The first and only unified storage array vendor, has long been the hallmark of NetApp. Yet with the acquisitions of Bycast and Engenio it appears NetApp may be abandoning the concept of a unified storage array. Is this true, has NetApp abandoned their position on unified storage?
If you’re a NetApp customer maybe you feel that your NetApp sales representative fudged the truth a bit when they stated that a NetApp FAS array could, ‘meet all of your enterprise data center and cloud computing requirements’.
Did we really move away from our roots? Did our acquisitions silently change the focus of NetApp and invalidate our message around delivering unified storage architectures? As I began thinking about our recent acquisitions they really began to make a lot of sense, and this time answered the unified question for me.
i want to share with you my thought process to see if you come to the same conclusion as I did. I think the correct place to start is by counting the number of NetApp storage array platforms.
Platform 1: NetApp FAS Arrays
This is the mainstay of the NetApp product line, the storage technology most associate NetApp with. FAS are natively multiprotocol enterprise storage arrays, offering RAID-DP, integrated block-level storage efficiencies with integrated data protection, which provide abstracted access to the array in the form of vFilers (just to name a few of the many capabilities).
FAS arrays are available in configurations ranging from the colossal FAS6280 (2.8 PBs of capacity) to the modest FAS2020 (68 TBs of capacity). They run Data Ontap, which is available in two modes.
Data Ontap 7-mode (or classic mode) allows FAS arrays to be deployed as a local two-node cluster, a geographically spanned MetroCluster, and as a remote distributed FlexCache, which enables capabilities like LDVM for VMware.
Data Ontap is also available in a newer version, which we call cluster-mode (or what I personally like to refer to as ‘Cloud-Mode’ although that nick-name may be selling the capabilities of cluster-mode a bit short). C-Mode expands a NetApp storage cluster from 2 nodes to 24 nodes, increases the features found in 7-mode to include endless scaling, global name spaces, and the complete separation of data and data access from the hardware layer in the form of our next generation vFilers (known as vServers in C-Mode).
The NetApp v-Series allows customers to enable all of the advanced storage management and integrations on 3rd party storage arrays like HP, EMC, HDS, etc.
The v-Series runs Data Ontap and with the exception of RAID-DP,provides every capability in a FAS array on legacy storage arrays. We’d love to offer RAID-DP, but we cannot as we don’t provide the disk drives with v-Series.
v-Series can breath new life into traditional SAN arrays, providing data deduplication for SAN and NAS access, and our OpenAPI capabilities enabling VMware’s VAAI and snapshot backup and replication integration from partners like CommVault and Syncsort (just to name a few of the many capabilities).
Platform 3: IBM N-Series Arrays (OEM)
The IBM N-Series is a NetApp FAS array sold under an OEM agreement with IBM. The N-Series runs Data Ontap, so you know the story here…
Data Ontap-v Virtual Storage Array or VSA (OEM)
Our first foray into the realm of a virtual storage array is with Ontap-v, which is powered by VMware and offered by our OEM partner Fujitsu. Ontap-v runs Data Ontap and provides all of the integrated capabilities described earlier with one exception; it only supports IP storage protocols.
Beyond that, if provides the same functions, integrations, and capabilities as a physical FAS array including management with Systems Manager and VMware integrations like the Virtual Storage Console vCenter plug-in (just to name a few of the many capabilities).
Time To Take Inventory of our Enterprise Storage Arrays
So let’s see, do we have 4 arrays? Or as the FAS, v-Series, and N-Series are offered as numerous hardware models does this equate to dozens of storage platforms? Do we count Data Ontap as a single OS or two as it can boot into two different modes?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and state that all of these arrays, whether physical or virtual, sold via OEM or used to virtualize 3rd party disk, are all one-in-the-same.
As all of these arrays unified by Data Ontap it allows NetApp to view storage hardware (or virtual hardware) as merely a choice. It is a means to scale in terms of capacity, performance, or both.
What About the Bycast & Engenio Acquisitions?
Obviously there are storage needs that are beyond what one would consider a capability that may be better suited outside of an enterprise array. Some may consider the need for a specialized array that can serve as a secure archival repository, or as an object oriented web-scale access, or operate as a highly tuned backup to disk platform.
I believe these purpose-built storage arrays cannot be classified as enterprise arrays.
Enter Bycast and Engenio…
The Bycast acquisition resulted in NetApp StorageGRID; a proven object software storage solution designed to manage petabyte-scale globally distributed repositories of images, video, and records for enterprises and service providers. StorageGRID is not a storage array; it is a software stack that enables advanced object oriented storage capabilities for physical storage arrays.
I think we can agree that StorageGRID is not an array platform.
By contrast the acquisition of Engenio resulted in a new storage array platform, which includes the E2600, E5400, and E7900. The Engenio line was not introduced as new line of storage arrays targeted to serve storage in the enterprise and private cloud space; instead with Engenio we have expanded our opportunities to serve customers in markets where we were not participating. With Engenio we have the opportunity to establish a leadership position in the emerging and fast growing markets of large bandwidth applications such as full motion video and Hadoop analytics.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Let’s be frank, with Engenio NetApp may appear to no longer be a Unified Storage vendor; however, let me make one point clear… for enterprise and cloud deployments, whether the array is virtual like Ontap-v, OEM, a virtualized 3rd party array, or a physical array ranging from the FAS2020 to FAS6280, the NetApp value proposition is the same: Data Ontap is purpose-built to be the optimal platform for these environments.
Whether deployed in classic or cluster-mode, our unified OS allows customers to standardize on their architecture designs, application integrations, and data management capabilities while also having the flexibility to respond to changes in the data center without changing the array or losing features.
Traditional storage vendors will tell you the NetApp way is ‘a load of old cobblers’ and we can’t meet the needs of enterprise IT and cloud deployments with a Unified Storage Platform. Don’t take my word for it; consider that EMC offers Symmetrix DMX & VMAX, VNX, VNXe, Celerra, Clariion, Iomega, VPLEX and Isilon to address these markets. EMC specifically designs these arrays to provide a select set of capabilit
ies that make each platform distinct from the other. What is worse, is these platforms offer various models that in the end actually compete against each other in attempting to service the needs of enterprise IT.
Honestly, can you list all of the nuanced differences between all of these platforms, including the integrated capabilities and points of 3rd party integrations? Of course you can’t.
Let us consider that enterprises often have large centralized data centers, regional offices, branch offices, retail or consumer locations, etc. If this conversation was about blade servers and not storage, would you deploy VMware ESXi if it provided a separate of VMware capabilities when installed it on a Cisco UCS B-Series, C-Series, or Express blade server? Of course you wouldn’t, so why does it make sense to do it with storage arrays sitting in the various sized facilities that make up the enterprise?
I don’t mean to pick on EMC in this example. I easily could make this point with storage offerings from HP, Dell, etc. My apologies to the EMC gang.
Wrapping Up this Post
So, has NetApp Abandoned Unified Storage? The short answer is, ‘YES’ we have. Yet if you are asking about unified in terms of providing cloud optimized enterprise storage platforms, then answer is distinctly ‘NO’.
Our view is we have purpose-built, unified enterprise arrays and a second purpose-built platform in the Engenio. With Engenio NetApp expands it’s OEM business and enters into a raft of new storage markets outside of enterprise IT & cloud deployments. Additions like Bycast enables NetApp to provide the next generation of access methods and models. We believe this strategy of expanding in order to enter new markets or provide new capabilities is the practical way to grow our business.
We have no interest in diversifying our offerings in the enterprise market, as doing so would make us just like the rest… complicated, limited, and frankly, competing against ourselves.