Data Fabric – What is it good for?


Anyone who’s seen my social content recently will know I’m a big fan of the concept of data fabric, now the thing with I.T. is we love to get excited about phrases like this and assume everyone else will “get” what we’re talking about..well imagine my surprise the other day when I was talking to a business colleague and he asked me…

Data Fabric, what is it good for?

That’s a great question isn’t it (even if the immediate answer is to start to channel a bit of Edwin Starr)… what on earth is it?..and I guess he probably isn’t the only person asking..

I started by making it clear, when I’ve been talking about data fabric, my discussions have been around the strategic conversations I’ve been having with our customers and storage vendor NetApp, that’s probably not a surprise to those who know me, I’ve had a long association with them, so no shock there, however maybe more surprising is even if I did want to look elsewhere, no one else is really having this discussion and really, they should be…

So when my colleague then went on to ask two other questions, it got me thinking, that the answers would maybe make a good BLOG post..

What where these two questions? well, first up;

What problem does it solve ?

To be clear, data fabric is not a product or a bit of technology, it’s a strategy. I read a great article recently from the founder of CoHo, another storage vendor, who talked about how often the data storage debate gets lost in technology and completely loses site of the primary point of any business looking at data storage, they have data storage challenges and they want someone to solve a problem for them, not to go on about different feeds and speeds and flashing lights…

So let’s see if we can answer that, with a focus on business problems and not get lost in technology (and there is plenty of innovative tech behind the NetApp data fabric story) hopefully you’ll find it interesting and see why it’s maybe more important than ever that those making storage decisions need to think way beyond the silo of specific technologies and look much wider.

Today most of the customer conversations I have, pretty much always include two key topics, using the cloud and managing data, be that it’s security, availability or flexibility of access, the problem with those two things is that they don’t necessarily complement each other very well.

Many of the data strategies I see implemented often include data silo’s, flash over here for one project, archive storage elsewhere, because I don’t want it on flash, some stuff over here in the cloud, because i want access to that all over the place, or need it as part of my DR, but now i have a whole host of tools managing these things and the data in one silo can’t move to another, the problem with this is, as it becomes more complex, the more difficult it becomes to manage, the more difficult it becomes to control, mistakes happen, exposing our data and our businesses to risk.

Even if that doesn’t happen you end up put in a corner with all your data sat separately and no ability to easily move between your silo’s.

That’s what a data fabric strategy fixes, it addresses all of these data silo’s by allowing you to put your storage where you want it, while allowing it to be managed by a single toolset, allowing seamless movement between your storage types.

So this leads to the second question –

How does NetApp help me solve that problem then?

This is for me where NetApp have been smart, how so?

First let’s look at how other smart technology ecosystems deliver their data. let’s look at Apple for instance;Apple Data Fabric

If you buy into the Apple eco system, with your iTunes account, your Mac, your iPad, your phone etc. – as a user you don’t even think about how you get access to your content from one device to another – it’s just there, Apple have created a data fabric.

But if we look at our enterprise IT, are we doing the same, in many cases, no we are not…

NetApp have been smart and looked at this model and asked can we do something similar?

Many of you know NetApp as a storage vendor – supplying physical storage arrays. However what NetApp actually do, is is write software and their biggest software solution is their OnTap operating system and it is this operating system, that many people don’t necessarily see, that is the core of the data fabric.

How? in the end NetApp’s storage capability is delivered completely via the OnTap operating system and because fundamentally OnTap is a piece of software, like any piece of software it can be installed on any capable platform.

So what? – well just imagine if the storage operating system you have sat on your storage array, could be moved around, and maybe dropped into a virtual machine, or could sit in front of a big lump of public cloud storage.

Once you’ve done that, you really have an opportunity to break down storage silo’s and provide real flexibility of choice of where you put your data.


If you look at the image above, you can see Data OnTap right at the core of what the data fabric looks like, the OS can then be installed onto or over the top of any of those multiple platforms, once it’s there you have all of the same features and functionality regardless of what sits behind it.

We can sit our OnTap OS on top of an disk array full of SAS or SATA, or maybe it can sit on some All Flash infrastructure, but maybe we don’t have NetApp arrays, no problem, let’s sit it in front of a 3rd party disk array, or maybe we want it out in our branch office as a VM, or maybe we want it in the cloud sat in front of some AWS storage.

That gives us one operating system on a range of devices, one set of tools to manage it, the same capability across each of those platforms, which ultimately gives us the capability of easily moving data around our fabric, across different storage types, so we want to move our SAS data onto all flash – no problem, drop flash into our fabric and over it goes. Want to move data into the cloud, no problem, let’s mirror it across – what about when we want it back.. no problem, we mirror it back.

It’s that operational flexibility that addresses the issues we discussed in the answer to the first question, that of failing to look at the big picture and potentially puts our data into silo’s that can not be moved to other platforms, does that matter, well in some cases maybe not, but in many, if you are thinking strategically about your business technology, then you need to consider whether the decisions you are making are going to give you the flexibility to respond to changing business needs, allowing you to take advantage of future technology changes etc.

I appreciate that we have talked a lot about NetApp here, but at the minute I’ve not really seen this joined up thinking at this scale elsewhere, however if your technology partners are offering this kind of fabric, that’s great, explore it. All I ever look at with posts like this, is to get those reading it thinking about strategic considerations they may not have done before, hopefully this post has done that.

Hopefully some food for thought…

7 thoughts on “Data Fabric – What is it good for?

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