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NetApp Insight: Extending the Data Fabric to the Cloud and Beyond

The consistent seamless data management between on premise environments and hybrid multi-cloud resources, while still maintaining control over your organization’s data, was the theme of the NetApp Insight 2016 conference held at the Mandalay Bay Conference center in Las Vegas. The conference welcomed over 5,000 NetApp customers, partners and employees from various countries, and I […]

The consistent seamless data management between on premise environments and hybrid multi-cloud resources, while still maintaining control over your organization’s data, was the theme of the NetApp Insight 2016 conference held at the Mandalay Bay Conference center in Las Vegas. The conference welcomed over 5,000 NetApp customers, partners and employees from various countries, and I was privileged to be among them.


Data Fabric Now

The keynote address by NetApp CEO George Kurian labeled data as the currency of the new digital economy, as business conditions are rapidly changing with the accelerated rise of new technologies and increasing demand for digitization and automation. He stated that NetApp’s focus and direction is oriented toward helping customers progress in improving efficiency and performance of their traditional IT environments, as well as attaining flexibility in capturing new areas of innovation and opportunity that fulfill customer requirements and enable them to advance their business initiatives at a much faster pace than ever before.

With regard to the former, Kurian emphasized the need to move away from standalone silos of storage to a standardized shared storage platform, going from monolithic arrays to modular scalar systems and replacing hard disk drives with solid-state drives – all required to increase performance and efficiency of storage systems.


In regard to the latter, he stressed on the fact that Data Fabric is NetApp’s vision for the future of data management architecture for the next generation hybrid multi-cloud IT era. This is critical to develop IT transformation and enable data driven business to create the impact that customers are looking for.


Product Announcements

Joel Reich, Executive VP of Product Operations at NetApp, announced the new Fabric-Attached Storage (FAS) Portfolio as part of the company’s modular scalar systems and hybrid cloud strategy with initiatives to increase performance and efficiency across all its storage platforms.

For enterprise business applications, NetApp unveiled the new FAS 9000 with enhanced serviceability, accelerated performance with SAN and NAS workloads, and 72 CPU cores (a significant jump from the 40 on the FAS 8080EX) with support for 32GB Fiber Channel and 40 GB Ethernet networking environments.

In the mid-size enterprise class, NetApp introduced the FAS 8200, doubling the number of cores and quadrupling the memory of the previous FAS8040, thereby improving the overall performance by 50% in the 8000 series.

On the entry level, NetApp introduced the FAS 2600 series with specs that will triple the performance of the previous FAS 2500 product line.

On the All-Flash hardware front, NetApp unleashed the Next Generation All Flash FAS– A300 and A700. With the increasing number of cores and increase in memory, these systems offer up to twice the performance of the previous NetApp AFF8040 and AFF8080 respectively at half the latency.

NetApp also announced the release of ONTAP 9.1 with a few significant enhancements. First is the NetApp Volume Encryption (NVE) that offers software-based, volume-level, granular encryption for data, independent of the type of drives across FAS and AFF storage systems without the requirement of any special additional self-encrypting disks. This keeps the data secure and compartmentalized at a lower cost.

The other significant feature to point out is the introduction of Flexgroups, a single container that can scale to 20PB and 400 billion files with consistent high performance and low latency. As I see it, Flexgroups should overcome the limitations posed by Infinite Volumes.

Complementing the existing support for Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud, NetApp revealed ONTAP cloud support for Microsoft through tight integration with Azure cloud services and their enterprise data fabric. It is also worth mentioning that ONTAP Select now supports all-flash commodity servers.

thePub: NetApp’s Developer Community

If you ask me, what’s different than anything that’s been seen at prior Insight conferences, the answer is NetApp’s focus around DevOps. This year, NetApp launched “thePub,” the company’s developer community, and showcased the tight integrations between NetApp Docker Volume Plug-in (nDVP), OpenStack and Jenkins. The NetApp DevOps team leveraged the nDVP to deploy a “Red vs Blue” game app to the container model. They demonstrated how they could locate and revert to a previous snapshot of the game’s data through standard Docker commands and created a clone of the underlying volume from the most recent snapshot non-disruptively on both ONTAP and SolidFire platforms.

Taking this a step further, they presented a continuous integration and deployment process with Jenkins, which acts as a continuous integration tool to help build the complete pipeline. The DevOps team used OpenStack to create a staging environment and leveraged Docker to launch Jenkins with a pipeline inside Jenkins for the app, and it completely automated the testing and deployment of the app. Once the changes were submitted to the GitHub repository, it triggered the Jenkins job and automatically created a clone in the storage, rebuilt the container image and substantiated a test instance all without having to deal with Docker coding. There were no graphical storage admin/user interfaces involved in any step of this demo.


