Tech OnTap Articles

NetApp SnapCenter Software: Easing the Path to Data Protection


October 2015

John Spinks
Technical Marketing Engineer, NetApp

Data protection is a top priority at NetApp, offered through a number of separate packages. NetApp® SnapCenter® Software, a brand new offering, consolidates NetApp's data protection offerings and simplifies administration. SnapCenter is a centralized and extensible data protection platform, providing common and consistent data protection. SnapCenter provides a new role as an application data protection platform, easy to deploy and customize.

The Data Protection Challenge

Some areas of data protection are particularly difficult to manage. All of us have struggled, for example, with slow and inefficient backup. Traditional backup and restore operations are slow and time-consuming. Getting data to and from test and development environments sometimes takes so long that data can be out of date by the time the operation is finished. Large enterprises with separate teams for applications, databases, storage, and virtualization require complex coordination across multiple teams. In addition, many times the application administrators do not have access to self-service (they may have to submit a ticket to IT, wait for a backup administrator to pull tapes, and perform a restore). A relatively new challenge is how to deal with the data fabric as it moves from the premises to the cloud and back. Seamless protection of data is vital, no matter where it resides at any particular instant.


If You Thought NetApp SnapManager Software was Great...

NetApp SnapManager® Software has provided NetApp customers with outstanding data protection for many years; however, a cloud-integrated data fabric requires additional capabilities. NetApp's SnapManager products address part of the data protection challenge. They are fast, application-consistent, snapshot-based data protection products that help to address the slow and inefficient backup challenge. However, scaling the environment becomes a little complicated. For example, if you have just 20 different SQL servers, there are 20 different hosts and 20 different places where you must schedule backups, monitor jobs, and perform cloning and restore operations.


SnapManager successfully addresses application-consistent backups and snapshot-based data protection. However, SnapCenter is a product that moves beyond SnapManager in controlling data as it moves throughout the data fabric. In comparison to SnapManager, SnapCenter offers a unified interface where those 20 SQL servers are all managed through a single pane of glass. From SnapCenter you can create policies and apply them across the different SQL environments—one interface for all of your hosts.

The Big Picture


Figure 1) SnapCenter is a unified, scalable software platform for data protection and clone management.




Source: NetApp, 2015



In the middle of Figure 1 is the new NetApp product, SnapCenter Server, which is architected for centralized management, high-availability, and load-balancing. It provides a common GUI for ease of management across the entire IT infrastructure as well as role-based access control for delegating management while preserving central oversight. On the left-hand side are the SnapCenter plug-ins, which are installed on each device using the SnapCenter Server. These lightweight application plug-ins offer role-specific functions and workflows. The SnapCenter Server and the plug-ins talk to the NetApp Storage Platforms. SnapCenter is also designed for multiplatform storage compatibility. Along with multiplatform storage support, SnapCenter additionally supports multiple hypervisors.

Life for Administrators Just Got Easier

Two types of users are depicted at the right side of the following figure: one is the Infrastructure Management User and the other is the Application/Database Management user.



Figure 2) SnapCenter benefits IT admins by addressing the needs of application and database/storage management.




Source: NetApp, 2015



The Infrastructure Management User installs SnapCenter, configures it, sets up role-based access control (RBAC), and delegates responsibility to other SnapCenter users. This user maintains oversight, control, and auditing through SnapCenter, and typically may have one of the titles assigned as shown in the Figure 2. The responsibilities cover the SnapCenter Server as well as the storage platforms.


At the upper part of the image are the hosts with their SnapCenter plug-ins. The plug-ins are deployed to the hosts by the Application/Database Management user. This user also performs self-service backup, restore, and cloning jobs. Only tasks allowed by the SnapCenter admin can be executed. Typical titles for this user are as shown in the figure. SnapCenter also allows a high level of granularity and roles for administrators.

The SnapCenter Value

SnapCenter adds value by providing:



  • A centralized GUI provides monitoring, notification, logging, reporting, and scheduling for all of the SnapCenter plug-ins from a central interface. One user interface covers everything.
  • Uses specific workflows tailored to meet the needs of application, virtualization, and database administrators.
  • Checks interoperability, and non-disruptively installs and upgrades SnapCenter plug-ins from the central user interface.


  • Increases backup and restore performance.
  • Centrally manages data protection for thousands of applications either on premises or across the data fabric.
  • Transparently adds SnapCenter Servers for high availability and load balancing to help support thousands of applications.


