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!

One thought on “Flashy NetApp

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