How NetApp IT Shortened Development Cycles Using FlexClone

by Gopal Parthasarathy, Sr. Manager, Enterprise Applications


As the leader of the IT development group for NetApp’s critical business applications, I walk a fine line between rapidly developing and deploying new business features while maintaining a reliable environment for our users. Our ability to rapidly deliver new business capabilities without compromising application stability directly impacts the overall success of NetApp’s go-to-market efforts.


During the past few years, we have significantly improved our ability to introduce new business features into our core applications without negatively affecting our business application ecosystem. These changes have enabled a continuous software delivery cycle, improved our software quality, and expedited the schedule for delivery of new business capabilities—all while preserving the stability of our complex application ecosystem.




The Challenge: Speeding Development

Our business requirement is to implement new business capabilities in a six-week release cycle. To keep pace with the six-week release cycle, we have had to analyze and determine the most efficient way to test and implement new products, promotions or business workflows that require development and integration work across all applications in the ecosystem. To meet this goal, our developers need to code, then iteratively test and integrate the changes before they are rolled out to the production environment. This requires an infrastructure that is fast, flexible, efficient and capable of generating a copy of the production environment at the beginning of the release cycle.


To run parallel development and iterative test cycles, we require multiple application development and test environments. However, when databases are very large, they require a massive amount of storage for each database copy. In addition, traditional tools and approaches to copy databases require a large amount of system resources, while also taking hours or days to copy and refresh each of the systems from production data.


FlexClone to the Rescue

To address these challenges, we use NetApp® FlexClone® data provisioning technology. FlexClone creates virtual copies of our production data by using NetApp Snapshot® to make a baseline copy. Instead of requiring a full physical copy of the entire database, FlexClone only stores new or changed data blocks for each virtual copy. Data block tracking is transparent to the database and applications, so our development teams see a full database while only consuming additional storage as they make changes to the application. In addition, since no data blocks need to be copied upon creation of the FlexClone, we can refresh our development databases in minutes, instead of days. These virtual copies are then used by multiple IT development teams collaborating in a global model for parallel development and testing.


FlexClone enables NetApp to meet the needs inherent in a continuous development cycle—balancing a rigorous process for development, testing and implementation of new business features against the stability of a complex ecosystem and rapid delivery of new functionality. We have increased efficiency and collaboration, while avoiding risk and downtime by creating a structured process to clone and test enhancements, supporting multiple iterations of quality assurance (QA) and testing to avoid downtime. As a result, we can provide additional testing and QA cycles while accelerating our releases so we can quickly deliver new capabilities to our business customers.


Even More Benefits

With the adoption of FlexClone, we can support a continuous development cycle and facilitate the rapid incorporation of new business functionalities. In addition, we have found FlexClone offers additional benefits including:


    • Thin provisioning. Because each FlexClone-generated file, logical unit number (LUN) or volume is a virtual read/write copy of the original data, we save storage space. Our storage environment is 2TB to 3TB instead of the 60TB it would be without this feature.
    • Scalability. Using NetApp clustered Data ONTAP®, we can add next-generation technology, such as NetApp All Flash FAS, to a cluster at any time without any impact on the ecosystem or customers.
    • Consistent point-in-time reporting. FlexClone creates consistent data replicas across all business systems that are extracted into our business intelligence warehouse for executive reporting twice a day. Traditional data protection products cannot support rapid generation and delivery of this information.
    • Faster response. Because we can quickly create the copies, we can respond to business needs faster, including emergency bug fixes or critical enhancements.

With FlexClone, we easily manage our six-week development cycle, walking the fine line between delivery of new capabilities and application stability. Achieving this balance has a direct and positive impact on NetApp’s go-to-market strategy.


For more on FlexClone from ERP applications, watch the GetSuccessful Essentials video.


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