November / December 2015
As storage options explode, so does the level of complexity and—let's face it—confusion about how to choose the right storage media for the right purposes. You're trying to match the seemingly disparate worlds of flash, cloud, and disk to equally disparate needs: consolidating data centers, boosting application performance, protecting your precious data, delivering more strategic IT value without raising budgets or adding staff, and retaining the agility to innovate fast so you can respond to unknowable future pressures.
I have good news: The NetApp® vision of a Data Fabric is all about enabling you to manage your data so that it flows freely to where you need it most, whether that means flash, disk, cloud, or some combination. What's more, we have designed starter kits that help demonstrate how to put the Data Fabric vision into action, right now. The starter kits are known collectively as our Data Fabric Solution Essentials. In this article, I want to highlight one of these starter kits: the Application Acceleration Solution Kit.
Moving Data to Where It's Most Helpful
Data storage isn't what it used to be. By that I mean that it's no longer about parking your data somewhere for access when you need it. Today, data storage really requires data management. And for data management, it matters where your data is located.
The Application Acceleration Solution Kit is ideal for experiencing how you can manage data across flash and disk storage. You can deploy a small four-node cluster running a Microsoft® SQL Server® or Oracle® database, enabled by NetApp clustered Data ONTAP® software. You get high-performance flash and full-featured enterprise-grade data management capabilities, whether or not you're ready to go to the cloud.
You could go into the cloud if it makes sense for your IT goals, but you could also stick with disk and flash, or build a private cloud. Don't assume that the public cloud is the inevitable destination you're building toward. In fact, the more likely destination is the hybrid cloud. The point is that you want to be able to move data back and forth between different resources and media, to locate it optimally for your particular situation.
This flexibility illustrated through the Application Acceleration Solution Kit arises from the Data Fabric, which lets you move, manage, and protect your data across flash, disk, and cloud. You use a single UI for all your data management resources.
As a result, you enhance both data sovereignty and storage performance. Sovereignty means that you own your data, or at least know where it is, which is crucial for unlocking the value of your data. Storage performance is no longer viewed as cost per gigabyte, or how much you need to spend to get a certain level of performance. In fact, things like a data fabric and flash are turning storage from a cost center to a revenue generator. With flash in particular, you can suddenly use storage to differentiate your enterprise—to enable real-time analytics and the use of data in ways that influence the buying decisions of your customers.
Providing a Map for Unfettered Application Acceleration
The best way to think of the Application Acceleration Solution Kit is as a map or a guide, indicating the elements of a solution and what you can do with them. You might already have some or many of the elements in place. Add a high-availability all-flash system such as the NetApp AFF8080 All Flash FAS, and you'll be able to experience marked acceleration of your SQL Server or Oracle databases.
Figure 1) The Application Acceleration Solution Kit, which outlines elements for moving database data with ease across disk and flash resources, combines a performance and capacity tier, with the option of a cloud compute tier.
Source: NetApp, 2015
The beauty of our Data Fabric approach is that it lets you effortlessly introduce flash into your existing architecture. You can manage it with the same tools you're already using today, and you can push and pull data to and from flash and disk as needed.
The reason we enable such smooth, integrated management is illustrated by looking at how we handle snapshots and virtual clones.
NetApp Snapshot® technology is quite different from the traditional copy-on-write snapshots of almost all disk-based storage architectures. Known as a redirect-on-write or zero-copy snapshot approach, ours is a system of pointers that creates snapshots a thousand times faster than flash. It uses a log-structured file system, writing data to a log that is written into NZ RAM, which is blazing fast.
Let's say you have a set of data, call it A. You add some new data, so now you have A' (A prime). With NetApp Snapshot technology, when data A' is written into the log, the log contains only the difference between A and A' (that is, the delta or change). The snapshot taken at T0 contains A, and the snapshot at T1 contains just the difference (A' minus A). By not copying all the data over again each time there's a change, our approach greatly speeds the process.
Using a similar principle, NetApp FlexClone® replication technology lets you create an instant virtual clone of an entire database, using little or no additional storage space. FlexClone technology generates writeable snapshots using pointers to clone-specific metadata and nonredundant data blocks. The space-efficient FlexClone virtual clones work across disk and flash as well as cloud storage.
All-flash systems do snapshots and replicas the same way as NetApp, but it's extremely rare for disk-based systems. Redirect-on-write snapshots have been part of the NetApp WAFL® (Write Anywhere File Layout) system since long before flash was even conceived as a complete storage medium. It's that kind of innovation that has enabled NetApp to take our existing, proven Data ONTAP disk-based architecture and seamlessly integrate flash—all under the same data management structure.
And it's why we're able not only to roll out our Data Fabric vision, but also to let you put it into action now, with guidance from tools such as the Application Acceleration Solution Kit.
Application Acceleration Solution Kit in Action
To get a feel for how to put the Application Acceleration Solution Kit to work, here's one use case as an example.
Say your DevOps team develops a database application in the cloud. Then, let's say you want to run that application at the highest performance, and you want to know that you own and control it. You decide to run the application using on-premises flash storage for performance and data sovereignty.
What you've done is used the cloud for flexibility and flash for performance. When you move the application from DevOps to a production workload, the production compute can either be on premises or remain in the cloud. You can use a NetApp AFF8000 All Flash FAS system as a network: It's an on-premises private storage element that you own; it has the performance of flash; and it's also connected to the cloud.
Maybe you worry that flash is expensive. You can solve this problem by backing up high-performance flash to cost-effective disk storage such as the NetApp FAS8040. To complete the picture, you can archive the application data to NetApp Cloud ONTAP™ software, putting a snapshot or a clone back into the cloud for disaster recovery and local restores.
That's a complete application lifecycle: Develop in the cloud, run production in flash, back up on a hybrid system, and archive back into the cloud. And at each stage, you're using a common data management scheme, so the whole process is smooth and cohesive.
Figure 2) The Application Acceleration Solution Kit points to how easy it is to move data throughout a complete application lifecycle, among disk and flash and cloud.
Source: NetApp, 2015
You Can't Go Wrong with Data Fabric
It can be daunting to contemplate all the storage options available now. Even the definition of “unified storage” has changed from meaning NAS and SAN to encompassing flash, disk, cloud, blocks, and files. What should you do? Where do you start, or what do you do next? How are you going to manage it all long term?
Thanks in large part to our Data Fabric vision you can relax a bit. No matter what storage you've already purchased, or what you plan to use or not use in the future, NetApp can make it all work. There are no wrong buying decisions. You can't make a mistake.
To be more precise, the only mistake would be to become paralyzed by the hype around clouds, flash, and all the rest. But don't take my word for it. Use the framework of our Application Acceleration Solution Kit and start experimenting for yourself with how our Data Fabric vision can accelerate your SQL Server or Oracle database performance across disk and flash—and even the cloud.