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Guest post by Dennis Clark, Senior Solutions Marketing Manager -- Microsoft Applications, NetApp

We are here in Charlotte this week with our Cisco friends, with the opportunity to talk with all sorts of like-minded Microsoft SQL Server individuals at the 2013 SQL PASS Summit. The conversations vary in range from things like database performance, developer issues, to private cloud and data management concerns. We’ve also had some good chats with a few data warehouse folks, which prompted me to share some thoughts on this topic.

BI Blues

We know that the data warehouse (DW) is central to a comprehensive business intelligence (BI) solution. So clearly, if our DW isn’t up to snuff, as they say, then we can forget about delivering critical analytics to a growing number of LOB managers and execs. This, in turn, negatively affects the bottom line of the business, which isn’t good for anyone. And it isn’t getting any easier. Data is growing exponentially and the problem of integrating data from multiple sources isn’t going away any time soon. These issues, along with the complex interaction of the different components of a BI solution, continue to make the design, deployment and management of data warehouses a challenge. Now you can continue to throw money at it by over-provisioning and burning up valuable data center space and power to try to keep up, or you can strive to achieve a higher level of DW nirvana with Cisco and NetApp.

Data Warehouse Nirvana

I like the word nirvana. It has a positive connotation that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It also translates loosely to harmony which translates loosely to balance (yes, a bit of a stretch). And balance is exactly what Microsoft is after in developing the Fast Track Data Warehouse (FTDW) program for SQL Server. As Microsoft will tell you, SQL Server 2012 FTDW is a “reference architecture solution that gives you a step-by-step guide to build a data warehouse using SQL Server 2012 Enterprise, combined with well-tuned hardware… Customers are delivered the most balanced configuration of CPU, IO, and storage resources.

Not just anyone can be included in this program. Microsoft has stringent requirements and only a select few get the stamp of approval with a validated architecture. The good news is that NetApp and Cisco have done the heavy lifting (AKA – extensive co-engineering and testing) for you with a new joint architecture design that delivers on the promise of a balanced configuration for your data warehouse.

The Guts and the Glory

At the heart of this validated piece of nirvana are the Cisco UCS® C220 M3 Server (1U) and the NetApp EF540 Flash Array (2U). Now I’ll leave the description of the Cisco server to Cisco, though I will say that our test results confirmed what Cisco has been telling us (and you) in that this compact 1U package definitely delivers “outstanding levels of density and performance.” I should also give a shout out to our friends over at LSI, whose SAS HBA card is part of the FTDW solution.

The EF540, part of NetApp’s Data Management Solutions for Data Warehouses, is an all-flash storage array that brings together screaming performance and enterprise-grade reliability. If I can toot my own horn for a moment, NetApp is all about high availability, increased data protection and storage utilization, efficient workload management, and instantaneous modular scaling. I mention this because the EF540 slots in nicely with these capabilities, and has been further optimized for latency-sensitive workloads. Bottom line: this powerhouse 3U reference configuration is capable of delivering a rated CSI throughput of 5.6GBps!

In Summary

Now I could drill down on all the tasty technical details on both the reference architecture and the test results, but this is just a blog and I’m just the marketing guy (groan if you must, I have thick skin). I think those are two worthy reasons to steer clear and point you to some great resources below, where you can dig in to your heart’s content. I will tell you that while you spend sleepless nights pondering the intricate details of your data warehouse (or not), give thought to things like scalability, availability, reliability and serviceability. NetApp and Cisco have worked very hard to deliver these in a best-in-class reference architecture, purpose-built for data warehouses built with SQL Server 2012. And now my friends, you are on your way to achieving data warehouse nirvana.

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