NetApp Bets Big On Cloud, All-Flash Storage Capabilities At NetApp Insight Conference

NetApp on Monday opened its annual NetApp Insight conference with the unveiling of several new solutions targeting better ways to manage data across on-premises infrastructures and the cloud.

The company also introduced a number of new all-flash storage solutions that not only promise increased performance and density over its existing line, but that help strengthen the line for the channel's all-important midmarket customers.

NetApp is using its conference, being held this week in Las Vegas, to continue its push to make the cloud a big part of businesses' storage infrastructures, said Joel Reich, executive vice president of the company's products and operations.

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This year has seen Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and the IBM Cloud all sign on to the idea that hybrid clouds are how businesses will deploy infrastructure in the future, Reich told CRN.

"This is interesting because in the past it was reasonable for the channel to assume that, except for their relationships with Microsoft, they compete with public cloud hyperscalers," he said. "Not that public cloud hyperscalers have changed their attitudes; they are open to partnering on hybrid clouds. This is driving our investment and roadmap."

It's also driving some new solutions for NetApp, including CloudSync, a new service for Amazon Web Services that keeps on-site data synchronized with data in a public cloud.

[Related: NetApp Channel Chief Thomas Stanley Offers Exclusive First Look At Upcoming 'Hard Deck' Partner Program, New Technology]

Reich said NetApp will be demonstrating with NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory how data can be brought from Mars to a JPL data center while CloudSync uploads the data to Amazon's Redshift data warehouse service. "When JPL uses Redshift to run analytics, it can use the latest data possible," he said.

CloudSync works on any NetApp FAS solution, or on any vendor's CIFS-based storage solution, Reich said.

"We want people to know our solutions work not just with NetApp," he said. "Part of our evolution to the cloud is [that] we don't just focus on NetApp. This is something our highly-skilled partners can really sink their teeth into."

Attendees to NetApp Insight will also see the expansion of Ontap Cloud, which runs the company's Data Ontap storage operating system as a virtual machine on-premise or in a cloud, to the AWS Marketplace, Reich said. It previously was available only for Microsoft Azure.

"With Ontap Cloud, a workload running on our FAS can also run on the cloud with all the same tools," Reich said. "The most common use case might be a company developing an application on the cloud. Because Ontap Cloud uses SnapMirror like any FAS system, the developer can point data from the cloud to on-premises when they go to production. Or they can use Ontap Cloud for disaster recovery, with the primary instance on-site and the recovery instance in the cloud."

NetApp's support of multiple public clouds is important to channel partners, and is becoming more important as Microsoft Azure catches up to AWS in capabilities, said Dan Barber, data center solutions architect at Presidio, a New York-based solution provider and NetApp channel partner.

"A customer in Chicago can find lines to Azure and AWS," Barber told CRN. "But from a support point of view, in my opinion, Azure is easier to work with. Azure is supported by Microsoft reps who work with a variety of Microsoft solutions. AWS might have reps, but they only support AWS. Microsoft has a team providing support."

Also new is Ontap FlexGroup, the ability to take advantage of massively-scalable containers, which give partners the ability to go back to customers deploying high-performance engineering or similar applications and enhance their infrastructures, he said.

Ontap FlexGroup is exciting because it lets partners provide high-performance cloud capabilities, said Glenn Dekhayser, national data management practice lead at Red8, a Costa Mesa, Calif.-based solution provider and NetApp channel partner.

"FlexGroup lets NetApp show the real power of its scale-out FAS solution," Dekhayser told CRN. "In the future, I expect to see FlexGroup integrated to the cloud. NetApp won't be the first with such a solution, but it will be smart about how it does it."

NetApp also unveiled a major update to its Ontap software. Ontap 9.1 now offers encryption at the volume level instead of just at the disk level, which the previous version offered, Reich said.

Volume encryption is more flexible than disk-based encryption in that it doesn't force customers to purchase encryption-capable drives, Barber said. "Also, customers may have some workloads that need encryption, and some that do not."

NetApp has also introduced six new flash-optimized storage arrays, Reich said. They include the A700 all-flash array targeting high-performance workloads and the A300 all-flash array aimed at midrange clients. Reich said the two offer up to twice the performance of previous NetApp solutions with about half the latency, and support high-capacity 15-TB SSDs.

NetApp also unveiled new hybrid flash and disk solutions, including the FAS8200 for enterprise workloads and the FAS2650 and FAS2620 for small enterprises and midsize businesses. Both feature increased performance and capacity thanks in part to their ability to integrate NetApp's NVMe-based Flash Cache intelligent caching capabilities, Reich said.

Finally, the new FAS9000 solution for business-critical workloads scale to up to 14 petabytes in a system and to up to 172 petabytes in a cluster.

The A700 and FAS9000 are essentially the same, except that the former is an all-flash solution while the latter is a hybrid storage solution.

The new NetApp solutions also support 40-Gbit Ethernet and 32-Gbit Fibre channel connectivity.

NetApp's hardware refresh shows how strong the company has become in the flash storage business, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and NetApp channel partner.

NetApp is adding NVMe flash support on all its flash arrays, along with high-performance 40-Gbit Ethernet and 32-Gbit Fibre Channel, Woodall said.

"And its FAS9000 and A700 are designed to support multiple generations of controllers," he said. "NetApp is making it easy to keep the physical chassis while replacing the controllers as needed. That's something no one else is doing."

NetApp is showing that it can right-size its flash storage solutions for specific markets, particularly for midrange customers for whom flash may still be a costly option, Dekhayser said.

The new FAS2620 and FAS2650, for instance, target midrange customers with new high-speed processors and 12-Gbit SAS connectivity.

"NetApp's midrange stuff typically has used older CPUs, but are now offering better performance at a lower cost," he said. "NetApp is getting smart and now realized it can't go against Pure Storage with five-year-old technology."

Other things NetApp is doing with its all-flash storage arrays, such as the introduction of 15-TB SSDs with high-performance connectivity, are significant, Dekhayser said.

"Think about it," he said. "A NetApp solution in a 2U format with a 2U disk shelf, with 24 15.3-TB SSDs, PCIe slots, and 40-Gbit Ethernet or 32-Gbit Fibre Channel? That will be pretty powerful."

NetApp is doing more than any other vendor to make the all-flash data center possible, Woodall told CRN.

One of IAS' recent customers did not need the performance of a NetApp all-flash storage solution, but still bought into the NetApp solution because of all the benefits it received.

"The customer was spending $180,000 a year in each of two colocation centers, or a total of $360,000 a year, for three racks of storage," he said. "I replaced their three racks of spinning disk with a half-rack or less of all-flash storage. This eliminated enough colo cost to justify the cost of replacing the disk with flash. The customer also gets operational efficiency without worrying about which workload gets how much performance."

Such an example shows the all-flash data center will soon be a reality as the cost of flash storage continues to fall, Woodall said.

"This is an industry-wide trend," he said. "But NetApp is the only multi-protocol provider of flash, and has great channel support to boot. Ninety percent of my storage deals in the last six months have been all-flash."