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While EMC enjoys a close relationship with Cisco via their Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) joint venture, there’s nothing that says customers have to use EMC storage alongside Cisco Unified Computing Systems.

In fact, competition to attach storage systems to a Cisco UCS server platform that continues to enjoy brisk sales is fierce. And now NetApp wants to take that competition up a few notches by extending the appeal of Cisco UCS systems into the small-to-medium (SMB) space.

NetApp and Cisco today announced that they have extended the FlexPod architecture they jointly developed with a series of new pre-validated designs that are priced and sized for smaller workloads. The latest version of the FlexPod platform combines NetApp FAS2240 storage with and the Cisco UCS C-Series servers, Cisco Nexus 5000 Switches, Cisco Nexus 2232 Fabric Extenders, and Cisco UCS 6200 Series Fabric Interconnects into a single offering.

According to Todd Palmer, NetApp vice president for the Americas channel, this creates a significant opportunity for solution providers in the channel to not only leverage the appeal of Cisco UCS in the SMB space, but to also rethink how they sell Cisco UCS in the enterprise.

The new FlexPod architecture allows solution providers to offer a data center platform that consumes a lot less space and power, while at the same time provding more compute and storage capacity. This potentially solves a major issue for enterprise customers that are struggling with how to scale data center capacity when they are running out of both physical space and don’t have enough access to electricity to power their existing IT infrastructure.

In short, more efficient data center architectures such as FlexPod will allow those customers to continue to scale applications without having to completely redesign their data center or build a new one.

Thanks to the rise of virtualization and agile development methodologies there are more applications than ever running in the data center. Customers, however, often have legacy system architectures in place that don’t have the processing or data storage capacities needed to support those applications. Worse yet, they are already consuming as much power as they are allowed, which means they need to replace their servers and storage systems with new technologies that are fundamentally more efficient.

Obviously, this creates a massive opportunity for the channel in terms of refreshing all those servers and storage systems using a more compact set of modular components.

Naturally, SMB organizations are facing many of the same issues, just not to the same level of scale. While the new FlexPod series is being positioned primarily as a platform for SMB organizations, the concepts embodied by that platform are more broadly applicable.

There’s no doubt that most IT organizations are looking at server upgrades in the coming year if no other reason that improving virtual machine performance. But the drivers for those upgrades also include I/O issues that involve a variety of storage and networking issues as well. When considered in totality, all these technologies appear to be simultaneously advancing together in a way that presents solution providers with a massive set of new opportunities that are all converging around the data center.