NetApp Tech OnTap

Simplified Upgrade Planning with
Premium AutoSupport

One of the biggest hassles for storage administrators is keeping on top of needed upgrades and general maintenance. My company, Alliance & Leicester—a UK financial services company—has been a NetApp customer for about seven years. During that time, we’ve grown our midrange storage pool for our Windows® environment to about 25 storage systems with 130TB of stored data and 150TB of total capacity, so over time management complexity has grown.

NetApp storage has worked well for us, and we’ve been extremely happy with overall system reliability. Ease of management makes it possible for us to take care of our entire NetApp® environment with just one full-time person (me) plus two additional people who assist me part time. Still, I used to spend quite a bit of time doing my upgrade planning, and I have always had a hard time keeping track of e-mail alerts that advised me of needed changes to my systems.

Premium AutoSupport from NetApp Global Services addresses these and a variety of other challenges by simplifying and automating what were previously manual processes. If you haven’t had a chance to see it, I would highly recommend that you check out the demo. Tech OnTap asked me to describe our experiences with Premium AutoSupport for this article.

NetApp Premium AutoSupport

When you buy a Premium support contract on a NetApp storage system, you get Premium AutoSupport as part of the service. Every NetApp system is configured with AutoSupport, a call-home service that provides system alerts and sends weekly logs to NetApp. Premium AutoSupport extends AutoSupport to create a proactive self-service support tool that gives you a lot of useful functionality, including the ability to:

  • Visualize NetApp systems at the company or device level.
  • View a timeline of AutoSupport events and alerts.
  • Compare the differences between two configurations.
  • Generate an upgrade plan from one Data ONTAP® release to another.
  • View proactive recommendations for your system (health check).
  • View raw AutoSupport data content.
  • Customize AutoSupport e-mail notifications.

These features are all accessed from a Premium AutoSupport dashboard hosted on the NOW™ (NetApp on the Web) Web site.

At Alliance & Leicester we’ve been using Premium AutoSupport since it first went into beta test in September 2007. We’ve come to rely on three features of Premium AutoSupport: 1) upgrade planning, 2) event and alert history, and 3) system health checks.

We currently use NetApp Operations Manager for day-to-day management of our NetApp storage. The real-time monitoring of Operations Manager complements Premium AutoSupport’s ability to handle surface configuration and upgrade issues. If we weren’t using Operations Manager and other tools in house, we’d probably use several more of the features of Premium AutoSupport. If you don’t have tools for visualizing your storage configurations or comparing systems, you should definitely check out those features too.

Keeping Up with General Maintenance

The ability to view noncritical events and alerts in one place when I have the time to address them works much better for me than trying to deal with AutoSupport e-mails that arrive in my mailbox at random times.

Once a month or so I log into the NOW Web site, go to Premium AutoSupport, and look at the timeline of alerts on each of my storage systems. I can easily drill down and see specific details for each item (Open Cases, Hardware Failures, System Alerts).

I also use the system health check feature to analyze my system configurations and identify configuration issues—such as out-of-date firmware or overused snap reserves—that may affect stability. With all this information at my fingertips, I can put a plan in place to take any actions that are necessary. (You can view a sample of health check output below.)

Figure 1) Event history.

Figure 2) Health check.

Planning Upgrades

I used to spend a lot of time on the NOW Web site manually checking firmware revisions, patches, and so on and looking through upgrade planning documents in order to create a plan for each of my storage systems. While I never experienced any problems as a result of this method, it’s obviously time consuming and there is some opportunity for error.

Now, Premium AutoSupport’s Upgrade Advisor tool does all the hard work for me, saving me four to five hours of work per storage system and providing an upgrade plan that’s complete and easy to follow. The tool works for both standalone systems and clusters and supports all Data ONTAP releases since 6.3. Among the things that it checks for are:

  • Known upgrade issues
  • Required firmware revisions
  • Applicable field alerts
  • Software license issues
  • Version compatibility of dependent software products (SnapDrive®, etc.)

Another advantage of the Upgrade Advisor is that it gives us a complete plan to back out each upgrade should a problem arise. We’ve never had to use such a plan, but new regulations in the finance industry are starting to mandate this capability, so it’s nice to have it covered.

Figure 3) Upgrade advisor.

What’s Next?

Over time, the applications we support—Oracle® and FileNet on UNIX®, Microsoft® Exchange, plus a variety of applications running on Microsoft SQL Server™ and Oracle for Windows—are becoming more and more mission critical. Our internal change management policy has some very specific mandates, so we currently have to start planning several weeks in advance in order to schedule any upgrades.

Going forward, we’ll be moving to larger, clustered NetApp storage systems all with Premium support. This will give a higher guarantee of availability for our critical applications and will also make nondisruptive upgrade (NDU) possible.

With NDU, we’ll be able to upgrade one member of a cluster at a time without disrupting running applications or user access. This will reduce the upfront scheduling we have to do to accomplish an upgrade while increasing our service level. I understand the next release of Upgrade Advisor will include NDU checking and recommendations, so upgrade planning will remain straightforward as we move ahead.

Jay Misty

Jay Mistry
Senior Telecommunications Analyst
Alliance & Leicester

With 20 years of IT experience, Jay has been employed at Alliance & Leicester for the last 11 years supporting the company’s Windows server environment. He became involved with storage, initially with HP SANs, more than eight years ago and has been working with NetApp storage for four years. Today Jay is responsible for 25 NetApp systems with about 150TB of total storage.