FlexPod and Microsoft

July has been a busy month for the alliance between NetApp, Cisco and Microsoft. At Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference Cisco and Microsoft announced a 3 year strategic partnership that includes a priority on continuing the work with NetApp for delivery of FlexPod.

FlexPod News catches up with (from left) Steve Collins, Business Solutions Architect, NetApp; Tom Bisson, Business Development Manager, Cisco; and George Ballantoni, Americas Alliances Manager, NetApp after another successful day at Microsoft WPC to get their thoughts on why FlexPod with Microsoft is great for the channel.

But spending the week with 16,000 Microsoft partners in Washington, DC was only the beginning. We followed it up with a few days in Atlanta at the Microsoft annual global sales kick-off where there was tremendous interest in how FlexPod could help Microsoft advance sales of Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012 and SQL Server 2014 as well as how our MAT4Shift product would enable Hyper-V adoption. For the channel, the attention and focus that these three industry giants are placing on FlexPod will only mean more opportunities for our mutual partners as we align with joint GTM investment programs that encourage modernization on an integrated infrastructure.

Q: WPC is humming with excitement- what in your mind has been the most important news for our partners?

A: TB, Cisco From a Cisco perspective, I would say the three year partnership agreement we announced during WPC with Microsoft.  This agreement will allow us to drive deeper integration across our data center portfolios and incent our mutual channel partners to go to market with joint Cisco and Microsoft technologies.  Because of the strong relationship NetApp has with Microsoft, this means FlexPod will play a large role with integrating Cisco, NetApp and Microsoft technologies. We will put programs and messaging in place that will support our partners as they articulate the value of converged data center solutions to prospects and customers.  One of our focus initiatives right now is the migration of Windows 2003 customers to Windows 2012 R2 on the Cisco UCS (Unified Computing System) platform which is creating buzz. This is a huge opportunity for FlexPod and our partners because Windows 2003 will be end-of-life in July 2015. Companies need to plan now to migrate and FlexPod featuring Cisco UCS is the ideal vehicle to support this conversion.

A: GB, NetAppI would agree. The revenue potential is massive. I read an article last week that estimated 50% of enterprise organizations are still running Windows Server 2003 on production machines. And because we are seeing such a broad improvement in the economy, businesses are beginning to invest again. For partners, it is a perfect storm of opportunity to help customers and prospects take advantage of private cloud and hybrid architectures using FlexPod. Many of the old Windows Server 2003 machines are running on stand-alone boxes so there is tremendous potential to leverage a virtualized cloud environment that is much more cost-effective, secure, scalable and manageable.

Q: Steve, as an evangelist, you spend a lot of time with customers when they are first thinking about a converged infrastructure – what should partners be focusing on in an early opportunity?

A: SC, NetApp What a lot of customers don’t know is that NetApp invests heavily at inception in aligning with Microsoft. Because of that, we are usually the first out of the gate with fully integrated solutions. For example, we were first with deep System Center 2012 integration, a comprehensive PowerShell library, and robust SMB 3.0 and ODX support, meaning we have refined and tested our best of breed solution long before general market release. And our validated reference architectures remove the risk of dealing with multiple vendors. Our support program extends across NetApp, Cisco and Microsoft. We find that when customers understand this, we can get to a PoC and ultimately a sale much more quickly.

Q: How prevalent are Microsoft workloads in the data center?

A: SC, NetApp About 50% of the workloads delivered on converged infrastructure are Microsoft workloads. This means that 50% of the time, it is a decision to do something using Microsoft technology that is driving a decision to look at deploying FlexPod. So again, to get to a sale more quickly, it is important that partners understand what is happening in the rest of the business and how FlexPod reference architectures along with advancements in Microsoft technology workloads such as SQL Server 2014 mean that customers can leap-frog into modernization. Transformation can occur quickly from very old technology to a very new refresh fairly painlessly. This is a radical departure from the past, and something that CxO’s and Directors of IT have been wanting for a long time. The other big news is that NetApp’s Clustered Clustered Data ONTAP means it will be the last storage platform upgrade and migration the customer will ever have to do.

Q: What do you mean by the “last data center upgrade”?

A: SC, NetApp Basically it means non-disruptive operations. With Clustered Data ONTAP running on the FlexPod infrastructure, customers can virtually move their data anywhere at any time so they can perform storage maintenance, hardware lifecycle management and software upgrades without any downtime. For industries such as financial services, public sector and any enterprise who supports applications running 24/7 this is a must have capability.

Q: What about performance?

A: TB, CiscoGreat question.

A: GB, NetApp That’s because you get to talk about UCS.

A: TB, CiscoAbsolutely. At Cisco we are thrilled with the market adoption of UCS. Globally we’ve gone from zero to number 2 in the blade server market and we have 75% of the Fortune 500 companies as customers as well as claiming six world performance records in virtualization and cloud computing.  This clearly shows that the Cisco product management team has done a fabulous job of creating an offering that truly changed the game in the blade server market. 

A: GB, NetAppFor customers who have concerns about managing big data, Cisco’s compute along with Microsoft’s SQL Server 2014 performance improvements – up to 30x faster – is another compelling reason to get behind FlexPod and Microsoft together.

Q: Final thoughts? Why should our partners invest in understanding how Microsoft fits with FlexPod?

A: GB, NetApp – First is the business opportunity. As organizations make the shift to cloud, partners are looking for new approaches to finding revenue streams. At the same time on the customer side, new buyers are emerging as lines of business get more involved in the decision-making process. At Cisco Live earlier this year we presented that a large percentage of data center decisions are being driven with a Microsoft application or workload. This means that becoming comfortable with Microsoft’s new technology announcements will position partners to become part of the conversation. For many partners, this will mean finding joint GTM opportunities with other partners rather than becoming an expert at everything themselves.

A: TB, CiscoI agree with you George. We are also seeing a huge move toward public/private hybrid architectures and Microsoft has a big play there with Azure. FlexPod can support interoperability across a hybrid environment meaning NetApp, Cisco and our partners can help customers design and architect a FlexPod private cloud that can realize even further economies with public cloud as part of the overall design.

A: SC, NetApp Align early in the sales cycle. It is remarkable how quickly deals close when the 3 of us show up at the table. Microsoft, Cisco, NetApp – together we are telling a pretty powerful and compelling story and when we add in a partner who has the customer relationship, we rarely lose business.