Earlier this month, Andy Takacs, Ken McGarrity, and I spent four days at Insight, NetApp’s annual partner conference in Vegas, getting the low down on the company’s vision, portfolio, and roadmap. This was my second year at Insight and my first year there as a NetApp Advocate.
If you know me, seen me on Twitter, or read my blog article, The Most Exciting New NetApp Technologies of 2013, you know that I love NetApp and that I believe wholeheartedly in their products. The fact that Insight is all NetApp, all the time, definitely makes it my favorite annual conference. Plus, as a NetApp Advocate, I got some pretty sweet perks, like special previews of new technologies and one-on-one conversations with NetApp leaders Shaun Mahoney, Jay Kidd, Chris Meyer, and Val Bercovici.
A lot of what happens at Insight is under NDA, so what happens at Insight stays at Insight. But I can tell you that this year’s conference focused heavily on the evolution of NetApp as a portfolio company. For a long time, NetApp was a one-platform company. And that worked really well for them. In fact, it was a major differentiator. But with customer needs growing more complex, NetApp has broadened its portfolio to include multiple storage platforms (flash and E-Series) and a range of software and solutions, including Workflow Automation. And this year, NetApp is finally putting these products in the spotlight and pushing them out to partners. Good news for us.
“The competition wants to talk IOPS? No problem. I’ll just throw in E-Series.”
More than FAS
Until now, NetApp was focused on FAS + ONTAP. But if you’re a partner trying to compete on a price per IOP basis and all you have is FAS, you’re going to have an uphill battle. When you start talking about software and features and platforms for different workloads, it becomes easier. Everyone does hard drives, but not everyone has Workflow Automation.
If you know NetApp, you know that E-Series and flash aren’t new. So why haven’t we heard much about them until now? Well, for starters, flash is expensive and complex. Few people have the money to buy whole new storage systems full of flash or the money to train their workforce on all the new features and functions of flash. I fully expect that FlashRay, coming in 2014, will change all that by combining the best of E-Series and ONTAP, so you get low latency and the cool features of ONTAP.
E-Series has always been a great product, but NetApp hasn’t done a great job of getting the word out. They weren’t really pushing it to reps, reps weren’t pushing it to VARs, and, as a result, VARs weren’t pushing it out to end users. But if you want raw throughput and low latency, you really should be looking at E-Series. You’re not typically going to replace FAS with E-Series, but E-Series can be a perfect complement to FAS when you’re looking to move lots of data quickly.
One of the many features that the E-Series brings to the enterprise is the ability to rebuild large drive failures in a matter of minutes as opposed to days with traditional RAID arrays. There are no “spares” in the E-Series—a portion of each drive is simply carved out for active spare capacity. In this way, it eliminates the need for idle drives, and during a disk failure it doesn’t need to rebuild an entire, let’s say, 3TB drive. With E-Series, a 3TB drive rebuild takes roughly 96 minutes—1.5 hours—to rebuild as opposed to about 100 hours with RAID 6. That’s huge.
Workflow Automation (WFA) was another big focus at this year’s Insight conference. WFA automates storage tasks with built-in and custom-created workflows. Because it’s automated, the tasks are executed in a consistent and repeatable fashion. You can also assign users and groups to be allowed to run these tasks from WFA. So instead of giving users access to the NetApp system, you can give them access to WFA and have the tasks issued in a safe, pre-authorized manner. WFA enforces standards and reduces errors, which helps improve resiliency and reduces costs from a standup and break-fix point of view.
WFA also automates storage provisioning, which is a big help to service providers like Zumasys. Now a client comes in and instead of it taking days to set them up, it takes just minutes.
Products like flash, E-Series, and WFA are not just about storage—they go up the infrastructure stack to help you better manage your data. Of course, there are going to be some cases where that’s not a big selling point. But if you have even a little complexity in your infrastructure, being able to draw from a full portfolio of solutions for every workload may be critical to success.
If you have questions about any of these NetApp technologies, shoot me a message or follow me on Twitter!