NetApp Winning Awards, Whatever Next?

WP_20160518_07_53_57_Rich_LI.jpgIn the last couple of weeks I’ve seen NetApp pick up a couple of industry awards with the all flash A200 earing the prestigious Storage Review Editors Choice as well as CRN UK’s storage Vendor of the year 2017, this alongside commercial successes (How NetApp continue to defy the performance of the storage market) is part of a big turnaround in their fortunes over the last 3 years or so, but why? What is NetApp doing to garner such praise?

A bit of disclosure, as a Director at a long-term NetApp Partner, Gardner Systems, and a member of the NetApp A-Team advocacy programme, I could be biased, but having worked with NetApp for over 10 years, I still see them meeting our customers’ needs better than any other vendor, which in itself, also suggests NetApp are doing something right.

What is it they’re doing? In this post, I share some thoughts on what I believe are key parts of this recent success

Clear Strategy

If we wind the clock back 4 years, NetApp’s reputation was not at its best, tech industry analysts presented a bleak picture, the storage industry was changing, with public cloud storage and innovative start-ups offering to do more than those “legacy” platforms and in many cases, they could, NetApp were a dinosaur on the verge of extinction.

Enter the Data Fabric, first announced at NetApp’s technical conference, Insight, in 2014. Data Fabric was the beginning of NetApp’s move from a company focussed on storing data to a company focused on the data itself. This was significant as it coincided with a shift in how organisations viewed data, moving away from just thinking about storing data to managing, securing, analysing and gaining value from it.

NetApp’s vision for data fabric, closely aligned to the aims of more data focussed organisations and also changed the way they thought about their portfolio, less worried about speeds and feeds and flashing lights and more about how to build a strategy that was focussed on data in the way their customers were.

It is this data-driven approach that, in my opinion, has been fundamental in this change in NetApp’s fortunes.

Embrace the Cloud

A huge shift and something that is taking both customers and industry analysts by surprise is the way NetApp have embraced the cloud, not a cursory nod, but cloud as a fundamental part of the data fabric strategy and this goes way beyond “cloudifying” existing technology.

ONTAP Cloud seamlessly delivers the same data services and storage efficiencies into the public cloud as you get with its on-prem cousin, this provides a unique ability to maintain data policies and procedures across your on-prem and cloud estates.

But NetApp has gone beyond this, delivering native cloud services that don’t require any traditional NetApp technologies, Cloud Sync, allows the easy movement of data from on-prem NFS datastores into the AWS cloud. While Cloud Control provides a backup service for Office365 (and now Salesforce) bringing crucial data protection functionality that many SaaS vendors do not provide.

If that wasn’t enough there is the recently announced relationship with Microsoft, with NetApp now powering the Azure NFS service, yep that’s right, if you take the NFS service from the Azure marketplace this is delivered fully in the background by NetApp.

For a storage vendor, this cloud investment is unexpected, but a clear cloud strategy is also appealing to those making business technology decisions.

Getting the basics right

With these developments, it’s clear NetApp have a strategy and are expanding their portfolio into areas other storage vendors do not consider, but there is also no escaping that their main revenue generation continues to come from ONTAP and FAS (NetApp’s hardware platform).

If I’m buying a hardware platform, what do I want from it? It should be robust with strong performance and a good investment that evolves with my business and if NetApp’s commercial success is anything to go by, they are delivering this.

The all-flash NetApp platforms (such as the award winning A200 mentioned earlier) are meeting this need, a robust enterprise-level platform, allowing organisations to build an always-on storage infrastructure that scales seamlessly with new business demands. 6-year flash drive warranties and the ability to refresh your controllers after 3 years also give excellent investment protection.

It is not just the hardware however, these platforms are driven by software, NetApp’s ONTAP operating systems is like any other modern software platform, with regular code drops (every 6 months) delivering new features and improved performance to existing hardware via a non-disruptive software upgrade, providing businesses with the ability to “sweat” their hardware investment over an extended period, which in today’s investment sensitive market is hugely appealing.

