Accelerating New Business Capabilities with Storage Virtualization

By Robert Stumpf, IT Go-to-Market Delivery, NetApp


One of the biggest operational challenges in managing large enterprise business applications is deploying new business functionality quickly while managing operational risk. As systems and databases grow larger, the process of managing application changes increases in complexity, requiring more time and resources to manage application enhancements across development, test, and production systems.


At NetApp, we use a standard application development approach to managing new enhancements and capabilities for our large enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, and business intelligence applications. This method requires additional system copies of our production applications so our developers, business analysts, and quality assurance engineers can systematically create and test new application changes before moving those changes into our production systems. What this means from an infrastructure and support perspective is that for each production application we support, we also require two or three times more infrastructure for our development and test systems. As more production systems and applications are added, the technical architecture and storage requirements begin to grow at an exponential rate.


Using storage virtualization technology we’ve significantly reduced the physical infrastructure required to support our business applications, while maximizing the utilization of our limited resources. Rather than physically copying multiple terabytes of data for each database and system copy, we leverage NetApp Snapshot, SnapMirror, and FlexClone technologies to create virtual copies of our database and applications. This process not only saves massive amounts of equipment and data storage, but also reduces the time required to create system copies from hours to minutes.


NetApp Snapshot allows us to create consistent point-in-time copies of our production database. Contrary to other snapshot technologies in the market, NetApp Snapshots give administrators the ability to create up to 255 copies of our production volumes without impacting performance. We also use NetApp SnapMirror technology to replicate these volumes from our production to our development systems. SnapMirror enables us to efficiently copy our data to remote systems. The NetApp storage systems keep our application data synchronized based on our replication schedule. Because SnapMirror occurs between storage systems and is Snapshot-aware, it will only replicate the minimum amount of changed data blocks required to keep the data synchronized. SnapMirror does not require copying the entire database every time, so overall network traffic and replication times are reduced.


From here we use FlexClone to create virtual copies of our databases. FlexClone leverages our baseline Snapshot copies for all read operations. Any application or database changes to the FlexClone are simply written to new physical blocks – the storage system takes care of all the intelligence. This process is completely transparent to the application and business users who now can perform their normal development work with the latest copy of production data. The entire process takes only a few minutes because the storage system uses intelligence based on pointers instead of physically copying data across disk drives. We simply take a snapshot of the database, update the SnapMirror copy, and create a FlexClone copy of the database. 


Even more important than how quickly and efficiently we can create these copies is how we use these copies to reduce risk and accelerate our application development lifecycle. As I mentioned earlier, for each production application, we create development and test systems for our production support landscape and normal application releases. In addition to these systems, many of our strategic business projects and application upgrades require extra database copies for parallel development work. Now that we’ve automated our system copy process with storage virtualization technology, we can quickly deliver new copies to support these additional requirements.


By efficiently delivering more copies of current production data, we’ve enabled business analysts and quality assurance teams to run parallel development, integration, conversion, and user-acceptance testing. These additional development and test cycles improve the quality of our releases and accelerate the delivery of new business functionality – the true business value of NetApp FlexClone.


The NetApp-on-NetApp blog series features advice from subject matter experts from NetApp IT who share their real-world experiences using NetApp’s industry-leading storage solutions to support business goals. Want to view learn more about the program? Visit