Data Fabric – What is it good for?

Paul Stringfellow 2.jpgby NetApp A-Team member Paul Stringfellow, Technical Director at Gardner Systems

A business associate recently asked me, “Paul, what is data fabric good for?” My first thought was great question, how do I best answer that. My second thought was, that would make a great blog post. So dear reader, you (hopefully) will be the beneficiary of both trains of thought.


So what is it good for?

To answer this, we must first understand what problems data fabric solves. Allow me to provide some perspective.


icloud_a_team.pngMost of the conversations with customers I have today are typically about two key topics: using the cloud and managing data. Whether it’s security, availability of resources or flexibility of access, the problem with the cloud and data management is that they don’t necessarily complement one another very well. Many of the strategies I’ve seen implemented to tackle these challenges often include one or more data silos, flash-based storage for one project, archive storage for another and perhaps some data in a cloud. At the end of the day, this mix of solutions results in a host of necessary management tools, while the data in one silo cannot be moved to another. As data becomes inflexible in this way it becomes difficult to control, exposing the enterprise to mistakes and risk.


That’s what a data fabric strategy fixes. It addresses all of these data silos by allowing you to put your storage where you want it, have it managed by a single toolset and importantly allowing seamless movement between your storage types.


A great and very visible example of this is Apple’s data ecosystem. People buy into it with their iTunes account, Mac computers, iPads, iPhones, and don’t even think about how their data is accessible across all these devices. They don’t realise they are working with Apple’s data fabric.


To be clear, data fabric is not a product or a bit of technology, it’s a strategy.


This leads to a second question.


How does NetApp help me solve this problem?


Enterprises all over the world have the infrastructure for a data fabric analogous to Apple’s, they just don’t have the means of bringing it to life yet. They need some sort of connective tissue. That’s where NetApp’s ONTAP operating system comes in.


Many of you know NetApp as a storage vendor. But it is their ONTAP operating system that forms the core of a data fabric because it can be installed on any capable platform such as on a storage array, dropped into a virtual machine, or even on public cloud storage. Silos break down and provide flexibility and access to data.




If you look at the image above, you can see Data ONTAP right at the core of what the data fabric looks like. Be it a disk array full of SAS or SATA, an all flash infrastructure, a virtual machine or even Amazon Web Services – it doesn’t matter if the disk array is from NetApp or a third party. The operating system is installed onto, or over the top of, any of those multiple platforms, and once there provides all of the same features and functionality regardless of what sits behind it.


I admit, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about NetApp here. But, right now, I’ve not seen this sort of thinking and capability at this scale elsewhere. If your technology partners offer this kind of fabric, great! Explore it! If not come talk to NetApp. I just hope this post has given you some food for thought and some strategic considerations that you may not have had before.


Read more of Paul's work here.