Hands-on Labs

One of the most popular offerings at NetApp Insight was the self-paced, hands-on lab experience with access to expert advice and assistance from subject matter experts. This was a great platform for techies like me to get my hands dirty with some of the newer NetApp technologies and hot topics discussed at the conference – ONTAP 9, SolidFire, StorageGRID Webscale, Flash, ONTAP Integration with OpenStack, Hybrid Cloud, AltaVault, VMWare on ONTAP 9 and E-Series solutions.


NetApp Certification at Insight

If you are able to plan your studying and training months before the conference, you could leverage the “Get Certified for Free” Insight offering where NetApp University offered the full suite of their certification exams free of charge. At Insight, you have the flexibility to attend your desired sessions and take a certification exam at your leisure and pick up right where your schedule left off.  Additionally, you also have the ability to take free exam preparation sessions that are only available at Insight.

netapp-insight-6This year there were 10 separate exam prep sessions covering the following exams – NCSA Hybrid Cloud, NCDA ONTAP, NCIE-SAN ONTAP, NCIE-Data Protection, NCIE-SAN E-Series, NCSIE, Flexpod Design, Flexpod Implementation and Administration, SE Professional ONTAP and E-Series. The beauty of taking exams at Insight is that you can take as many exams for free as you’d like provided it falls within their exam retake policy.

Certified users had the opportunity to attend the exclusive Greet & Geek networking event, which was a great platform to connect and engage with NetApp senior management and subject matter experts. Certified users were also recognized on the main stage, and received NetApp stamped luggage tags and a polo shirt. I got mine!

Key Players

NetApp and Cisco

Cisco continues to be one of NetApp’s strongest partners with more than six years of joint, integrated Flexpod infrastructure solutions and more than 7300 Flexpod customers. Together Cisco and NetApp march forward as a leader in the converged system architecture space. While Cisco has been successful with Flexpod in delivering to the needs of enterprise applications, the focus has now shifted toward supporting developer communities, as well with the intent to run SolidFire architecture models on Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS) to complement the existing Cisco ONE Enterprise Cloud Suite. Satinder Sethi, Cisco’s data center group VP, foresees more innovations coming out next year from a fabric perspective – policy driven infrastructure geared toward automation enhanced with high performance 100 GB ports and 32Gbps Fiber channel on the Fabric Interconnect product line.


NetApp and Fujitsu

NetApp and Fujitsu, another global partner, have teamed together for years to create an unmatched storage portfolio that helps customers increase IT efficiency and flexibility. Fujitsu’s Executive VP of Digital Business and Application Services, Alex Attal, stated that the future of Fujitsu will be oriented toward “human-centric innovation” – innovation angled to benefit partners and customers in the digital economy by connecting different ecosystems.

NetApp and Samsung

Samsung has been partnering with NetApp to drive flash technology along with assisting in refreshing the latter’s ONTAP powered all-flash and hybrid product lines. Jim Elliot, Corporate VP of Marketing at Samsung, flashed the world’s highest density 32TB SAS SSD which is aiming to achieve incredible improvement in storage effciencies.


Samsung also launched a new product feature called the Multi-Stream Collaboration, which facilitates improved NAND performance (three-fold increase) and reduces latency. The two new NetApp AFF arrays (A300 and A700) use Samsung’s 3D V-NAND and support Samsung 15TB SSDs, providing a four-fold capacity increase.

NetApp and SolidFire

With NetApp’s acquisition of SolidFire, NetApp and Solidfire shared the main stage in presenting their All Flash Array powering the world’s most demanding and next generation data center. The SolidFire’s scale-out capability and fully automated platform complements NetApp’s existing All Flash FAS product line in the cloud service provider space and the enterprise data center space for those who want to deploy next generation architectures.


NetApp and Microsoft

NetApp is a Microsoft Alliance Partner with Gold certified competencies in various Microsoft technology solution areas. With the announcement of NetApp’s cloud ONTAP support for Microsoft Azure platform, NetApp reveals the strengthening relationship between the two for next gen IT. NetApp’s tight integration with Azure results in simplifying processes and seamless migration of data between various cloud environments with built-in efficiency and automation tools.

Insight from “The Insight”

NetApp being one of the undisputed leaders in enterprise storage is focused on enabling app developers and combining clustered Data ONTAP with Docker, empowering developers to scale-out storage and provide data resiliency at every tier with the control and flexibility in their hands. This has set a new paradigm in the storage industry.

NetApp’s Data Fabric concept, augmented with the technology designed to increase efficiency and performance, aims to revolutionize the storage industry. To top that, NetApp’s acquisition of SolidFire to introduce disruptive new storage models equipped for the next generation data center has been a game changer.

With these latest initiatives by NetApp, supplemented by their attitude to develop partnerships and drive transformational change, I trust the company’s vision to be able to digitize and automate both systems and data to create an impactful real-time operating environment for the business as customers prepare for and transition to the next wave of data center transformation.

Jeesh Thomas Abraham is a Senior Consulting Engineer at GTRI.

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