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Ricky Martin
Ricky Martin
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It’s often said that “best” is the enemy of “good,” especially in cloud, so trying to overoptimize early is often counterproductive. But what if you could make a fast and easy decision that really is “the best,” not just in terms of speed of deployment or time to value, but in the long term too?

By delving deeper into NetApp® technology, I want to make the case that NetApp offerings let you do exactly that. This isn’t about bashing competitors, but if we’re going to make statements like “NetApp’s technology leads the industry,” it makes sense to make specific comparisons to the other technologies you’re probably looking at. For example, if you’re looking at data-center-class all-flash arrays, then you’ll be comparing NetApp technology against the likes of Dell or Pure. But what about cloud? What are the other technologies you are considering for storage and data management in hyperscalers like AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud?

Storage and data management options for enterprise hybrid cloud

It’s tempting to say that when it comes to storage and data management for enterprise hybrid cloud, there isn’t real competition at all; NetApp stands alone in one of the fastest growing segments of the IT industry without any significant rivals.

That’s a big call, though. After all, several cloud services offer portions of the functionality that NetApp provides. Even within AWS, there are the various flavors of Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). On top of that, there’s Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS) and three other FSx offerings. Similarly, each of the other hyperscalers has a mix of storage offerings, including services that, like Amazon FSx for NetApp ONTAP, include NetApp technology that’s co-branded and tied directly into their native cloud consoles. Then there are born-in-the-cloud data management offerings (such as Panzura, CTERA, and Nasuni) for scale-out file storage that are built on top of object stores and work across multiple cloud providers. Rounding out the picture are the old-school virtual storage array offerings like Pure Cloud Block Store or “next to the cloud” offerings like Dell’s efforts with Isilon or HPE’s Cloud Volumes.

If you look at these companies’ websites, you’ll see that they all claim to offer much the same kind of experience that NetApp has been promoting as part of our data fabric initiative since 2014. But when you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that many of these claims fall short.

The thing is: As much as I love the technology we produce at NetApp, cloud teams don’t wake up in the morning and say, “Hey, we need to go buy some NetApp to fix our problems.” No, they want better cloud services, not a “cloudlike experience” or “next to cloud.” They don’t really want to “bring the data center to the cloud”—they just want better cloud services. If NetApp can make that experience better for them, then customers win, cloud providers win, and we win.

FSx for ONTAP: The easiest storage decision you’ll ever make

This is the heart of the FSx for ONTAP experience, and it begins with ease of use, something I covered in my last blog about why FSx for ONTAP is one of the easiest storage choices you’ll ever make. Being easy is great, especially in a mature market where there are plenty of good solutions.

When faced with increasing complexity and reduced time, the path of least resistance is often to shortlist solutions that seem good enough, and then optimize for ease of consumption and/or price. As a short-term decision with a limited view of what your needs are now, it’s a rational way of selecting the technology you deploy. The downside is that you end up with a whole bunch of different services. Each service is good enough by itself, but collectively they create additional integration and troubleshooting work, resulting in technical debts that might only become evident after you’ve painted yourself into a corner.

Avoiding this situation is partly why NetApp worked so long and hard at building FSx for ONTAP with AWS. It wasn’t just a matter of taking NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP®, a product we’ve been perfecting since our data fabric announcements in 2014, and giving it to AWS to rebrand. It was a massive effort as outlined by NetApp’s cloud CTO in this interview: File storage could be as big on the Amazon cloud as S3, says NetApp CTO. As a result, NetApp was named the U.S. ISV AWS design partner of the year (NetApp Delivers Award-Winning Innovation to Enable Digital Transformation on AWS). We’re incredibly proud of that award, but why should that matter to you?

The importance of awards like this is they point to the benefits of inclusiveness, the power of the community, and the ecosystem that gets built around hard work and commitment.

As I mentioned before, NetApp has been developing Cloud Volumes ONTAP since 2014. It’s cost effective and reliable, performs brilliantly, and supports pretty much everything that ONTAP does on premises, along with some clever new things developed by our cloud services teams.

The ideal match for VMware in AWS

In many ways, the technology behind Cloud Volumes ONTAP is the ideal match for VMware in the cloud. Yet until now, for various reasons, we’ve not been able to bring the two together as much as we would have liked for our customers. The announcement of FSx for NetApp ONTAP changed that, and VMware’s enthusiasm for ONTAP in the cloud now goes further than I could ever have hoped. In their own announcement, VMware Cloud on AWS: New Region, External Storage and Purchasing Options, the first thing they talk about is ONTAP integration. Rather than paraphrase their announcement, which is worth reading in its entirety, I’ll boil it down to these two key points:

  • With this capability, you can attach a fully managed, low-cost, high-performance NFS datastore.
  • You can scale the VMware Cloud on AWS software-defined data center (SDDC) without having to purchase additional host instances.

I talked about the benefits of independently scaling storage in my NVMe/TCP blog post. But until this announcement, ONTAP support for VMware Cloud on AWS was limited to providing guest-attached storage (as documented here: NetApp Guest Connected Storage Options for AWS).

Guest-attached storage is a great option for a lot of customers today, because as exciting as the NFS datastore announcement is, right now it’s still in preview. This guest-attach option allows SMB shares, NFS mount points, and iSCSI LUNs to be attached directly to virtual machines in a VMware Cloud on AWS. This approach does involve a few extra steps compared to just provisioning and attaching first-class disks in a VMware datastore. But those extra steps might be worth the effort, especially for virtual machines hosting enterprise applications and databases such as Oracle, SQL Server, or SAP HANA. The reason is that FSx for NetApp ONTAP now supports NetApp SnapCenter® technology (see Hybrid cloud database solutions with SnapCenter), which is the most advanced way of coordinating application-aware backups with the advanced NetApp Snapshot™ and replication technology. As VMware said in their blog, snapshots and replication are two of the most impactful features that are included in FSx for ONTAP.

Amazon FSx for NetApp ONTAP offers high-performance file storage with compression and deduplication to help you further reduce storage costs. It provides ONTAP’s data management capabilities, like snapshots, clones, and replication across your hybrid cloud environment that will improve staff productivity and responsiveness.

SnapCenter helps you turn those advantages for staff productivity and responsiveness into the kinds of results you can report back to management. After all, who doesn’t love low-cost application-aware instant backup with instant restore? And an easy, secure, and safe way of making copies of data to accelerate test/dev cycles with awesome automation and integration features? This is just a small taste of the benefits we’re already seeing from the collaboration with VMware, AWS, and other ecosystem partners. This joint work underpins an ongoing network effect, creating a virtuous cycle of product development that, in turn, attracts more partners, more expertise, and more value.

I believe that this ecosystem approach is what makes us not just a good choice but the leading choice. It sets NetApp offerings apart from the competition, not just because our offerings are great at what they do individually, but because they’re even better when they work together in the cloud and on premises. The advantage to you is how our offerings build on their respective strengths, not just within the NetApp (and Spot by NetApp) families of products and solutions, but alongside AWS, VMware, and so many others. This is the true value of an ecosystem—a place where we all bring our unique talents and abilities together and try to build a community that strives to do great things. That’s a community I’m proud to be a part of, and I hope it’s one you want to be part of, too. Check it out.

Ricky Martin

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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