FlexPod – A Retrospective with Cisco and NetApp on What Went So Very, Very Right

As FlexPod celebrates its third birthday, we decided to take a look back at the beginnings of the Converged Infrastructure market leader. This month FlexPod News talks to two of the visionaries who helped bring FlexPod to life: David Scoppa, Global Partner Manager at Cisco Systems, and David Yeary Director, WW Channel Development at NetApp.


Q: Some of the best ideas get started on the back of a napkin. How was the seed for FlexPod planted?


DS: (laughs) I think I still have the napkin. But seriously, the first time Dave and I met was at a coffee shop. He drove from North Carolina to Atlanta to meet. Once we began exploring the possibilities of a scalable, flexible converged infrastructure, I could tell we were on to something.


DY: And it wasn’t just Dave and I. There was a whole team of us who said “what if…”



Q: You challenged each other to dream big?


DY: At the time, we were all very siloed. NetApp was selling storage and Cisco was selling switches. Our partners had teams that were often focused on one or the other. And while they are number two in the world now, Cisco servers weren’t even in play yet. But Peter had this idea…



Q: You’re talking about NetApp Channel Vice President, Peter Howard?


DY: Yes. Peter believed that if our channel was going to evolve and grow, they needed a better way to deliver virtualization and data center consolidation. And we realized – sitting down with Cisco – that their partners were our partners. And that if we worked together, we could create something that would be game-changing.


DS: We had tried going to market together before and had experienced some success so we knew there was an appetite for this. At the time this was around 2009/2010. The economy was not good and there was pressure on businesses to become more efficient. So partners were looking for ways to help the enterprise cut costs and be more resourceful.



Q: You mention “game-changing”. What about FlexPod made it so unique?”


DY: Flexibility. We decided we wanted something that you never had to throw away. We wanted an architecture that could grow from the smallest configuration to the largest and be fully scalable. A fully protected investment.


DS: That was a compelling story for our partners. They could design and deliver a solution that would always be relevant. And if the business changed in six months, they simply added on another component. Customers loved the idea.


DY: But the most unique element was that this was truly a field initiative.



Q: So partners were a big part of developing FlexPod?


DS: Absolutely. We started with a seven city road show and invited our partners. We had no joint solutions, simply the idea. We stood on stage and told a combined story. And partners jumped all over the concept.


DY: If it hadn’t been for the partners this never would have happened. They were already doing it. They were buying the individual components and trying to design their own scalable solutions. But they needed us to step up and remove all the risk.


DS: So we did the tour but it was still just a PowerPoint deck. We needed to actually build something.


DY:  And that’s where our technical teams broke new ground. There was a small group of people in Raleigh who got the vision of what we were trying to do with flexibility. This had never been done before and I think they deserve medals for what they were able to accomplish. Because what really makes FlexPod work so well is the CVD – Cisco Validated Design Architecture. The CVDs told the market we were serious about FlexPod.



Q: What else did you do to make it a success?


DS: We did a great job on training. We made sure our partners knew exactly how to sell, design and deliver FlexPod. We armed them with the right knowledge and support to be successful at every step of the sales and delivery cycle.



Q: So from a PowerPoint Deck to Number One in the World in only 3 years. That’s quite an accomplishment. Did you ever expect it would be this big?


DS: I knew we were on to something when we exceeded our three-year business plan numbers part-way through year one. I certainly never expected to see multiple FlexPods within the same customer. And market adoption. The market for converged infrastructure has exploded. But really the NetApp/Cisco partnership and the alignment between our two organizations made it so much easier. NetApp and Cisco share the same beliefs. I honestly believe we could have developed anything and been successful simply because we work so well together.


DY: I agree. The speed at which the market has embraced converged infrastructure is phenomenal. For FlexPod this means 50 validated architectures and presence in 84 countries with over 3,200 customers.



Q: What is next for FlexPod? How can our partners become more successful with us?


DY: Converged infrastructure is now seen as a single sales cycle, but one that is being driven by business applications. The players making the buying decisions in the future are not the ones that many of our partners are used to dealing with today. New relationships with line of business executives need to be forged because they are the ones creating the demand for our “always on/always available” architecture. A partner told us about a recent experience where a FlexPod showed up on a loading dock and IT had no clue why it was there. It turned out that the line of business had ordered it to run a new mission-critical application.


For our partners, FlexPod is the vehicle that enables them to engage in a strategic business conversation across every executive office in the enterprise, opening up a new world of opportunities for the partners who are ready for the ride.



Q: How can our partners best prepare to talk to the new decision-makers? To move from a technical discussion in IT to a strategic business conversation in the C-Suite?


DY: It comes back to education. Understanding who your buyer is and how to speak their language. This year we are investing heavily in a series of workshops led by successful business entrepreneur Pat Bodin who is helping our field teams and our partners learn how to expand their relationships into other parts of the organization. The positive feedback by attendees is amazing and our partners are correlating pipeline growth to workshop attendance.


Being armed with the right information is a big reason why FlexPod was so successful in the first place. To take advantage of the new wave of buyers, partners need to continue to invest and we hope many of them will consider including one of these workshop as part of their growth strategy this year.