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Amazon FSx for NetApp ONTAP – The easiest storage decision you’ll ever make

Why choose NetApp over our competitors? NetApp makes storage easier, more customizable, and more secure.

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Ricky Martin
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I’m often asked to summarize why someone should choose NetApp over one of our competitors. For me it boils down to three things:

  1. NetApp makes it easier for our customers to do the things that drive value.
  2. NetApp’s differentiating technology is built in, not bolted on.
  3. NetApp is more secure. Not only the kind of security that keeps you safe from ransomware, but the security of knowing that no matter where you are now, NetApp will be there to help you take that next step.

The recent announcement from Amazon that they have made NetApp® ONTAP® into a native first-party service exemplifies our approach. In this blog post, I focus on why Amazon FSx for NetApp ONTAP is the easy choice.

FSx for ONTAP – The fastest time to value

Using the native AWS console, configuring a new FSx for ONTAP file system requires the following steps:

  1. Select FSx from the Service menu and click Create a Filesystem.
  2. Select FSx for ONTAP and click Next.
  3. Select how big you want the file system to be and click Next
  4. Review and confirm.
  5. Relax while everything is automatically provisioned for you.

I just did this on my AWS account. Getting to the relax step required eight mouse clicks, four keyboard strokes, and zero training. I may get that printed on the back of my business cards just to prove a point.

Dell – Slowing down your cloud journey

Let's compare that to Dell’s Cloud Storage Services, which are built out of dedicated hardware attached to the public cloud via direct-connect from a colocation. There’s nothing intrinsically bad about that approach. After all, NetApp pioneered it with NetApp® Private Storage back in 2013, and we’ve continually made it better and easier to buy by working with partners. But Dell’s dedicated hardware solutions have large minimum capacities, long initial commitment periods, and the kinds of wait times for hardware delivery and installation that are usually associated with legacy data centers, not clouds.

Even their storage-as-a-service model pricing looks more like the kind of high capex numbers that are guaranteed to get an infrastructure team bogged down in analysis paralysis. Isn’t the whole point of cloud about accelerating digital transformation and speed of business? How is that possible when you’re mired in budget discussions and lengthy evaluations?

According to Dell’s website, for a balanced file workload you pay for a minimum of 200TB of capacity for at least one year at $0.1427/GB/month. That assumes that you are using 100% of your storage for the entire contract period. That seems unlikely, given the industry average of 30% to 60% utilization over -a 2-year period. For the time that you’re actually using the service, it’s probably going to cost you more than $0.23/GB/month. You’re also going to have to ask your CFO for more than $350,000, regardless of how much you actually use the storage service.

Dell executives say things like “cloud is not a destination, but an operating model” or that their storage-as-a-service project is superior to AWS by “offering more buying options and flexibility for customers, as well as upwards of 50 percent less expensive.” These kinds of statements make it seem like Dell sees the cloud as a threat, and AWS specifically as a competitor. If so, it shouldn’t be surprising that their storage services look like they are designed to lock you into buying more dedicated Dell hardware and slow down your cloud journey.

Pure complexity

But what about AWS marketplace software solutions like Pure’s Cloud Block Store? It’s deployed as software, but it lacks many of the cloud features of FSx for ONTAP and isn’t a native AWS service, so it ends up behaving a lot more like legacy data center storage, falling short in a number of places.

First, Cloud Block Store is a lot more complex to set up and provision. The Pure Storage deployment guide is a hefty 43 pages and documents a bunch of prerequisites that you may need an infrastructure expert to get working, including:

  1. Internet access outside of your VPC via a NAT gateway to enable phone-home capabilities.
  2. VPC endpoints to S3 and DynamoDB.
  3. 20 private IP addresses initially and another 7 for upgrades.
  4. Multiple security groups, network ACLs, and routing tables for management and replication connections.
  5. New IAM Roles and permissions.
  6. Little gotchas and caveats like needing to keep an eye on the vCPU limits of your instance families and not being able to run HA configurations in us-west-2.