  • Role-based access control enables self-service for application admins while retaining oversight.
  • Reduces test and development time with high-performance application-consistent cloning and clone lifecycle management.
  • A full set of REST APIs are available for integration as well as a full set of PowerShell cmdlets for third-party orchestration and cloud management.


The following figure illustrates the fundamentals of all your data protection and clone jobs. You interact with resources, policies, and datasets in every backup and clone operation that you perform.



Figure 3) The following diagram illustrates how SnapCenter is organized into hosts, resources, policies and databases (in blue).




Source: NetApp, 2015



Hosts: Servers (physical or virtual) that host the application/database to be protected.


Resources: Items you want to protect or clone. For example, if you are using the plug-in for SQL Server, your resources might be databases, instances, or availability groups.


Policies: The set of rules governing how you perform your backup, clone, and verification jobs. Policy components include schedule, retention, and replication settings, as well as pre-script and post-script arguments and other settings.


Datasets: A way to organize the resources you want to protect. They are also what you protect. A dataset is required for every backup or clone job; you never perform a backup or clone job on a resource not contained in a dataset.

Deployment Models

The following figures show some examples of how SnapCenter can be deployed.


Nonproduction Test and Development Deployment


In the simplest configuration, such as a nonproduction test and development environment, Microsoft SQL Express can be used for the SnapCenter repository.


In the case shown in the Figure 4, the database system can be installed on the SnapCenter host itself.


FlexClone copies of applications databases can be created to meet individual user needs.



Figure 4) SnapCenter test and development deployment models




Source: NetApp, 2015



Production Deployment


In the production deployment diagram, take note that the SnapCenter repository database is not on the SnapCenter Server itself but on another server. In addition, SQL Express is not being used because this is a production environment.




Figure 5) SnapCenter production deployment models.




Source: NetApp, 2015



On the left of the above diagram, the Virtual Storage Console (VSC) for VMware 6.1 is being used for integration into the VMware environment.


On the upper right, SnapCenter is updating long-term retention with multiple points of recovery with SnapVault®.


For disaster-recovery purposes, SnapCenter is providing updates to the DR site using SnapMirror®.


NOTE: SnapCenter does not create or initialize SnapVault or SnapMirror relationships. It only updates them and facilitates clones and restores if desired.


High Availability Deployment


The following figure shows SnapCenter operating in an environment using some of Microsoft’s high-availability features such as SQL Server availability groups, Network Load Balancing (NLB), and Application Request Routing (ARR).



Figure 6) SnapCenter high-availability deployment models




Source: NetApp, 2015



SnapCenter Release 1.0 Summary

SnapCenter is architected to meet many of your data protection needs, but does not meet all of them in a single release.


SnapCenter Version 1.0 focuses on the SnapCenter Server, SnapCenter Plug-In for Microsoft SQL Server, and SnapCenter Plug-In for Microsoft Windows.


VSC 6.1 for VMware Backup and Recovery is also available, which integrates with SnapCenter to allow backup of SQL in virtual environments (VMDKs).


It should also be noted that SnapCenter Server is available free of charge, and the SnapCenter plug-ins use the same licenses as existing SnapManager and SnapDrive products and bundles.


SnapCenter only supports clustered Data ONTAP® 8.2.2 and above.


The following figure and tables summarize SnapCenter 1.0 contents, support, features, and limitations.



Figure 7) SnapCenter Version 1.0 supports SQL database running in nonvirtualized and VMware environment, and infrastructure VMs.




Source: NetApp, 2015





Table 1) Platforms supported by SnapCenter Release 1.0.




Source: NetApp, 2015





Table 2) SnapCenter Release 1.0 new features and limitations.




Source: NetApp, 2015




NetApp has streamlined deployment of SnapCenter by making sure that the SnapCenter plug-ins are licensed just like our available SnapManager and SnapDrive® products, on a per-host basis or as part of a bundle. If you have an existing SnapManager or SnapDrive license you can use it with SnapCenter—no conversion is necessary. The best part is that the new SnapCenter Server is a no-cost download, so you can take advantage of its capabilities right away.


So what are you waiting for? Download SnapCenter Server today.


To learn more about how to achieve the cost and flexibility benefits of public cloud resources for disaster recovery (DR) operations while maintaining control of business data in a hybrid cloud infrastructure, read our solution overview, NetApp Snap-to-Cloud Disaster Recovery Solution Kit: Snap to the cloud, recover from anywhere.


