Update: FlexPod Entry Level Announcement

After learning some new information about the Entry Level FlexPod design I felt the need to put an update together on some of the questions I posed in an earlier blog post seen here.  First a quick recap, Cisco & NetApp announced a new FlexPod design for smaller workloads.  The new design consists of the NetApp FAS2240 storage array, Cisco Unified Computing system, and Cisco Nexus Series switches.  Below is a quick diagram I put together with all the parts & pieces and how they will interconnect.

What Protocols will be supported?

One of the questions I posed when the entry FlexPod was announced was which protocols and configurations would be supported. As you can see in the diagram above it is 10Gb – supporting iSCSI, NFS, and CIFS protocols.  Considering this is meant for smaller workloads it is not a huge deal that it will not support native Fiber Channel or FCoE (due to the mezzanine card is not a unified adapter) since this is meant for smaller workloads.  If by chance you outgrow either due to capacity or I/O load – you always have the option of upgrading to a FAS3200 series and turning the 2240 into a disk shelf for that FAS system.

Cost Comparison & Scale:

Prior to UCSM 2.0(2m) to manage the C series rack-mount servers you were required to connect them via a Cisco 2248 Fabric Extender for Management and the P81 to the Fabric Interconnect seen below.  This obviously doesn’t scale nearly as well and adds cost as you were purchasing additional port licenses for the Fabric Interconnect.  The ability to use the 2232 Fabric Extender will definitely make this a lot more cost effective as you can connect up to 16 rack-mount servers to a single pair of 2232 Fabric Extenders.

From a compute standpoint you can scale either through additional C series rack-mounts or through B series blade servers within the pod.  You heard that right, the FAS2240 will be supported in a B Series blade environment!

From a storage standpoint, the FAS2240 supports up to 5 additional disk shelves beyond the 24 drives within the disk controller itself.  If you manage to out grow that you can use the 2240 as a disk shelf to a 32XX or 62XX series system.  You could also add an additional controllers although you will not have the capability for Cluster Mode in the new code – the requirement of 10Gb inter cluster links leaves you with 1Gb connectivity for server/client traffic.

Cabling and Config Considerations

This should not be anything new since the 2208 I/O Module has been shipping for a while now – but its worth bring up – cabling for the 2232 Fabric Extender.  With the 6248 Fabric Extender there are six sets of 8 contiguous ports – with each set of ports manage by a single chip.  If you will be cabling up all 8 uplink ports from the 2232 you will want to maximize your VIF configuration and connect them to a complete set of 8 ports in the fabric interconnect.  More information on this can be found here.

From a configuration standpoint you will want to choose how your uplinks will function – either through Hard-pinning or port-channel within the FEX discovery policy in UCSM.

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New FlexPod Announcement

This week Cisco and NetApp jointly announced a new FlexPod offering for small/medium-sized businesses and could possibly be used for remote sites for scaled out applications. They have also validated a few management tools to make it easier to administer, maintain, and automate FlexPod environments.

Entry Level Pod

The entry level FlexPod now incorporates the NetApp FAS2240 Series Controllers, Cisco UCS C-Series Rack servers, 6200 Series Fabric Interconnects, Nexus 5000 switches, and Nexus 2232 Fabric Extenders.  While I think there has been a need for an entry level pod, I question all of the required components:

NetApp FAS2240

While the FAS2240 is an excellent entry level box you are unfortunately left with a ‘one or the other’ protocol approach – either you get native Fiber Channel or you get 10Gb file protocols – the mezzanine card is not a unified adapter.  Maybe this is a push for NFS data stores for VMware environments – however in a UCS environment that leaves you either local boot or iSCSI boot from SAN for your hypervisor.

Besides the protocol issue – the FAS2240 does give you a lot of scalability options including being used as a disk shelf in a 3K series if you happen to outgrow it.

Cisco Components

From a server perspective the rack C series will be utilized for the compute portion of FlexPod.  Obviously the P81E Virtual Interface Card (VIC) will need to be utilized with the Nexus 2232 Fabric Extender.  As of the current release the 10Gb ports from the P81E and the 1Gb onboard LOM ports will both need to be connected to the Nexus 2232 forcing you to burn 10Gb ports for 1Gb connectivity – in a future release the IMC traffic will flow in band on the P81E and remove the requirement for the 1Gb ports.

Fabric Interconnects (6200) series are included in the environment for management of the C Series Servers, Nexus 2232, and VIC P81E which helps with the management of the server configuration such as RAID, boot order and most other things we get in a B Series environment.

Nexus 5Ks will be utilized as the core of the pod for 10Gb connectivity other possible termination points such as Fiber Channel.

Summary

So while I agree there needed to be an entry level FlexPod – there are still a lot of unknowns seeing as how there have not been any updated Design Guides or Deployment Guides for the new pod:

  • What configurations for the FAS2240 will be supported – native Fiber Channel or only 10Gb Ethernet (NFS/CIFS/iSCSI)…both?
  • How cost effective will the solution be?  It has been my experience that when including the Fabric Interconnects into a C series environment the cost of a B series environment tends to beat it out – perhaps the the price break for the FAS2240 vs the 3200 series will help with the price delta?
  • Now that the FAS2240 has been approved in the entry level will it also be supported in the prior FlexPod architectures and allow us for deployments where B series is preferred but may not require a FAS3200 Series?

I guess I am off to run some pricing exercises!