Gone are the days of storage products being “one trick ponies”, as organisations would need to deploy separate solutions for SAN, NAS, Object, all-flash and hybrid storage. So if a product is just a high performance all-flash SAN or a scale-out NAS platform then I think its future is very bleak as it’s just not going to be cost effective to deploy individual point solutions any more. Instead what is needed is advanced all-flash and hybrid storage platforms, that can provide SAN, scale-out NAS and Object API support, that can start small and scale to PBs.
Storage solutions must offer value in terms of cost per IO and per TB, and have a broad feature set. They should address as many use cases as possible, as long as it does not compromise on quality or value, and ideally it should be software-defined and run on hypervisors, in the cloud, and on multiple generations of purpose built hardware.
NetApp’s ONTAP storage operating system is very mature and therefore has a broad feature set, the simplest example of this is that it has supported unified SAN and NAS protocols for decades – something very few other products even do today. NetApp can also tick all the boxes with regard to state-of-the-art all-flash technology (including cutting edge NVMe over FC connectivity for vSphere 7.0 – read more here), hybrid storage (read more here) and the ability to scale-up and scale-out.
Historically NetApp did not have a good story when it came to scale-out NAS – a single file system could only scale to 100 TBs, just not good enough so dedicated scale-out NAS solutions dominated the market. Around four years ago they released FlexGroup volumes which built on top of their existing ONTAP FlexVol technology, but added the ability to scale a single file system across 24 nodes, to 10s of PBs and to 100s of billions of files – all with linear scaling of performance and capacity.
Traditional scale-out NAS solutions have been node based with each supporting a single “tray” of drives, therefore to scale to a large capacity you would need a huge number of nodes, this is not very cost effective as each one has a CPU, memory, network ports, etc. It would be far better if you could scale-out and scale-up to keep the number of nodes down to a sensible minimum – this is exactly what FlexGroup volumes allows you to do.
Scale-out NAS is not just for file shares, it’s also an ideal solution for large scale high performance VMware environments. In preview in 9.7 is a feature that provides scale-out NFS support for VMware, which will enable datastores to span an entire cluster and VMs to be automatically load-balanced across up to 24 nodes – a very powerful, high-performance, but simple solution.
ONTAP’s Object API support is built on FlexGroup technology, but it’s important to point out that in 9.7 the feature is also a preview, it’s expected to be fully supported in 9.8 which is likely to be released around the end of the year. In addition ONTAP is not designed to be a fully featured object platform, NetApp has StorageGRID for that, but for many use cases it may well suffice.
I believe that FlexGroup volumes is one of the most important features in ONTAP and it’s a game changer in terms of cost effectively managing storage at scale – if your organisation needs to store and protect large quantities of data then you should take a close look at what NetApp has to offer.