Wednesday 26 August 2009

NotApp or NetApp?

So after years of us asking and waiting it looks like NetApp have finally made a couple of pre-announcements :-
  1. OnTap v8
  2. Object storage
Now I've been a big fan of what NetApp did for storage re:-
  • Storage configuration ease & simplification
  • Single OS/firmware over all products
  • Consistent and compatible capabilities on each product (eg think replication)
  • Their work with Oracle on NFS
  • Use and publication of open storage & system benchmarks
However I also regularly raise concerns re NetApp over :-
  • They are just not a truly global player and struggle with dealing with global companies
  • Roadmap & futures disclosure - as much as I have issues with EMC (and I have many) they do technical contact, futures and strategy briefing much much better
  • OnTap GX - has been in the wings for years, and appears to have been a major drain on their dev resources
  • OnTap constraints not matching the increasing scale of the requirements and/or platforms - eg re aggregate max 16TB etc
  • Poor estate mngt tools - prior to Onaro acquisition these were woeful, and there still a long way to go for NetApp native tech
  • Too frequent product changes, revisions & models - making interop a pain, and appearing to drive too many codebase versions
  • Poor interface and processes for RFEs (though I've yet to find a storage company that has any worth mentioning)
  • Poor acquisition history re choices & integration execution
  • Lastly, and most importantly, sadly over the last couple of years IMHO they have listened to their own hype too much, and as a consequence have lost touch with the real market prices and are unable to prove the value of their benefits. (Acting very similarly to EMC in the 90s and early 00s)
That all said I still like & recommend their technology! So, knowing above, what are my thoughts re their recent announcements :-

1) Ontap v8
  • DataMotion - looks very interesting, but the devil in the the capability, requirements & constraints details, can anybody provide these yet?
  • Pam-II cards are interesting, and a good way to get overall performance improvements without requiring lots of specific configurations, but value will depend on their € cost, and how to mitigate against the use of the onboard slots (thus reducing either disk loops or network interfaces)
  • NDDC - have read this 4 times and still think it's purely a Prof Srvs play wrapped in words, can anybody correct me with details?
  • I can't find a public document that compares v7.3 with v8.0 7-mode, so very tricky to talk about differences, anybody see a public doc?
  • The last time I saw public docs on Ontap v8.x the major features, benefits and improvements came in v8.1 rather than v8.0 - so I'm also rather keen to see what's being disclosed publicly re comparisons between v7.3, 8.0 & 8.1
  • The PDF published on the Netapp website ( re 8.0 7-mode makes lots of claims re 'lower TCO', 'increase productivity' etc but I can find nothing about a) what they are comparing to, b) what level of improvement and c) what proves the justification for these statements
2) Object storage
  • Fundamentally this is good news
  • mid/end 2010 will be too late, if it's not Q4 '09 then the momentum will be elsewhere
  • In the object space, the model cares & relies much less on the 'tin' thus the 'OnTap Object' techology will need to exist in a software 'virtual appliance' that can run on commodity hardware (look at the great things done by Caringo is this area)
  • Price point - similarly object storage is expected to have a materially lower price point than SAN or NAS (think DAS price point), very unclear how NetApp will be able to achieve this given their current pricing models
  • There is a lot more to object storage than simply being able to use a REST or SOAP API to R/W objects - look at how long it's taking EMC to get Atmos into shape (and there are some mightly minds on that project)
  • API - if it's not both XAM and EC2 compatible, then frankly don't bother. So when will the API details be published?
So for me these announcements are nice but nothing more than that, until the details are made public and the code goes GD (rather than GA). Of course what I really want to see is a TCO model comparing the before and after pictures :)

[Disclaimer] I am a NetApp customer and have over a PB of their disk platforms and have access to NDA information (that I will not disclose)
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  1. Updated with response comments from at NetApp :-

    I can confirm 64bit aggrs scale to ExaBytes. In the first release of DOT8, we have qualified upto 108TB. The 108TB limit will be increased as we have more time to qualify larger configs. This takes time due to feature matrix size.

    Also note that striped volumes in DOT8 already scale to multiple PB's :)

    In-place upgrades form 7.3.x to 8.0.x are supported, but not from 32bit aggrs to 64bit. That will be supported in future. Non-disruptive migration services from 32bit aggrs to 64bit are available.

