January 24, 2017. Technical Data Centre Author: Marcus Burrows

What's new with NetApp?

I have recently started teaching the latest NetApp course ONTAP 9: What's New? It provides a solid introduction to the new features that ONTAP 9 brings to the world of data storage and is targeted at an audience who is already using NetApp products and is looking to upgrade.

I wasn't sure which new features would mean the most to my delegates. I had my own favourite new features, but which would really matter to the engineers supporting the kit out in the field?

Flexibility

The much publicised "Data Fabric" which enables you to run ONTAP on a variety of platforms, including in the cloud, was welcomed by some as their DR solution already sits in the cloud. 

However, the latest version of SnapCenter which integrates with ONTAP 9 produced more interest. SnapCenter is a tool for application consistent backups, restores and cloning of SQL and Oracle databases and also integrates with VMware. Until now an administrator might install the SnapManager and SnapDrive combo onto each database server to backup the data on NetApp storage. We can now install SnapCenter just once and push agents onto the database servers. This means SnapCenter provides a single point of management for backups, recovery, cloning, mirroring for DR and vaulting for backups. We can also use the tool to replicate data using the SnapMirror engine between different NetApp endpoints regardless of where the storage is: on premise, near cloud or in the cloud.

Performance and Efficiency

Performance visibility was widely welcomed. In ONTAP 9 you can not only view how much free capacity you have, but also how much performance headroom there is. Therefore, adding additional workloads to the cluster is now based less on guesswork and hope and more on rational planning by the administrator.

What certainly got people thinking was a new feature called Data Compaction. This is enabled by default on the All Flash FAS and available on the standard FAS appliance. The minimum element that is used to store data on disk is a 4KB block, this is already pretty granular compared to many systems. However, for a workload which includes small files (ie. smaller than 4KB), the system will fit more than one file into the same physical 4KB block with little or no performance overhead. If your workload includes a high number of small files then this could have a dramatic effect on usable space. For the All Flash FAS it is especially good as it reduces wear on SSDs.

Data Protection

RAID-TEC is another new feature which means that we can tolerate a triple disk failure within a RAID group. This is a great new feature to protect critical data or data which is stored on large disks where the rebuild time is lengthy. RAID-TEC didn't produce as many cheers as I was expecting, but that may simply be because it was the simplest feature to explain and it was generally accepted as "a good thing".

Some delegates were very interested in a new-ish feature called SVM Disaster Recovery. This was first introducted with Clustered Data OnTap 8.3.1 and has been improved since. With it, we can protect an entire Storage Virtual Machine, both data and configuration. There is new flexibility to the feature now where we can select more particularly which data and which network configuration gets replicated to our Disaster Recovery cluster. It isn't "all or nothing". We were able to set this up in our lab environment, invoke DR and fail over our data and configuration to a different cluster. We then "fixed" the broken production cluster and failed back to it. What is also nice is that existing volume-level protection can be converted easily to SVM-level protection.

The biggest surprise for me was the warm reception for a feature called SnapLock. This has been available in Data OnTap 7Mode but has only recently been introduced to clustered systems with ONTAP 9. I had always assumed it was for a niche market – apparently I was wrong! This is a licensed feature and enables the administrator to guarantee to the business and to regulatory bodies that data has not been modified, moved or deleted for a set number of years. It is easy to configure using the new look GUI. It is however, a feature which requires careful planning. The stricter "Compliance" mode of SnapLock is a one way street – once the administrator has set the file retention to say 10 years and committed the files, then there is no way at all that those files can be modified or deleted within those 10 years. Think before you click!

Conclusion 

Overall ONTAP 9 was received very positively and with good reason. NetApp has made a good job of its new GUI which should be easier to use for newbies. If I were an IT Manager, I would probably be looking with keen interest at how to make my data mobile between different platforms and cloud environments (The "Data Fabric") and a simpler backup regime using SnapCenter. If I were a Storage Administrator then I would be eager to test out the new protection capabilities and also breathe a sigh of relief at being able to view performance headroom before I take the plunge and add additional workloads to my NetApp cluster.

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