Have an interesting portfolio

NetApp for a long time was the FAS and ONTAP company, and while those things are still central in their plans, their portfolio is expanding quickly, we’ve discussed the cloud focussed services, there’s also Solidfire with its unique scale and QoS capabilities, Storage Grid a compelling object storage platform, Alta Vault provides a gateway to move backup and archive data into object storage on-prem or in the cloud.

Add to this the newly announced HCI platform you can see how NetApp can play a significant part in your next-generation datacenter plans.

For me the awards I mentioned at the beginning of this article are not because of one particular solution or innovation, it’s the data fabric, that strategy is allowing NetApp, its partners and customers to have a conversation that is data and not technology focussed and having a vendor who understands that is clearly resonating with customers, analysts and industry influencers alike.

NetApp’s continued evolution is fascinating to watch, and they have more to come, with no doubt more awards to follow, whatever next!


IT Avengers Assemble – Part One – Ep38

This weeks Tech Interviews is the first in a short series, where I bring together a selection of people from the IT community to try to gauge the current state of business IT and to gain some insight into the key day-to-day issues affecting those delivering technology to their organisations.

For this first episode i’m joined by three returning guests to the show.

Mich040317_0726_Availabilit1.jpgael Cade is a Technical Evangelist at Veeam. Michael spends his time working closely with both the IT community and Veeam’s business customers to understand the day-to-day challenges that they face from availability to cloud migration.

You can find Michael on twitter @MichaelCade1 and his blog at 

mike andrews

Mike Andrews is a Technical Solutions Architect at storage vendor NetApp, specialising in NetApp’s cloud portfolio, today Mike works closely with NetApp’s wide range of customers to explore how to solve the most challenging of business issues.

You can find Mike on social media on twitter @TrekinTech and on his blog site

Mark CarltonMark Carlton is Group Technical Manager at Concorde IT Group, he has an extensive experience in the industry having worked in a number of different types of technology businesses, today Mark works closely with a range of customers helping them to use technology to solve business challenges.

Mark is on twitter @mcarlton1983 and at his fantastically titled blog.

The panel discuss a range of issues, from availability to cloud migration, the importance of the basics and how understanding the why, rather than the how is a crucial part of getting your technology strategy right.

The team provide some excellent insights into a whole range of business IT challenges and I’m sure there’s some useful advice for everyone.

Next time I’m joined by four more IT avengers, as we look at some of the other key challenges facing business IT.

If you enjoyed the show and want to catch the next one, then please subscribe, links are below.

Thanks for listening.

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The Future is Bright, The Future is Data – Matt Watts – Ep 21

The idea that our data is critical to the future of our organisation isn’t a new one, the focus around managing it, protecting and securing it underlines its importance to any modern organisation.

But protecting our data and ensuring we maintain its privacy and security is not the only important focus we should have.

You don’t need to look around the technology industry too much to hear phrases such as “data is the new gold” or “data is the new oil”, but like any good marketing phrase, it is based on a degree of fact.

As marketing-y as those phrases are, it would be wrong to dismiss them. The image I chose for this blog post suggests, “if the future is digital, the guy with the most data wins”,  However, I think that phrase is only partly correct.

It is certain that the modern organisation is becoming increasingly digital, transforming into one that is relying on data and digital workflows for its success, however when it comes to data, it’s not how much data you have, it’s what you do with it and learn from it that will determine who really wins.

That’s the focus of this week’s podcast as I’m joined by NetApp’s Director, Technology and Strategy, Matt Watts.

Matt is in an interesting position, working for one of the world’s largest “traditional” storage vendors and charged with helping them to develop a strategy for dealing with challenges faced by organisations in a world where “traditional” storage is seen as something less valuable.

Maybe to the surprise of many, Matt agrees, while NetApp have great products, they fully accept that the future isn’t about IOPS, Capacities and flashing lights. All that really matters is the data.