  2. Here's something on pricing of PAM II cards which are quite high.

  3. You see when people talking about 'migration services' to get what is potentially a major benefit of the upgrade, I tend too loose interest!

  4. Nice post. Frankly, I have many of the same questions.

    For example, regarding DataMotion, how is this different/better than external file virtualization that's agnostic to the vendor?

    Can't find any details, but would like to know if they've come up with something better, or just re-invented the wheel.

    Large nonvolatile caches (e.g. PAM II) are always interesting, but our experience on Symm has shown that they have their strengths and weaknesses like anything else. Indeed, NetApp said they'd get around to doing the SSD thing eventually. I wonder how they're positioning each?

    Your commentary on object interfaces, RESTful APIs and DAS-like price points are spot on -- hard to see how they'd get there simply by adding stuff to their existing portfolio. We at EMC felt a fresh start was the best way to get there -- we'll see, won't we?

    My heart goes out to the product team behind OnTap 8.0. Looks like they were in a tough spot and had to make some tough choices. I wouldn't wish that scenario on anyone, including my competitors.

    Best regards!

    -- Chuck

  5. Hi Ian,

    - NetApp Data Motion (NDM) is a combination of proven technologies running in production at thousands of customers today. Specifically, it’s comprised of MultiStore, SnapMirror (semi-sync mode) and Provisioning Manager. What’s new is the integration of all these features into a single push-button (or API) solution, heavily tested within a virtual server context. This delivers on the Cloud requirement for always-on operations by eliminating application downtime when regular storage maintenance or retirement is required.

    - The impact of PAM II is more profound than people realize. Relative cost is way less than PAM I, and since the flash controller is based on proven NetApp wear-leveling performance optimizations (WAFL has a 16yr head start on other FTL’s) we can keep the cost competitive with flash pricing trends in the marketplace. PAM II delivers on EMC’s FAST promise two years early by implementing automated block-level tiering between SATA & Flash (who needs 15k rpm drives anymore? :). What’s more, it is dedupe-aware, so you will be getting anywhere from 2-10 times usable cache compared to raw for your storage system! 40TB of effective cache for a VDI server farm can deliver powerful performance, while letting you size your spindles simply for capacity. Did I mention NetApp already guarantees most hypervisor-centric IaaS Cloud deployments will thrive on this technology? :)

    - NDDC is DOT 7 or 8 technology, combined with Ops Mgr, wrapped in the industry’s first set of proven ITIL & ITSM compliant Cloud-specific best-practices. NDDC speeds the delivery of automated, scalable, efficient and low-risk Cloud deployments. You can certainly purchase the individual pieces without PS, but most customers (esp Service Providers) prefer the risk mitigation and accelerated time to market of working with our PS.

    - DOT8 7-mode is a complete functional superset of DOT 7.3.x. A tiny list of exceptions includes things like IPv6 which will not appear in DOT8 7-mode until a short-term maintenance release, but the intent is seamless migration for our giant DOT 7.x installed base.

    - The documentation for DOT8 will be posted to NOW fairly soon so you can perform a more granular analysis of feature support relative to DOT7. In the meantime, I urge you to consider that with NetApp’s architecture, leverage via scale is no longer constrained to the storage controller itself. Powerful policy-driven automation via the NetApp Ops Mgr framework (courtesy of Provisioning & Protection Mgr) is helping Cloud customers scale both performance & capacity with integrated data protection to PB scale in a very cost-effective manner. Look no further than BT for some examples.

    - My understanding of our lower DOT8 TCO claims is that they’re relative to our own using DOT 7G. Since we believe that’s already the lowest in the storage industry, we feel DOT8 TCO is very strong. But as we all know paper comparisons are a mug’s game. Our TCO framework usually includes the embedded formulas in a spreadsheet so that you can modify the input parameters to arrive at your own custom conclusion.

    - Finally we come to the highly anticipated Object Storage question. Without pre-announcing anything, I will divulge that our solution will prove the value of Spinnaker’s scale-out excellence, particularly beyond NAS or even SAN/iSCSI configurations. Priorities of REST, XAM, SOAP and others are really interesting to us at the early (pre-standards) market phase, so please feel free to contact me (valb at netapp dot com) if you’d like to share your specific requirements in this regard.

    Hope this helps!


  6. Oh - and for those concerned about NetApp competitiveness with DAS pricing, I encourage you to read: