Gold medals for data

Last week was the end of a wonderful summer of sport from Rio, where the Olympics and Paralympics gave us sport at its best, people achieving life time goals, setting new records and inspiring a new generation of athletes.

I’m sure many of you enjoyed the games as much as I did, but why bring it up here? Well for someone who writes a BLOG it’s almost a contractual obligation in an Olympic year, to write something that has a tenuous Olympic link. So here’s my entry!

One part of the Team GB squad that really stood in Rio were the Olympic cyclists, winning more gold medals than all of the other countries combined (6 of the 10teamgb_trott_archibald_rowsell_barker_rio_2000-1471125302 available) a phenomenal achievement.

This led to one question getting continually asked “What’s the secret?”. In one BBC interview Sir Chris Hoy was asked that question and his answer fascinated me, during his career the biggest impact on British cycling was not equipment, facilities, training, or super human cyclists. It was data, yes, data, not just collecting data, but more importantly the ability to extract valuable insight from it.

We hear it all the time

“those who will be the biggest successes in the future are those that get the most value from their data”

and what a brilliant example the cyclists where. We see this constantly in sport where the smallest advantage matters , but not just sport, increasingly this is the case in business, as organsations see data as the key to giving them competitive edge.

We all love these kind of stories, how technology can provide true advantage, but it’s always great to see it in action.

A couple of weeks ago I was on a call with the technical lead of one of our customers. He and his company see the benefit of technology investment and how it delivers business advantage. I’ve been lucky enough to work with them over the last 4 years or so and have watched the company grow around 300% in that time, we were talking with one of his key technology vendors and explaining to them how their technology was an instrumental part of their success.

During the call I realised this was my opportunity for a tenuous Olympic link BLOG post and how, as with the cyclists, getting the best from data was delivering real bottom line success to the business.

The business is a smart energy company, doing very innovative stuff in the commercial and private energy sectors. They’re in a very competitive industry, dominated by some big companies, but these guys are bucking that trend and a great example of how a company that is agile and knows how to exploit its advantage can succeed.

In their industry data is king, they pick up tonnes of data every day, from customers, from devices, from sensors, and manipulating this data and extracting valuable information from it is key to their success.

Until about a year ago they were running their database and reporting engines (SQL based) on a NetApp storage array, running 7-mode. That had worked but a year ago we migrated his infrastructure to clustered data ONTAP to provide increased flexibility, mobility of data and more granular separation of workloads.

However, the smartest thing they did as part of the migration was to deploy flashpools into their environment, why was this so earth shattering?

A big part of the value of their SQL infrastructure is reporting. This allows them to provide better services to their customers and suppliers giving them advantage over their competitors.

However many of those reports took hours to run, in fact the process was request the report and it would be ready the next day.

The introduction of flashpools into the environment (flashpools are flash based acceleration technology available in NetApp ONTAP arrays) had a dramatic effect taking these overnight reports and delivering them in 30-60 minutes.

This significant reduction in report running times, meant more reports could be run, more reports producing different data that could be used to present new and improved services to customers.

Last year the technical lead attended NetApp Insight in Berlin. One of the big areas of discussion that caught his interest was the development of all flash FAS (AFF), NetApp’s all flash variants of their ONTAP driven FAS controllers.

They immediately saw the value in this high performance, low latency technology. So earlier this year, we arranged an AFF proof of concept to be integrated into the environment, during this POC, the team moved a number of SQL workloads to the flash based storage and it’s no understatement to say this transformed their data analysis capabilities, those 30-60 minute reports where now running in 2-3 minutes.

An example of the kind of performance you can get from AFF (this is an AFF8080 cluster running ONTAP 8.3.1 – new platforms and ONTAP 9 have increased this performance further)

But this was not just about speed, this truly opened up brand new capabilities and business opportunities, now the organisation could provide their customers and suppliers with information that previously was impossible, providing quick access to data was allowing them to make decisions on their energy usage that gave true value.

They knew the proof of concept had gone well, when on taking it out the business began asking questions, why is everything so slow? Why can’t we do those reports anymore? And that was the business case, the deployment of NetApp flash was not just doing stuff quickly, or using flash because that’s what everyone says you should, this was because flash was delivering results, real business advantage.

As Chris Hoy discussed at the Olympics, it was not just getting the data because they could, it was getting the most out of it and in a sport where often 10th of seconds are between you and a gold medal, any advantage is critical.

A competitive business environment is no different, so an investment in technology that gives you the slightest edge makes perfect sense.

Today, all flash FAS is integrated into their new datacentre running the latest iterations of ONTAP, ensuring a low latency, high performance infrastructure, ensuring that they can continue to drive value from their most critical business asset, their Data.

A great use of technology to drive advantage, in fact Gold medals for data usage all round.


Hope that wasn’t to tenuous an Olympic link and if you have any questions then of course, @techstringy or via LinkedIN are great ways to get me.

If you’re interested in Flash you may also find this useful “Is Flash For Me?” from my company website.



Shiny and New

Big Tech shows are always a place for an announcement, it gets a show off to a good start. No surprise then to see NetApp Insight in Las Vegas accompanied by some great announcements.

Announcements are important, not because we need something new, actually it’s the complete opposite. If the best you have is a shiny new box, you probably need to look closely at what you are doing (did someone say iPhone 7?). New announcements need context, need to show an understanding of the business problems you’re solving and the technology trends you are keeping on top of and how this benefits us, as users, so we can deliver better more effective products, services and solutions.

