NetApp Expands Cloud Capabilities With NFS On Azure, Adds IBM Watson To Support Services

NetApp Tuesday said that Microsoft has added the storage vendor's Network File System, or NFS, technology as a native part of the Azure cloud.

NetApp also added new cognitive computing and artificial intelligence, including a new capability built using IBM Watson services, to its support capabilities as a way to introduce a high degree of automation to customer environments.

Both moves, unveiled during the NetApp Insight 2017 conference being held this week in Las Vegas, represent NetApp's focus on helping customers change the way they work with data, said Jennifer Meyer, NetApp's senior director for cloud products and solutions marketing.

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NetApp's storage legacy and its focus on cloud data technology has made the company the data authority in a hybrid on-premises and cloud world, Meyer said.

"Data is a key customer focus," she said. "We believe the way a company either grows or fades away depends on how they manage data. We provide advisory-level information to help them make the right decisions."

NetApp and Microsoft introduced the Azure Enterprise NFS service powered by NetApp, a new capability under which customers will be able to manage native NFS data on the Azure cloud.

NetApp's NFS technology is being embedded in Azure, giving all businesses access to file services on Azure whether they are NetApp customers or not, Meyer said.

"People want what they want when they want it," she said. "But they don't want to deal with the storage details. With this new relationship, Azure users don't have to take on the storage duty. NetApp is taking care of it."

However, the benefit for NetApp customers is clear, Meyer said. "This is based on our Ontap operating system, so anyone who knows NetApp will find it familiar in the Azure console," she said. "And everyone else knows enterprise NFS."

With Azure Enterprise NFS service powered by NetApp, businesses will be able to provision, automate and scale NFS services via RESTful APIs, and take advantage of new data protection services starting with on-demand automated snapshots. The new service also will integrate other Azure services including analytics, SQL Server, and SAP Hana for Azure, Meyer said.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based NetApp Tuesday also said NetApp Cloud Control for Microsoft Office 365 now supports Azure Storage. Meyer said this gives Azure customers the ability to take advantage of backed-up data in case part of their data is accidentally deleted.

The company also introduced support for NetApp's AltaVault cloud-integrated data backup technology's use with Azure Blob storage technology for unstructured data, she said.

Meyer said NetApp's new relationship with Microsoft comes even as the company already does a lot of integration with other cloud environments including Amazon Web Services.

"It's important for us to have as strong a set of partnerships with Microsoft as it is with Amazon," she said.

When asked if NetApp will work with Amazon to bring NFS on AWS, Meyer said to wait and see.

It is a significant win for NetApp to get its NFS technology into Microsoft Azure, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and longtime NetApp channel partner.

"Microsoft could have done the technology in-house, or worked with a different partner," Woodall told CRN. "But NetApp has the best technology on the planet, with multiprotocol capabilities. The devil is in the details."

With the technology partnership, NetApp has extended its Data Fabric hybrid cloud data management technology across on-premises and cloud environments to Azure, Woodall said.

"We haven't seen the details yet," he said. "But you have to think we'll be able to use Snapmirror to easily move data to Azure. Microsoft wants your workloads. And Microsoft just made it easy for all NetApp customers to natively move data to the cloud to work with Microsoft compute."

This capability can't be done with AWS, Woodall said. "You can run Ontap Cloud on AWS or Azure, but only in a virtual machine," he said. "Now we're talking native NFS on Microsoft. This potentially opens the door for every NetApp customer to leverage Microsoft Azure."

Many NetApp customers have enterprise license agreements with Microsoft that provide the cost benefit of working with Azure, and the new Azure Enterprise NFS service powered by NetApp makes it easier from a technical perspective, Integrated Archive Systems' Woodall said.

"It's important for NetApp to communicate how this will work with the channel," he said. "But for NetApp, it's great news. The company gets greater participation in the Azure cloud."

Woodall said there should be benefits for partners already doing a lot of work with Azure.

"Microsoft has tens of thousands of people on its sales team, so this is a good opportunity for NetApp," he said. "But I'm not sure what this means for the NetApp channel. NetApp needs to articulate the vision and value of the partnership to the channel."

NetApp Tuesday also introduced a new virtual support assistant it calls Elio based on IBM Watson services. The company said Elio takes advantage of Watson's cognitive computing to use the experience of NetApp's support history to quickly resolve issues. NetApp said Elio provides the best answers four times faster than traditional service methods.

Also new is NetApp Active IQ, which predicts and detects performance problems and makes configuration recommendations for best performance in the hybrid cloud, including AWS and Azure environments.

Woodall said that if NetApp is seeing a four times improvement in services response, it indicates that Elio has likely already been in use for some time without customers even realizing it.

IBM Watson is a good choice for improving support services given that it can gain insight from tens of thousands of calls from multiple endpoints, Woodall said.

"It can leverage what was learned historically, and through that process learn to resolve issues faster," he said. "If NetApp is seeing a four times increase in performance, that represents experience it has already learned."

NetApp is showing that it is moving beyond storage to embrace the cloud in a way no other vendors have done, Woodall said.

"We're seeing NetApp's Data Fabric expanding," he said. "It's picking up depth and breadth with each new announcement. We're seeing a lot of advances with Data Fabric. If you're a customer with all the recent code updates, you're in position to leverage data in new ways."