Keeping on top of ONTAP

The last year has been a big one for NetApp, the turnaround in the company’s fortunes continues, fantastic growth in the all flash array market, the introduction of cloud native solutions with tools and of course not to forget Solidfire and the newly announced HCI platform. All have created lots of interest in this “new” NetApp.

If you have read any of my content previously, you’ll know I’m a fan of how NetApp operate and their data fabric strategy continues to make them the very best strategic data partner to meet the needs of many of the people I work with day-to-day.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, like with all technology companies, it’s easy to get wrapped up in exciting new tech and sometimes forget the basics of why you work with them and what their core solutions still deliver.

For all the NetApp innovations of the last couple of years, one part of their business continues to be strong and even at 25 years old remains as relevant to customer needs as ever and that is the ONTAP operating system.

ONTAP, in its latest incarnation, version 9 (9.2 to be exact), maybe more than anything shows how NetApp continue to meet the ever-changing needs of the modern data market, because it would be easy, regardless of its strength, to write off an operating system that is 25 years old, but NetApp have not, they have developed it into something markedly different from the versions I first worked with 10 years ago.

These changes reflect the changes we, as users in more data focussed businesses, demand from our storage, it’s not even really storage we demand, it’s an ability to make our data a core part of our activities, to quote a friend “Storing is boring” and although storing is crucial, if all we are doing is worrying about storing it, then we are missing the point and if the focus for ONTAP was only that, then it would become very quickly irrelevant to a modern business.

How are NetApp ensuring that ONTAP 9 remains relevant and continues to be at the heart of data strategies big and small?

Staying efficient

Although storing may be boring, in a world where IT budgets continue to be squeezed and datacentre power and space are at a costly premium, squeezing more and more into less and less continues to be a core requirement.

Data Compaction, inline deduplication, and the newly introduced aggregate wide deduplication all provide fantastic efficiency gains. If you align this with integration of increasing media sizes (10TB SATA, 15TB Flash, something not always easy for NetApp’s competition), you can see how ONTAP continues to let you squeeze more and more of your data into smaller footprints (60Tb on one SSD drive anyone?), something that remains critical in any data strategy.

Let it grow

As efficient as ONTAP can be, nothing is efficient enough to keep up with our desire to store more data and different types of data. However, ONTAP is doing a pretty good job of keeping up. Not only adding additional scalability to ONTAP clusters (Supporting up to 24 nodes) NetApp have also taken on a different scaling challenge with the addition of FlexGroups.

FlexGroups allow you to aggregate together up to 200 volumes into one large, high performance single storage container, perfect for those who need a single point of storage for very large datasets. This is something I’ve already seen embraced in areas like analytics where high performance access to potentially billions of files is a must.

Keep it simple

A goal for any IT team should be the simplification of its environment.

NetApp have continued developing ONTAP’s ability to automate more tasks and by using intelligent analysis of system data they are helping you to take the guess-work out of workload placements and their impacts, allowing you to get it right, first time, every time.

The continued development of quick deployment templates has also greatly simplified provisioning of application storage environments from out of the box to serving data, taking just minutes not days.

In a world where an ability to respond quickly to business needs is crucial, then the value of developments like this cannot be underestimated.

Keep it secure

Maybe the most crucial part of our data strategy is security and in the last 12 months NetApp have greatly enhanced the capability and flexibility of this in ONTAP.

SnapLock functionality was added 12 months ago, allowing you to lock your data into data archives that can meet the most stringent regulatory and compliance needs.

However, the biggest bonus is the implementation of onboard, volume level encryption, previous to ONTAP9, the only way to encrypt data on a NetApp array, was like most storage vendors, with the use of self-encrypting drives.

This was a bit of an all or nothing approach, it meant buying different and normally more expensive drives and encrypting all data regardless of its sensitivity.

9.1 introduced the ability to deliver encryption on a more granular level, allowing you to encrypt single volumes, without the need for encrypting drives, meaning no need for additional hardware and importantly the ability to only encrypt what is necessary.

In modern IT, this kind of capability is critical both in terms of data security and compliance.

Integrate the future!

I started this piece by asking how you keep a 25-year-old operating system relevant, in my opinion the only way to do that is to ensure it seamlessly integrates with modern technologies.

ONTAP has a pretty good record of that, be it by luck or design, it’s port into the world of all flash, was smooth, no need for major rewrites, the ONTAP method of working was geared to work with flash before anyone had thought of flash!

The ability for ONTAP to see media as another layer of storage regardless of type was key in supporting 15TB SSD’s before any other major storage vendor and it is this flexibility of ONTAP to integrate new storage media which has led to one of my favourite features of the last 12 months, FabricPools.

This technology allows you to seamlessly integrate S3 storage directly into your production data, be that an on-prem object store, or a public cloud S3 bucket from a provider like AWS.

In the V1.0 release in ONTAP 9.2, FabricPools tier cold blocks from flash disk to your S3 complaint storage, wherever that is, bringing you the ability to lower your total cost of ownership for storage by moving data not actively in use to free up space for other workloads. All done automatically via policy, seamlessly providing an extension to your production storage capacity by integrating modern storage technology.

ONTAP everywhere

As ONTAP continues to develop, the ways you can consume it also continue to develop to meet our changing strategic needs.

Fundamentally ONTAP is a piece of software and like any piece of software it can run anywhere that meets the requirements to run it. ONTAP variants Select and Cloud, provide software defined versions of ONTAP that can be run on white box hardware or delivered straight from the cloud marketplaces of AWS and Azure.

The benefit of this stretches far beyond just been able to run ONTAP in more places, it means that management, security policies and data efficiencies are all equally transferable. It’s one way to manage, one set of policies to implement, meaning that where your data resides at a given moment becomes less important, as long as it is in the right place at the right time for the right people.

In my opinion, this flexibility is critical for a modern data strategy.

Keep it coming

Maybe what really keeps ONTAP relevant is the fact that these new capabilities are all delivered in software, none of the features have required new hardware or for you to purchase an add-on, they are all delivered as part of the ONTAP development cycle.

And the modern NetApp has fully embraced a more agile way of delivering ONTAP, with a 6-month release cadence, meaning they can quickly absorb feature requests and get them delivered to platforms that desire them quickly, allowing them and us to respond to changing business needs.

So, while NetApp have had a fascinating year, delivering great enhancements to their portfolio, ONTAP still retains a very strong place at the heart of their data fabric strategy and still, in my opinion, is the most complete data management platform, continuing to meet the needs presented by modern data challenges.

Find out more

If you want to know more about ONTAP and its development then try these resources.

NetApp’s Website

Justin Parisi’s BLOG – providing links to more detailed information on all of the technologies discussed and much more!

TechONTAP Podcast – NetApp’s excellent TechONTAP podcast has detailed information of all of the information shared here, it’s all in their back catalogue.

And of course you can leave a comment here or contact me on twitter @techstringy

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2 thoughts on “Keeping on top of ONTAP

  1. Nice post Paul, a great summary of how NetApp is keeping Data Ontap at the top of the pile. Would it be fair to say that SnapLock was reintroduced rather than was added? 🙂 Keep fighting the good fight!

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