NetApp Finally Enters Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Market With Focus On Enterprise-Grade All-Flash Capabilities

NetApp on Monday made its long-awaited entry into the burgeoning hyper-converged infrastructure market by unveiling an offering combining its SolidFire all-flash storage technology with NetApp's traditional scale and cross-management capabilities.

The company also enhanced its OnTap Select software-defined storage capabilities to better meet remote and branch office needs and integrate with VMware, a new consumption-based model for its storage, and enhancements to its OnCommand Insight for hybrid cloud migration.

NetApp is making sure partners and customers know it has the portfolio needed to help with their digital transformation strategies, including capabilities aimed at the cloud, DevOps, and micro-services, said Brett Roscoe, vice president of NetApp's product and solutions marketing.

[Related: CRN Exclusive: NetApp CEO Kurian On Turning Corner On Growth, Competing With Dell EMC And Fending Off Pure Storage]

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NetApp is doing this in three ways, Roscoe told CRN.

"We helping customers modernize their infrastructure to accelerate applications and add more services around them," he said. "We're helping them develop next-gen data centers with flexible environments for VMware and OpenStack. And we're focused on delivering cloud capabilities."

NetApp's new hyper-converged infrastructure offering, for now known simply as "NetApp HCI," combines the best of NetApp's technologies to provide a scale-out architecture, full management of compute and capacity, SolidFire's quality of service technology, and more to make it available for enterprise-scale applications, Roscoe said.

While NetApp HCI is the vendor's first-generation hyper-converged infrastructure offering, it is by no means a first-generation appliance, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and long-time NetApp channel partner.

"You can say NetApp is late to the market," Woodall told CRN. "But this gives them the ability to look at their SolidFire storage, their proven Element OS 10 software, their proven OnTap software. This is not new. It's proven, enterprise-grade technology."

Dale Degen, director of product and solutions marketing for NetApp's SolidFire business, told CRN the NetApp HCI comes in a 2U rack-mount chassis with storage capacity based on the SolidFire all-flash array technology.

It offers SolidFire's scale-out quality of service technology along with file services based on NetApp's OnTap storage operating system, and is managed with NetApp's OnCommand Insight management platform, Degen said.

The NetApp HCI also integrates with NetApp's AltaVault archiving system, and with AWS for hybrid cloud connectivity and S3 backup for StorageGrid, he said. It also integrates with NetApp's Data Fabric, a system that allows data to be seamlessly managed from on-premises to the cloud, Degen said.

NetApp designed the NetApp HCI from a data center point of view, Degen said.

"The first generation hyper-converged infrastructure appliances filled a void in virtualized environments," he said. "But when you take them to the data center, you get a lot of control and noisy neighbor issues, and no automation to grow them at scale."

NetApp has changed how hyper-converged infrastructure is built, Degen said. "We're bringing quality of service to workloads," he said. "We're adding flexible automation for all next-generation APIs."

Woodall said one of the key attributes of NetApp HCI is the fact that it has separate compute and storage nodes, which gives it several advantages over competing hyper-converged infrastructure offerings.

First, he said, it uses proven SolidFire technology which can scale out as needed. "Other vendors come to market with three or four different nodes, and later bring out compute-heavy or storage-heavy nodes," he said. "But the storage shares the compute cores, which limits scalability."

Separate nodes means that customers can increase storage capacity without additional compute cores, therefore reducing the need for additional VMware licenses, Woodall said.

The NetApp HCI adds quality of service to VMware's VVOLs (Virtual Volumes) to ensure clients get guaranteed performance for specific applications. "No one else can to that," he said.

NetApp HCI also sits alongside existing VMware deployments which lets customers carve out a part of the SolidFire capacity for other data center infrastructures or for use by competing hyper-converged infrastructure offerings, Woodall said.

"Sometimes in the data center you need extra capacity quickly, and here's SolidFire sitting ready for you," he said. "Or you can migrate workloads to SolidFire, and then eventually to a NetApp infrastructure."

Simplicity is a hallmark of hyper-converged infrastructure, and NetApp has taken that to heart with the NetApp HCI, Woodall said. "I've seen the setup and the screens," he said. "It's dead simple. As simple as anything in the market. For instance, setup might include 400 different things, but NetApp HCI takes under a half-hour to set up the cluster. It has clean interfaces and a highly automated deployment."

NetApp's competitors will emphasize the idea that NetApp was late to market with NetApp HCI, but not for long, Woodall said. "People laughed at NetApp because it was late to flash storage," he said. "But now it's on a $1.7-billion run rate for flash storage, and is outgrowing the market. Will lightning strike twice? I don't know. But this is something you really have to look at."

Roscoe said the NetApp HCI, which will eventually get a better name, is slated to be released into general availability later this year.

NetApp also enhanced its OnTap Select, the software-defined storage version of its OnTap storage operating system, with new capabilities to make it easier to work within remote and branch offices, Roscoe said.

"Customers can now configure a two-node cluster with lower-cost VMware licenses," he said. "That used to require the enterprise version of VMware, but they can now use the smaller, lower-cost office licensing solution."

Also new is NetApp OnDemand, a new program that lets customers purchase NetApp's all-flash storage arrays and FAS appliances on a monthly subscription basis, and turning the sale from a capital expense to an operational expense, Roscoe said.

"Now partners can to go customers with alternate payment options, all without the need for new training or certifications," he said.

NetApp also enhanced its OnCommand Insight management tool, which has traditionally been used for on-premises storage, to make it work seamlessly across on-premises, cloud, and hybrid environments, Roscoe said.

Also new is version 9.2 of the OnTap storage operating system. OnTap 9.2 introduces fabric pools for automatic data tiering to Amazon S3 clouds; expanded de-dupe to the system level to allow global de-duplication of data; and new quality of service capabilities, he said.

NetApp also introduced NextCredit which allows customers to turn in nearly any NetApp equipment for credit on future purchases, he said.