Is there another storage platform as feature rich as NetApp FAS?
I think it is fair to say that NetApp FAS running Clustered Data ONTAP is a very feature rich platform – the move to the clustered version of ONTAP has brought many next-generation features including Scale-out and Non-disruptive Operations.
As a benchmark let’s compare FAS to EMC’s solutions – I fully appreciate that EMC has taken a best of breed approach, but my feeling is that for most non-enterprise customers this is not a sustainable strategy – customers want simplicity and ease of use, and you are not going to get that by deploying four different storage platforms to meet your needs.
I have chosen EMC because they are the overall market share leader and they have the broadest set of storage products available – so let’s compare FAS with VNX, VPLEX, XtremIO, Isilon and Data Domain:
NetApp FAS supports All-Disk, Hybrid Flash and All-Flash data stores - that meet the needs of any kind of application workload
The VNX is a very good All-Disk and Hybrid Flash array and XtremIO is a very good All-Flash array, but you need two completely different products to provide the functionality.
NetApp FAS eliminates silos and provides seamless scalability - to address Server Virtualisation, Virtual Desktop, Database and File storage needs in one scale-up and scale-out solution, that can start small and grow large
VNX is optimal for general Server Virtualisation and Databases and XtremIO excels when it comes to large scale Virtual Desktop and ultra-high performance database requirements. The VNX scales-up, but not out, and XtremIO scales-out, but not up.
NetApp FAS has fully unified SAN and NAS storage - to enable consistent management across all protocols and therefore flexibility in their use
VNX has a separate NAS OS which requires its own management (but it is integrated into a single UI along with SAN), XtremIO is SAN only and Isilon is NAS only.
NetApp FAS provides many storage efficiency technologies - including De-duplication, Inline Zero Write Elimination, Compression, Thin-Provisioning, Zero-cost Cloning and High-performance Double Disk Protection
XtremIO is excellent at all of these (just lacks the Double Disk Protection which I believe it will get shortly), neither VNX or Isilon are anywhere near as strong.
NetApp FAS has Flash optimised writes - with a SSD warranty that has no restrictions on the number of drive writes
As expected XtremIO excels whereas VNX and Isilon are not optimised.
NetApp FAS provides 24×7 continuous availability - including proven enterprise RAS, Non-disruptive Operations, and Metrocluster Site Protection
Neither VNX or XtremIO provide the ability to perform Non-Disruptive Operations like FAS. Introducing VPLEX does provide these capabilities along with excellent Metrocluster site protection.
NetApp FAS has integrated data protection - with near instant creation of snapshot based backups and automated offsite replication
Neither the VNX or XtremIO have these capabilities, to a lesser extent Isilon comes close, but it is limited to the workloads it supports (i.e. it cannot be used for Server or Desktop Virtualisation). EMC’s data protection solutions are typically built using their Data Domain De-duplication appliances and conventional backup software (interestingly they have started to integrate Data Domain directly with the replication engine within the new VMAX3 – no doubt a sign of things to come).
NetApp FAS is Public Cloud integrated - to support hybrid Disaster Recovery and Cloud Bursting
Currently there is no VNX equivalent of Cloud ONTAP for AWS, but this is expected sometime in 2015.
NetApp FAS is designed for VMware vSphere - with support for Virtual Volumes, VAAI, Site Recovery Manager and vCenter management
As expected VNX and XtremIO have support for all the relevant integrations with vSphere. Where FAS has an advantage is that NetApp have already announced support for Virtual Volumes so existing hardware will be able to take advantage of Virtual Volumes – not sure we will be able to say the same about VNX.
NetApp FAS is designed for VMware Horizon View - with support for high-performance hardware accelerated Full Clones (using VAAI) and Linked Clones (using VCAI), and up to 160,000 IOPS at 80% Writes per array
As expected for large scale Virtual Desktop projects XtremIO excels and the only area where it is lacking is that it doesn’t support VCAI as it requires NFS.
NetApp FAS is designed for Microsoft Hyper-V - with support for SMB 3.0 Continuous Availability Shares and Offloaded Data Transfer (ODX)
VNX has good support, whereas XtremIO lacks support for both SMB 3.0 and ODX.
I am confident that you could substitute EMC with any other storage vendor and you would end up with the same result – no single storage platform is anywhere near as feature rich as FAS.
So is FAS and Clustered Data ONTAP perfect?Absolutely not, there are undoubtedly areas whereby the traditional SAN arrays still have advantages (mostly around active/active controller architectures and metrocluster capabilities).
So what else would I like to see from FAS?
Sharing of drives across controllers – we are already starting to see this with the new drive and Flash Pools partitioning features
Detaching of the drives from the controllers – so that the failure of an HA pair within a cluster does not result in downtime
Granular fail over - so volumes or even Virtual Volumes can be “moved” between sites
IP replication - either using FCIP bridges or native IP connectivity
Active/Active - so volumes/LUNs can be active on both sides of the cluster
Erasure coding – to eliminate idle spares and enable rapid drive rebuilds
Encryption – provided by the controllers rather than drives
Advanced QoS – to enable setting of Service Level Objectives rather than just limits
Integrated file archiving – to move older files to secondary storage or the cloud
I truly believe that there is no single storage platform that comes close to matching the range of capabilities of a NetApp FAS, but what do you think?
Do you work for a vendor or are you an end-user of a competitive storage platform? If you are let me know what you think – what are the downsides of the FAS architecture from your point of view?