There are 10 different things you need to check before you even begin the 14-step deployment process, which curiously doesn’t include the requirement for setting up and configuring a jump host to access the GUI. If you decide that Cloud Block Store was a mistake, or if you want to suspend or kill it, there’s yet another bunch of things you must do to clean it up. And in some cases, you’re even going to have to contact Pure Storage support to terminate or clean the instances for you.

Pure expense

If that didn’t make things hard enough, just as with Dell, you need to start looking around for data center levels of budget. If you aren’t already a Pure customer and want to find out how much it’s going to cost you, you’ll probably need to talk to a salesperson, because Pure doesn’t make all of its requirements public. What we do know is that the minimum recommended on-demand infrastructure cost without user data storage capacity is almost $7,000/month.

That monthly charge gives you about 13TiB of i3 instance storage, which works out to about $0.52 per usable GiB/month.  But, just like the Dell offering, this is a fixed cost, so the actual cost could be twice as high. Remember that typical storage utilization means you may end up less than 50% of the capacity you’re paying for and it seems like Pure is making that same assumption. Their recommended minimum configuration only supplies enough S3 storage to secure half of the available space in the instance stores.

This inefficiency in SAN storage provisioning is remarkably common in data center architectures. It means that your real cost is likely to be closer to $0.87/GiB/month for usable storage. That works out to $0.21 for effective capacity, based on the big assumption that you will get 4:1 storage efficiency. How much does it really cost you per month? Is it $0.52/GiB/month? $0.87 cents?  $0.21? Or is it somewhere in between depending on utilization and storage efficiency ratios? Once you’ve nailed that down, you must start calculating the other software costs, which can be as high as $0.12/GiB/month.

The only thing that does seem clear is that this configuration provides protection for only a single availability zone (AZ). If you want the same kind of dual availability zone protection that FSx for NetApp ONTAP provides, then you must double that price along with the extra cross-AZ transfer costs. For multi-AZ protection, your on-demand spend with Pure is probably going to be higher than $14,000 per month.

Although you can reduce those costs by making long-term commitments, you may need help to decide which commitments give you the best balance of risk and costs. All of that figuring slows you down and makes it a lot more difficult to decide how much money you need to ask for up front. 

Amazon FSx for NetApp ONTAP – easy, transparent pricing

AWS has done a great job of making the price of FSx for NetApp ONTAP easy to justify. FSx starts at a little over $0.05/GiB/month, including infrastructure and software, and you pay for only what you use. Compare that to Pure Cloud Block Store with its high up-front infrastructure costs, or Dell’s 200TB NAS contracts. Both of those are likely to cost at least 300% to 400% higher on a per GiB/month basis and have minimum monthly spends that can be hundreds of times higher.

The price advantage of FSx for NetApp ONTAP is a direct result of the fact that it’s an AWS native offering, although I’m sure the competition will try to say that it’s because FSx is only for NAS or secondary storage. That’s wishful thinking on their part, because FSx for NetApp ONTAP:

  • Includes iSCSI for block storage.
  • Is fast enough for almost any primary workload.
  • Scales to petabytes for a single file system
  • Has built-in protection against single AZ failures
  • Includes advanced granular backup and restore

And FSx for NetApp ONTAP comes with a broad set of other features that neither Dell nor Pure can touch.

I’ll cover some of those other features in my next blog, but if you can’t wait until then, and feel the need for speed, check out the FSx for NetApp ONTAP page. This is just the end of the beginning.

Ricky Martin

Ricky Martin leads NetApp’s global market strategy for its portfolio of hybrid cloud solutions, providing technology insights and market intelligence to trends that impact NetApp and its customers. With nearly 40 years of IT industry experience, Ricky joined NetApp as a systems engineer in 2006, and has served in various leadership roles in the NetApp APAC region including developing and advocating NetApp’s solutions for artificial intelligence, machine learning and large-scale data lakes.

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