In this episode, Matt provides fascinating insights into the modern data world, how extracting valuable information from data is a significant advantage to an organisation, how 3rd party companies working with storage vendors is critical to the future of data management and how companies like Microsoft, Amazon and IBM with Watson are commoditising machine learning and artificial intelligence to a point where, organisations of all sizes, can take advantage of these very smart tools to give them insights and understanding that just a few years ago was out of the reach for all but the very wealthiest of companies.

We also look at how building an appropriate data management strategy is crucial in enabling organisations to access tools that can allow them to take full advantage of their data asset.

Have a listen, Matt provides some great information to help you to get the maximum from your data and be the person not with “the most data” but the one with “the most information from their data” that wins.

Enjoy the show.

To find out more from Matt you can find him on twitter @mtjwatts or follow his blog at (check out the article “Your Supermarket knows more about you than your Doctor) and to find out more about NetApp’s own data management strategies check out the “Data Fabric” section of their website.

If you enjoyed the show, why not subscribe to the Tech Interviews podcast;

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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.


Flashy NetApp

netapp-logo_thumb.pngYou may be aware NetApp has announced the latest update to their Data OnTap operating system OnTap 8.3.1 (if you’re not you may want to read my Jumping NetApp Flash Post to explain why!) this post is to provide a touch more detail on what 8.3.1 brings to your storage party especially for those out there looking to deliver all flash storage into their datacentre.

NetApp are not bringing out new controllers, or some brand new platform, OnTap 8.3.1 is an update to the current version of the storage OS that is currently in the market.

The main thrust of this update is what 8.3.1 means for NetApp all flash arrays (all flash arrays are specific implementations of NetApp controllers in case you are not sure) 8.3.1 will also deliver benefits for users of hybrid controllers, which are utilising traditional disk tiers, but for this post we are focussing on All Flash (AFF).

Ok, so what is this release delivering in terms of AFF?

What is AFF?

Firstly it’s probably worth making clear what AFF means, the most fundamental thing to bear in mind, although maybe not the most surprising is AFF means exactly this, this is the usual NetApp controllers (8000 range only) but these controllers will only operate SSD drives, they will not work with standard disk tiers. There are some specific bits of code optimisation of OnTap on these controllers to take into account the use of flash drives only.

I’m not going to look at the hardware specs here, as you may know there are a range of controllers from the 8020 upwards that offer differing amount of processing capabilities, connectivity options etc, but all deliver the same Data OnTap capability and that’s the focus here;

Let’s get into a bit of detail then;

Enterprise level storage

The first thing to note with NetApp’s view of all flash, is that flash based storage should be delivered without compromising any of the enterprise level functionality that you should expect.

AFF does all of the things you expect any NetApp Controller to do..

  • Scale-out and non-disruptive operations
  • Data Mobility within a cluster
  • Integrated data protection (Snapshots, SnapMirror, SnapVault)
  • Storage efficiencies (RAID-DP, Thin Provisioning, FlexClone, Dedupe, Inline Compression)
  • Advanced application integration
  • Secure multi-tenancy, QOS, add without re-architecting
  • Full protocol flexibility – FC, FCoE, iSCSI, NFS/pNFS, CIFS/SMB

And of course operates as part of any type of cluster, be that all flash or as part of a hybrid cluster, so all flash controllers, with controllers operating mixed disk tiers, but of course, all delivered by one OS, managed by one platform and supporting all the same application integrations you expect.

aff cdot

So that’s the stuff you’d expect NetApp to do, what about some of the things specific to the AFF.

Getting the most out of your flashy controllers

NetApp have introduced a number of 8.3.1 features that optimise the way the Controllers work to both optimise performance and reduce wear on SSD drives, significantly reducing the potential for failure of a flash drive.

Write Optimisations

NetApp with a mixture of using the way the WAFL file system operates and a number of specific flash tweaks are achieving a number of things, to both increase the consistency of performance while lowering unnecessary workloads on the flash drives, for example lowering garbage collection and write amplifications which in turn extend the lifetime of the drives.

Read Optimisations

8.3.1 improves on some work NetApp had already started to reduce the number of steps that data has to pass through before been presented back to the requesting applications.