John Spinks, a seasoned technical marketing engineer (TME) at NetApp, is focused on enterprise application backup, recovery, and cloning. He is also responsible for the SnapCreator Framework and associated plug-ins, which he helped develop from a professional services tool to a fully supported product. In addition, John is the SnapCenter TME and helps drive SnapCenter features and adoption.



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hum .... Another new "Snap X" product with his classical set of limitation : no Hyper-V support, no native HA Database (relying on SQL Express is not very "cloud nati ve" and forcing customer to buy SQL license for "Production deployment" is not much better ...), no native Load balancing (relying on Windows NLB is not very "cloud native") , no "virtual appliance form factor" (relying on Windows OS for SnapCenter server is not very "cloud native") for easy fast installation, etc .... 


For a Company wanting to invest the cloud, I woul have expected (for an all new software) something developped in a much more "cloud native" approach . And moreover, I really wonder why these features need a new software and can't be given on your On Command UM Solution ? 


Sorry to tell you that but it seems your future looks like my past :-(




Thanks for the comments.  I'll make sure our product team sees them as well.

Please keep in mind that SnapCenter 1.0 is part of a larger vision and some of the gaps that you are mentioning will be closed in subsequent releases.

We have over a decade of experience with our SnapManager products and we just couldn't get all of the goodness from all of those products into a single release of the new SnapCenter.


In terms of using SQL Express - I wanted to clarify that SQL Express is an option that we support, but we do not recommend it for production deployment because of the lack of HA.  At this time we would recommend a full SQL deployment for production (you can use an existing instance).  We are looking into supporting other databases in the future as well, but since SnapCenter 1.0 focused on SQL, using SQL for the SnapCenter repository made good sense to us.



What about NFS support? It seems that's always left out of 1.0 version releases. You have all those VMware environments out there in NFS. I know in IT it's all about getting a product to market quickly, but at least include something for everyone and build upon that. Thanks.

@cgeck0000 - I'm going to break your question down into two parts to be sure we've answered it completely.


It sounds like your question is specific to customers running VMware with NFS datastores.  Assuming that this is the case these environments are supported through SnapCenter integration with VSC 6.1 backup and recovery.  Through the integration with VSC we know about the NFS datastores and SQL environments backed by VMware are supported for NFS, VMDK, and RDM.


The second part is what about file system support native to Windows (CIFS, SMB)?

 This is not in SnapCenter 1.0, but is planned for a future release.

You can provision SMB shares through SnapCenter today, but SQL environments running in SMB will not be supported until a later release.


tl:dr - SQL Server environments running in VMware NFS datastores are supported in SnapCenter 1.0 though VSC 6.1.

SQL Server environments running on SMB will be supported in later releases.


Hope this helps!


@spinks - Thank you for the reply. That is great about NFS. I just didn't see any mention of NFS in the article and Table 1 only states FC, FCoE and iSCSI so there just wasn't a clear statement. I guess just an assumption.


The second part, not too worried about CIFS\SMB 3.0, just because that's fairly new on the block. You mention it's slated for future release so I take it this will support Hyper-V?


Thank you for clarifying the VMware NFS datastore question as all SQL servers are running on that technology.

@cgeck0000 - I'm happy to clarify.  I think some of the confusion is that SnapCenter itself doesn't have the NFS capability - we rely on the integration with VSC backup and recovery to deliver this.

This also enables additional features in VSC - for example with SnapCenter integration VSC can leverage the SnapCenter database.  This enables the use of backup policies which allow you to create policies that can be assigned to backup jobs.  The policies are also shared among other VSC instances that are connected to the SnapCenter Server(s).

Without SnapCenter integration you would need separate jobs for daily, weekly, and monthly.  With SnapCenter integration you create daily, weekly, and monthly backup policies.  Then you create a backup job and select any policies that you want to assign to the job.


SnapCenter integration also improves backup and recovery performance for VSC (since we're using a database instead of a XML file that we have to parse) and allows us to enable features like restore from seconary.


Hyper-V is something else that we are looking at for SnapCenter, but at this time it isn't committed to a release as far as I know.

If this is something that is important to you please let me know and I'll send the info to our product manager.

Feel free to contact me via email using my username (spinks)

If you are under NDA we can also setup a roadmap discussion through your sales team.





Thank you John. I am good and this is helpful for the future.