

Landing Page

 

  • Double click on the assessment / engagement to view the details.

Screen 1

  •  Data feeds tab shows all the hosts that are being monitored and their monitored status

Data feeds tool

  • The Assessment tab shows the summary of all the data collected that are ready to be imported in to SPM (NetApp System Performance Modeller = Official NetApp Sizing tool for all FAS and E series arrays).

Assessment screen

Assessment screen 2

 

  • On the top right hand corner of the assessment window, you have an option to generate a summary report which will produce a docx (Microsoft Word) document with all statistics data pre populated. This is quite handy if you are a vendor / partner SE who wants to present the findings in a formal manner through a proposal….etc.

Summary Report

  • The SPM export button create a .JSON file (sample shown below) which you can directly import in to SPM during sizing (no more laborious spreadsheet jobby’s 🙂 )

JSON

 

SPM 1

SPM 2

That’s, it…. Its that simple…..!!

Would be good to hear from others who’s already been using it out in the field to sizing new NetApp systems (comments are welcome..!)

Thanks to Bobby Hyam (NetApp SE)  & Craig Menzies (EMEA Partner manager) from NetApp for providing the links to the presentation & Info….!!

Cheers

Chan