A storage request for data traditionally moves through the storage system stack, so in NetApp’s case;


However in 8.3.1 (assuming no requirement for error recovery) the data bypasses both the file system and RAID to take data straight from SSD and present out on the network layer making huge leaps in read performance, and remember if you are an existing NetApp user using AFF, you’ll benefit from this via an OnTap upgrade, no new stuff needed.

aff 831 read

Storage Efficiency

One of NetApp’s key industry differentiators has always been storage efficiency and to see this delivered and actually enhanced on the flash platforms, is in my opinion, a fantastic step forward for enterprise flash usage, with many of the new vendors not ticking all of the efficiency boxes all of the time.

We know NetApp do all the lovely stuff around thin provisioning, snapshots, clones, deduplication and compression, however the flash platform offers a couple of new and additional efficiency solutions;

  • Inline Compression – this is on by default on the AFF platforms, compress data as it’s written, laying down less to disk to start with.
  • Inline Zero Deduplication – This allows the controllers to inspect data as it arrives at the controller, it then identifies and removes zero blocks before writing the rest to disk… as we all know, we write a lot of zero’s to disk that we don’t really need!
  • Always on Deduplication – the AFF can also enable always on dedupe, so every minute the system carries out a dedupe on the housed data, this is great for VDI environments giving excellent space efficiency with no effect on performance
Enterprise Capabilities

In my opinion this is where this release plays very strongly, if you are an Enterprise IT decision maker, looking to deploy flash into your environment, then one area of concern is the lack of enterprise functionality, that is not “nice to have” features but are absolutely essential to your organisation.

NetApp as an enterprise player, of course have always understood that, but have made sure with the AFF range that none of that enterprise feature set is compromised.

Our AFF boxes fully exploit all the things you’d expect NetApp to bring;

  • High performance at ultra-low latency – a minimum for a flash solution of course
  • Non-Disruptive Operations – brilliant part of a NetApp cluster – upgrade, replace, update completely non disruptively.
  • Scale-Out – want more compute power – just slot it in!
  • Multi Protocol Support (NFS, iSCSI, FC / FCoE, CIFS) – this is a key NetApp benefit, a lot of the kids on the flash block are limited….to well..block protocols – no support for file stuff – so no support for VMware using NFS or Microsoft using SMB3 for both HyperV and SQL – both key directions for those technologies.
  • Deduplication / Inline Compression
  • Synchronous / Asynchronous / Semi-Sync Replication – and of course we need to replicate this stuff for backup, DR and continuity.
  • DR to cheaper SAS/SATA based systems – key benefit over the all flash companies out there, NetApp have the ability to take all flash in production but replicate that to much cheaper DR storage tiers, including via both AltaVault and Cloud OnTap the ability to replicate into public cloud storage.
  • Quality of Service – True QOS to allow you to manage your storage performance requirements – providing prioritisation of data if needed
  • Secure Multi Tennant Capable – and if you are building your own “cloud” infrastructure fully accredited secure multi tenancy, critical if you are delivering a true shared platform.

It’s not quite all folks!

All the techie stuff is great and of course it’s important, but it’s not the biggest hurdle to delivering flash.

We have two choices right now if we want flash, it’s to compromise some of the key enterprise features we have come to rely on by using some of the less mature stack of the newer flash players, or is to pay a premium for the enterprise quality stack.

A significant part of this NetApp announcement has been a clear realisation that this is not the way for the enterprise storage providers to play, it’s important to realise the modern data centre does gain advantage from tiers of flash in the infrastructure, however they should not be penalised because they want enterprise capabilities.

NetApp have reduced the costs of their all flash controller platforms quite significantly, bringing their prices right in line with some of those “startup” all flash guys, but in no way compromising the NetApp enterprise capability.

It is this last part that makes this such a complete package, the technology is great, delivering 350,000 IOPS to a unified storage controller is some fantastic performance, but doing that at a price that makes enterprise quality flash a reality for many customers is seriously impressive.

Flashy you may say!