Is the news from Sunnyvale, via Vegas, something to get excited about?

Adding Context

The announcements can’t just be shiny new boxes then, it has to be a view of how NetApp are taking on the wider data challenge.

This quote from Eric Bugener at IDC encapsulates the modern data challenge nicely;

“IDC believes that the future of IT is hybrid cloud, and we see enterprise storage companies like NetApp making strategic shifts to focus on flash storage, virtualization, high-performance hybrid cloud, and other cloud-related technologies that enable the portability of data and applications”

I’ve written plenty of times about NetApp’s data fabric strategy (like this – Data Fabric what is it good for?) and in my opinion it’s unique amongst technology vendors, not only for its breadth, but because it can be delivered today, not just as an idea but as a comprehensive hybrid data strategy with complete mobility between on-premises, remote office, near cloud and in cloud. This kind of strategy is critical in modern business.

So enough context setting, do today’s announcements really enhance what we as technology architects need to take on modern data challenges?

What’s in today’s announcement?

New ONTAP software

Built in volume level encryption for enhanced data security, support for massively scalable high-performance NAS containers and simplified provisioning for enterprise applications.

New Flash systems

Six new flash-optimised storage arrays and highly scalable hybrid flash arrays, with simpler set-up and serviceability and significant improvements in connectivity options.

Expanded public cloud support

ONTAP Cloud support for Microsoft Azure.

How are these three announcements helping us to take on the data challenge?

New Systems

Let’s start with the new platforms. New hardware of course has its place, faster and more efficient, taking advantage of technological advances, certainly plays a part in our data strategy and the right hardware is key in allowing us to enable what we need on-prem.

Firstly, a simplification of portfolio, with basically three platforms, entry level, mid-range and high performance with two all flash variants.

  • Two new all flash systems the AFF A700 for high performance and configuration flexibility and the AFF A300 optimised for midrange all-flash configurations. These new systems give twice the performance at half the latency and support for 15TB SSD giving massive capacity density.
  • New hybrid flash systems including the FAS8200 for enterprise workloads and the FAS2650 and FAS2620, for small and mid-size businesses. The new FAS systems also bring integrated NVMe cache, all helping to deliver a massive performance increase of up to 200% more than that of earlier systems.
  • The new FAS9000 for business critical workloads, hugely scalable with up to 14PB in a system and 172PB in a cluster.
  • The industry’s first support for 32Gb Fibre Channel and 40Gb Ethernet, in addition to 12Gb SAS-3 storage connections further optimising the infrastructure for flash.
  • Intelligent modular design for AFF A700 and FAS9000 to enhance reliability, availability and serviceability.

All the things you expect from new Hardware, bigger, faster, more scalable. Things like 15TB SSD, 40Gbe, 32Gb FC and built in NVMe are all raising the bar in the storage industry. While simplified deployment is key in the modern datacentre.

OK that’s the hardware, now for me the software announcements are where the really interesting stuff lies. Why more interesting? the reality of how we meet our data management challenges isn’t down to cool hardware, although it helps, it’s all in the management. NetApp of course have the king of storage operating software in ONTAP, but you can’t rest on your laurels and they haven’t with some fantastic additions.

Flexgroups –  introduces massively scalable, high performance NAS containers, bringing single containers up to 20PB and 400billion files. This gives great scope for scale and performance, critical in a number of industries. Michael Cade has a great BLOG introducing Flexgroups, why not go check out bringing back the flexy.

NetApp Volume Encryption – A very important addition to ONTAP. Data security is the cornerstone of the modern data strategy and anything that enhances this gets a thumbs up from me. Previously the only way of delivering encryption at rest on a FAS array was with self-encrypting drives, this hugely limited flexibility and meant decisions had to be made at purchase time. Volume level encryption, means no NSE drives, the ability to encrypt a single volume or as many volumes as you need. A brilliant ONTAP addition that will make data encryption more accessible both technically and commercially.

ONTAP Select now supporting flash – The ability to add high performance flash drives into NetApp’s commodity hardware solution.

Cloudier than before

Last but by no means least the overdue addition of ONTAP cloud to Microsoft Azure.

A big part of a modern data strategy is how do we effectively and securely use cloud services with our data assets.

To achieve this we need the ability to maintain our crucial enterprise data services, security, control, efficiency and protection across all of our data repositories, on-prem or cloud.

ONTAP cloud is the data fabric component that enables this, by deploying a full featured version of ONTAP into the public cloud we maintain ALL of our ONTAP enterprise features,  including full data mobility services and integration with our familiar management tools, bringing seamless movement between on-prem and cloud. Adding Azure means we can also use ONTAP’s data mobility to move between AWS, Azure and on-prem minimising risk of vendor lock-in.

So there we go, big announcements to kick off Insight in Vegas, and the right kind of announcements, bringing enhancements well beyond shiny boxes, ones that are helping us keep on top of the data challenge.

Keep track of other announcements by following @NetAppINSIGHT this week and if you want more details on the announcements then check out these resources.

  • Listen to the Tech ONTAP Podcast for a deep dive on NetApp Volume Encryption.
  • Get the deep dive on all things Data Fabric with this technical white paper.
  • Find more details about ONTAP 9 here
  • Learn more about NetApp All Flash FAS systems here
  • Learn more about NetApp hybrid storage systems here
  • Follow NetApp on Twitter.