Minimum FlexPod Configuration

FlexPod was NetApp‘s response to the Cisco, EMC, VMware joint partnership announced in November 2009 to develop cloud computing platforms called Vblock Infrastructure Packages. The partnership was originally called the VMware-Cisco-EMC Alliance but the name was later shortened to VCE (Virtual Computing Environment) coalition. VCE sells products it calls Vblock systems as converged infrastructure that combine VMware vSphere, Cisco UCS, Cisco Nexus switches, and EMC Symmetrix storage. It sells into VMware-specific markets. Vblocks are engineered systems whereas FlexPod is a reference architecture rather than a fixed hardware and software package. There are reference architectures, called solution configurations, for both virtualized environments such as VMware vSphere, Citrix Xen, Microsoft Hypervisor, and non-virtualized environments. FlexPod is a more flexible and customizable solution but is more complex to design and build. While a single part number can be used to purchase a solution’s computing and networking components, the storage and virtualization software components have be purchased separately.

Thus FlexPod is not a single product but a converged compute, networking, and storage infrastructure solution for datacenters, jointly developed by Cisco and NetApp, that are validated to work together as an integrated infrastructure stack if you follow their solution configurations. The solution stack consists of NetApp storage systems, Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) servers, Cisco Nexus switches and optionally VMware vSphere. In other words, FlexPod solutions include hardware and software from a number of vendors that are validated, tested and fully documented.

Solution configurations and workloads are published as Cisco Validated Designs. Solutions are categorized by client needs:

  • FlexPod Datacenter solutions are intended for large enterprises
  • FlexPod Express (formally ExpressPod) solutions are aimed at small and medium enterprises
  • FlexPod Select solutions focuse on high-capacity and performance for specialized workloads such as Hadoop

FlexPod customers are supported via a Cooperative Support Model which aims to provide customers with a more streamlined response to solving problems with shared infrastructure by providing a single point of contact. This is a three-way partnership between Cisco, NetApp, and VMware which allows their engineers to collaborate directly with one another to resolve customer issues and expedite problem resolution. For other vendors, issues are addressed as necessary via the TSAnet multi-vendor alliance.

FlexPod designs are based around Cisco UCS servers which moved system management and configuration from the server chassis to a top-of-the-rack switch such as the Cisco 5548. The idea is that the computing hardware is essentially stateless and all server attributes including BIOS settings are managed from software. Thus MAC addresses, WWN addresses, etc. are completely virtualized. Should a UCS server fail, assigning the role of that server to another server, or replacing the server hardware, does not require manual reconfiguration of VLANs or switches. All of this is managed by the UCS System Manager (UCSM) software

Here is a typical FlexPod solution for a medium sized company:

The Nexus 5548UP is a 1RU 1 GbE and 10 GbE switch offering up to 960 gigabits per second throughput and scaling up to 48 ports. It offers 32 1/10 Gigabit Ethernet fixed enhanced Small Form-Factor Pluggable (SFP+) Ethernet/FCoE or 1/2/4/8-Gbps native FC unified ports and three expansion slots. These slots have a combination of Ethernet/FCoE and native FC ports. Cisco UCS 6200 and 6100 series Fabric Interconnects provide network connectivity and management capabilities. Up to 20 server chassis’s are supported per fabric interconnect pair.

So what is a typical solution for a smaller company of, say, 200 employees? Here is one solution which is based on 1GbE switches rather than 10GbE switches used by most other FlexPod solutions.

In 2012 Cisco and NetApp announced ExpressPod (Now know as FlexPod Express) which is essentially a cut-down version of FlexPod which provides computing, storage, storage networking and management tools for small to medium customers with up to 500 users. The solution includes Cisco UCS C-series servers, Cisco Nexus 3048 switches and NetApp FAS2220 or FAS2240 storage. The Nexus 3038 switch is a 1GE Top-of-Rack integrated layer 2/3 NX-OS switch. 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. NetApp FAS2220/2240 filers run the latest ONTAP 8 operating system in cluster mode.

Here are the limits for the NetApp FASes:

and here is what the physical configuration would look typically like:

This obviously does not include the disk storage.

The Cisco Nexus 3048 switch is a 1 GbE top-of-rack (ToR) switch in a compact 1RU (1-rack-unit) form factor. It delivers wire-rate Layer 2 and Layer 3 switching and uses the NX-OS operating system. NX-OS is based on MontaVista Software embedded Linux. NX-OS is inter-operable with Cisco’s older IOS operating system. It runs on both the Nexus and MDS product lines.

The Cisco UCS C220 M3 1RU server supports up to 512 GB of RAM, eight drives or SSDs, and has two 1GbE LAN interfaces built into the motherboard. 10GbE interfaces can be supported via the Cisco UCS PCIe Virtual Interface Card (VIC) 1225 which is a dual port 10GE card that can support up to 256 PCIe virtual interfaces.

Is there a smaller more minimalistic Flexpod configuration? None that I am aware of. If somebody can put together or more minimal configuration, please let me know the details.

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