Recently NetApp announced the latest evolution of their storage operating system ONTAP, version 9.6 introduces new features as you’d expect but in this article I’d like to explore as to whether these are just incremental changes or do they have a bigger impact and deal with wider data management issues?
What is ONTAP?
Even if you are unfamiliar with NetApp you may be familiar with the term “Data Fabric” to describe an integrated set of data endpoints that can be deployed in a wide range of diverse locations, on-prem, virtual appliances, public cloud and provide consistency of services across all of them, allowing data portability while maintaining management, security and control. NetApp first discussed Data Fabric 5-6 years ago but today It has become an industry standard term, recognised this year by Gartner as a top 10 data and analytics trend.
ONTAP is NetApp’s storage operating system and is core to their data fabric strategy, with the flexibility to be installed in a wide range of locations from engineered hardware to public cloud and provide a consistent experience. Allowing organisations to move data between locations while maintaining all of the critical enterprise services and controls they demand.
This article is not about the technical details of NetApp’s announcements (I’ve included some links to posts that go into those) but a look at the direction of ONTAP and whether it is compatible with what those in the field are demanding from their modern data management solutions.
When looking at the ONTAP 9.6 announcements three key themes become clear, simplification, greater operational efficiency and the evolution of SAN and its integration with a wider data fabric. If we compare these to a number of the data management challenges organisations are encountering, they seem well aligned;
- Simplicity – increasingly we demand simpler, more insightful, intelligent and automated management.
- Flexibility – We need more operational flexibility to allow all elements of our stack to be managed via modern API driven approaches.
- Cloud Integration – the ability to integrate public cloud, where appropriate, to allow us to be more efficient and effective with our data platform investment.
To NetApp’s credit, they have long recognised these challenges within their data fabric strategy, but it is good to see a continued commitment to tackling them and the continued evolution of their technology to practically address them with deployable solutions.
Although not going into technical detail I did want to highlight a couple of enhancements in this new ONTAP version with some examples of how they are helping to meet some of these modern data management challenges.
In read-only preview mode in this release is a new management GUI for ONTAP, this is more than just a “cleaning” of the interface, however, there is a real focus on management workflow optimisation, greatly reducing the steps to carry out common tasks and making key information more accessible. This may not sound much, but as we are challenged with more complex data infrastructures anything that simplifies management tasks and makes them more efficient has to be welcomed.
One major and crucial change is the introduction of REST API’s. API driven infrastructure is increasingly at the heart of the way organisations are developing their modern cloud-like technology stacks. Whether organisations are moving to cloud in whole or part, the desire to be able to drive all infrastructure elements by code is core to many strategies, we want to use standard automation tools to drive all elements of our infrastructure be that on-prem or in the cloud, with that in mind adding this into ONTAP is an important development.
I’ve written recently about the increasing integration of cloud capabilities directly into our more traditional infrastructure, allowing the benefits of cloud to be easily exploited, in a more tactical way, without necessarily needing any redesign or refactoring of existing enterprise infrastructure or workflows. NetApp has already committed to this, introducing a wide range of services and integration into ONTAP. This announcement sees an extension of the FabricPools technology, which is a great example of tactical cloud use by allowing cloud storage to be seamlessly integrated into a primary flash-based storage aggregate, providing a low-cost storage tier into which infrequently accessed data can be moved. ONTAP 9.6 extends this capability by adding to their existing support for Azure and AWS with integrations into Google as well as Alibaba to meet the specific needs of the Chinese market.
Cloud is very important to NetApp’s strategy and is one of the things that makes their data fabric strategy extremely compelling. ONTAP itself, via Cloud Volumes ONTAP , Is available as a cloud only implementation so we can replicate its on-premises capability directly into public cloud environments, but also tools like NetApp Data Availability Service and some of the announced extensions to their FlexCache technology show how their embracing of public cloud to provide more effective data management capabilities shows no sign of slowing.
These twice-yearly updates to ONTAP are always interesting to both NetApp customers and the wider data management market, offering a good indication of both NetApp’s and the wider industries strategic direction. These announcements deliver a range of relevant updates for tackling the data challenges many of us face and again provide insight into the general direction of the data industry.
For more detailed information on the announcements there is a wide range of great resources, here’s some to get you started;