When it comes to cloud infrastructure, sometimes bigger is not always better. Take the case of branch offices or smaller organizations that want to take advantage of cloud services but simply don’t have the need for a full-size cloud platform. Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) and NetApp (NASDAQ: NTAP) recognize such a need and have downsized their joint FlexPod architecture with new, pre-validated design architectures designed for smaller workloads.

“We’ve extended the FlexPod family without changing the family,” said Peter Howard, senior director of Data Center Alliances at NetApp. “All have the same architecture management tools and support mechanisms. We’re just enabling customers to right-size the solution they need now and then be able to scale it over time to meet their workload needs.”

The entry-level FlexPod, which is aimed at environments with 500 to 1,0000 users, utilizes NetApp’s FAS2240 and Cisco’s UCS C-Series Nexus 5000 switches, Nexus 2232 Fabric Extender and 6200 Series fabric interconnects. As with the other versions, the entry-level FlexPod supports multiple hypervisors and various software applications.

“One thing we’ve noticed is a tremendous demand for [Microsoft] Exchange and Sharepoint configurations,” said Brian Allison, director, Go to Market Data Center Solutions at Cisco."This smaller version is perfect for such implementations."

The smaller FlexPod solution is particularly well-suited for branch office environments, which have many of the same needs as their corporate headquarters brethren without the infrastructure to support a regular FlexPod.

“Large numbers of the corporate headquarters of these companies have already standardized on FlexPod, so the smaller branch offices now also get all benefits,” Howard said.

Plus, the “scale up, scale out approach” means all sizes can connect to each other. “We’re not creating any architectural islands,” he said. “Whether customers choose the small or a bigger building block, it all works together.”

For channel partners of both companies, the smaller size can open the door to cloud conversations with existing customers that before were deemed “too small” for a private cloud, Allison said.

“This allows our partners to have a different conversation with their customers,” he said. “Now they’re able to have conversations with the VP of architecture and the CIO about their journey to the cloud. The channel is trying to earn that right to be the trusted adviser around the cloud, and this helps.”

“Both our companies are committed to the channel, and we both constantly ask ourselves, ‘What do our partners need to be successful?’ We both saw a clear demand for a lower-end box,” Howard added.

Plus, he said, there is no need for additional training or certification with the entry-level FlexPod. “What partners can do with this is tremendous in terms of what they have invested in FlexPod already -- they can go after new customers, or extend the customers they already have. It also gives partners the freedom to innovate on services.”

The entry-level FlexPod design guides are slated to be generally available in May 2012.