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NetApp goes on the SME chase

With a fairly good footprint in the IT/ITeS segment, the storage vendor is looking to make deeper inroads in the mid market with the new version of its unified storage offering Data OnTap. By Mehak Chawla

With Cloud readiness and converged infrastructure being the key words for the mid sized organisations across verticals, NetApp has been trying to tap into Cloud ready unified storage. To this end, they have announced the release of their Data OnTap version 8.1. The company is talking business agility with its latest offering. “With this 8.1 Data OnTap release what we have introduced is agile data infrastructure. After meeting and talking to a lot of CIOs across verticals, we realised that one of the top things on their mind was business agility in their IT infrastructure,” remarked Syed Masroor, Head, Technology & Solutions Organisation, NetApp India.

There are three fresh and key ingredients that 8.1 is looking to provide to NetApp customers. Increase in the amount of intelligence that is already there in a NetApp system to give customers defined benefits on efficiency, de-duplication and compression, a lot of speed with technologies like FlexCache and SSDs and also easy data management with no data tiering. At the same time, it is bringing in something called immortality which is basically non disruptive operations.

Masroor elaborated on the immortality feature, “In a traditional scenario you will buy one system and when that runs out of capacity or can't meet your business requirements, you will buy another system. And sometimes you need to copy the data from one system to another. With the scale-out cluster technology in 8.1, when you bring in a new system, it becomes part of the first cluster. So, the whole infrastructure is no longer hardware centric.” NetApp is trying to market the whole Data OnTap as a mission critical OS, built into a unified storage box.

The other added benefit with 8.1 is that an organisation can bring in any hardware from NetApp and add it to the cluster. Even as the cluster becomes bigger and bigger it will have single view of the data and thus a single panel management. That implies that an organisation can bring in a new system without any disruption and also pull out an old one without any disruption.

One of the strengths of NetApp’s storage offering is that this controller operating system is the same across every NetApp Filer storage product they sell. This is hugely significant as it means that if an enterprise knows how to administer and configure the smallest FAS2000 Series Filers, which is the most common choice of SMEs,  they are pretty much up to speed to administer and configure filers up to NetApp's biggest and beefiest FAS6200 Series. As a result, an enterprise doesn't have to learn another management interface when they decide to upgrade.

NetApp has also produced a Data OnTap Simulator which in their words is a “A tool that gives you the experience of administering and using a NetApp storage system with all the features of Data OnTap at your disposal.”

The other new element that NetApp has introduced is called Infinite which basically scales the data storage volume. The unit of storage, called volume in storage parlance could be as big as 50 peta bytes with 8.1, the definition of Infinite as of now, according to NetApp.

“So an enterprise can just keep growing all the way to 50 PB without any disruption. What we are bringing to the table then is the assurance to the customers that they can simply forget about bringing systems down and doing data movement and worrying about efficiency” said Masroor.

Courting the mid-market

According to Masroor, the key thing about the mid market is that even though it is the mid market, the needs are enterprise. “Today the mid market is doing all the functions of the bigger enterprises like virtualisation, running ERPs, and running apps on Exchange. They are mid market only from the point of view of scale.” Keeping this in mind,  NetApp has designed 8.1 to go with any version of Netapp systems, be it the 3000 or the 6000 series. “We have found a lot of leverage in this segment and hope to gain some significant traction for 8.1 here.”

Cloud type architectures have had a significant impact on the data centre itself, and storage has not been left untouched. Efficiency and high speed are the two crucial factors in Cloud and organisations are increasingly looking at shared infrastructure to realise these benefits. Storage systems, with technologies like Cloud and virtualization, cannot be the the same old dumb boxes. They have to evolve into intelligent machines that not only let enterprises keep the data but also build walls between that data. “When you have virtualization on the servers, that means you need technologies like deduplication. Because once you are on Cloud, you will provision a lot more storage. The flip side is that the amount of storage needed with the advent of Cloud is exponential and that comes with problem of common data residing across storage. We have a deduplication system that duplicates on the primary storage. We were the first ones to incorporate a read only cache called as FlexCache in our systems which ensures optimal performance while de-duplicating the data,” said Masroor.   

Masroor was of the opinion that previous spending that the mid sized enterprises did on elaborate but unconnected storage boxes is what is keeping them from taking a full plunge in the converged infrastructure bandwagon. “Integration is the only way out. You can't expect customers to rip and replace immediately. We link the existing systems to NetApp Data OnTap in order to give them a single view storage system.”

With the role of software gaining prominence in the hardware centric storage domain, NetApp,which has been talking unified storage since the time others were talking pure SAN, is also on its way to make its products software rich. Flexpod, their data centre platform, has a huge emphasis on integration. “It (Flexpod) is extremely software rich and has a built in system for data protection, data deduplication, data recovery, performance enhancement, backup and disaster recovery etc. It is almost a data centre in a box offering. Customers are seeing huge software related benefits in this system because they are getting the storage, virtualization and Cloud best-practices in a single box,” observed Masroor.  

Like for all their products, NetApp is going with a 100% partner based approach for its Data OnTap 8.1. The company is also busy positioning itself as an end-to-end vendor on the back of Flexpod. “We cite our Flexpod when we discuss go to market. We have got a Fexpod for VMware, for Citrix, SAP, Microsoft, Sharepoint and a lot of other apps that we are adding. It is a best of breed server, storage, network together with the software that the customer wants. Its a great go to market and it is working well for us,” concluded Masroor.

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