Loving ONTAP’s potion #9: reducing the cost of flash and simplifying the data fabric

For the title for this week’s blog on NetApp’s new release, I decided to provide a brief homage to a ‘90s cult film classic, while probably simultaneously dating myself. And as the title suggests, NetApp’s ONTAP version 9.0 presents a lot to love for the enterprise storage consumer — extending NetApp’s Data Fabric capabilities and helping reduce the cost of flash storage.

The ONTAP 9.0 release includes:

  • Support for 15TB SSD drives: Thanks to increased density, NetApp claims to able to deliver over 1PB on a single shelf.
  • Inline data compaction: One can assume this includes either deduplication or compression, or some combination thereof.
  • NetApp’s Flash Advantage 3-4-5 program: Designed to help ease the transition to flash storage, including a guaranteed increase in IOPS performance of 3X and a data reduction ratio of at least 4 to 1. The program also includes risk-free production evaluations and free controller upgrades with the purchase of three or more years of NetApp SupportEdge Premium.
  • Improved Simplicity: According to NetApp, ONTAP 9.0 can be deployed and serving data in as few as 10 minutes.
  • Common Data Services: Featuring a SDS-based deployment model supporting a wide range of hardware infrastructure options.
  • Improved resiliency: Including triple-parity RAID protection and expanded storage encryption and compliance features.
  • Non-disruptive in-place upgrades

Needless to say, there is quite a bit in this release. At a high level though, you can break it down into two categories. First, NetApp is driving down the cost of flash and augmenting the product offering to place itself among the leaders in flash. Second, NetApp is making it easier to adopt and manage its larger Data Fabric ecosystem.

I have been, and continue to be, a strong proponent of flash storage technology. ESG research has revealed the benefits of flash to be not only significant, but also pervasive. The increased application performance offered by flash storage only scratches the surface of the benefits the technology provides to organizations. Nearly half of our research respondents identified improvements to resource utilization, reduced operational expenses, and reduced TCO resulting from deploying flash storage.

While NetApp’s release is a step in the industry’s journey towards making flash storage more affordable, easier to deploy, and easier to own, NetApp finds itself is a crowded field. While great for consumers, a flash storage player driving down the effective cost of flash storage is not necessarily new. This year, in particular, the industry has seen a number of announcements with dramatic increases in flash storage density; Pure’s FlashBlade, EMC’s all-flash Isilon, and SanDisk’s Infiniflash come to mind. Additionally, multiple players in the industry are working to ease the long-term manageability of flash storage with programs that include future controller upgrades; a couple examples include Pure Storage and Nimble Storage. In the context of the flash market, NetApp’s release provides significant value, yet the company finds itself in a crowded and competitive space.

With all of the flash storage related content in the release, it is a little too easy to view ONTAP 9.0 with a flash-centric lens. To understand the full value of ONTAP 9.0, however, it is important to take a step back and look at the larger picture, especially in the context of NetApp’s Data Fabric strategy. With its software-defined storage (SDS)-based architecture, NetApp can present the same data services across all-flash arrays, converged systems, SDS solutions on third-party servers, as well as private or public cloud solutions. It is in this regard that NetApp offers a powerful capability and finds itself in a less populated arena.

Despite the potential of flash technology, IT organizations are required to serve a diverse variety of application demands. Designing an efficient storage infrastructure often requires the ability to tailor the hardware infrastructure to those demands. Yet, the ability to integrate and manage multiple infrastructure types in an ever-evolving ecosystem quickly becomes unwieldy. SDS-based solutions like NetApp’s Data Fabric with ONTAP 9.0 can go a long way to solving this problem. 

As storage technologies evolve, the storage market is at a crossroads of sorts. Either the cost of flash storage technology will continue to decline to where the all-flash data center becomes the de facto standard, or costs will remain in a state where it makes sense to leverage different storage and media types, in which case SDS architecture offer value. NetApp, with ONTAP 9.0, is playing to compete on both sides of the equation. It is this flexibility that is the truly interesting part of the announcement. 

As always, let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Topics: Storage