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Flexibility and FlexPod: Navigating the Future of Tech with NetApp

Recently, GDT sat down with NetApp’s Director of GSI Solutions Engineering, Lee Howard. Lee leads the technical aspects of NetApp‘s relationships with Global Systems Integrators, which involves co-developing solutions that showcase the strengths of NetApp’s portfolio and molds the product development, technical narrative identification, and go-to-market efforts of NetApp’s combined solution mix with partners. When asked about what he does, he doesn’t talk about the nuts and bolts of technical specs and portfolio mixes; he talks about the outcomes NetApp’s products and partners have on customers’ lives.


FlexPod, NetApp and Cisco’s collaboratively created converged infrastructure platform, is approaching its tenth anniversary. This agile, best-in-class solution combines NetApp ONTAP storage arrays with Cisco UCS servers and Cisco Nexus switches. In the past decade, countless new technologies have emerged and data has grown exponentially, but FlexPod has always evolved to meet customer demand for operational improvement and innovation. FlexPod changes as the IT landscape does.


Here’s what Lee had to say about the future of NetApp, FlexPod, and more.


What have you learned in the past few months that you think will inform the direction of where things are headed?


Freedom of choice and agility are the most important things you have to design towards. I think it’s changed our discipline, both in the way that we rationalize how we bring our product portfolio to bear but also in how it reinvigorated everybody to discover new ways of functioning. It’s not just a white space environment, standing up a new capability, etc.; it’s how are you able to pivot that capability should something like COVID come up and throw a wrench in everything.


What would you say you’re most excited about as you look to the future?


FlexPod’s like Madonna, constantly reinventing itself. If you look at buying patterns in the business problems that we the vendors and you as partners have to collaborate to solve, those have changed but there’s been that consistency of FlexPod all the way through. How it’s been able to reinvent itself over and over again—that speaks to why we’re celebrating 10 years. I’m very excited about getting building blocks squared away so that we can focus on how we set up security policies. How are we securing traffic back and forth? How are we enabling new consumption patterns and new locations to execute applications? How are we making that organic to our existing environment?


I think what I’m most excited about is this: the hard part for NetApp and for Cisco is done, and that’s inventing or procuring the technologies. Now we get to enjoy the easy part, which is just evangelizing and being able to tell a new story that hasn’t been told before with our customers.


GDT recently became a NetApp Star Partner. Can you speak to what our expanded partnership with NetApp means going forward?


GDT coming together with IAS couldn’t have happened at a better time. You have people who are so deeply entrenched in very different parts of the business now able to collaborate together. I mean, that’s a dream. I think partnerships like that, the intellectual property stack that we get to leverage on a daily basis is what makes it an exciting time to be alive. GDT is great at security and managing environments, and IAS really understands connectivity. They’re typically mutually exclusive in a lot of historic partners that are out there, and I think you bring those two together.


I think why we’re so potent in the market is our partnership with Cisco and our partners like yourselves, We are triangulating based upon what we do best and that focus on innovation and where you operate the strongest, and then collaborating from all the different parties involved. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity area for all of us to be able to partner in.


We’ve talked a lot about data and partnerships today. What role do you see them playing together in the future?


We can no longer design for one workload and one location. Capabilities have to be ubiquitous. And in order to do that, you have to change the way you engage your customer. I think you guys are in a fantastic position to have that new conversation, which is around regardless of where your data originates from, be it medical transcriptionists putting in a prescription to an offshore oil rig reading pressure gauges to avoid oil spills to a steel manufacturing plant that needs to be able to roll out two more sheets of metal per shift in order to remain profitable. Regardless of where data is created or what the business requirements are, we’re really able to address any of them.


However, you can’t address them alone. It requires partnerships, and the big takeaway is everybody has to collaborate because we’re not too far off from function-as-a-Service calls coming from multiple locations to support the same application. We all have to partner to survive, but we’re better positioned than the competitive landscape to do so. The doctrine behind why we do what we do, the doctrine behind why you purchased IAS, is for the future. We’re not responding to consumption trends from 5-10 years ago. We look ahead towards what’s happening tomorrow and the folks that are leaning in that way and being visionaries. Those are the meaningful partnerships that we really value and that we are very excited about.  


Want to learn more about how NetApp and FlexPod can help your organization? Reach out to GDT for more information.


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