NetApp AFF (All Flash FAS) Review

It promises to deliver lower-latency throughput. We haven't put it through its paces yet.

What is most valuable?

It promises to deliver lower-latency throughput to our database servers. We're pretty confident that we can take advantage because we've built out a new, lower-latency network. To date, we've migrated one SQL server workload, a fairly large one, on to it. We haven't really put it through its paces yet, but we like what we see so far.

How has it helped my organization?

We expect more capacity so that we could move more of our workload on without having to make some of the tougher choices about what gets moved and what doesn't; what gets moved off of spinning disk.

We're actually delving in to it, moving our large Oracle workloads on there. However, we don't want to necessarily move all of those components on. There are some that clearly might not benefit from All-Flash FAS. Being that there's a premium cost, a premium right now, and we only have one array, we need to be judicious in what we cut over. The smaller database environments are a given. Also, we'll be moving some of our VMware, more performance-sensitive workloads, onto that.

What needs improvement?

I’m not even educated enough. That's why I went to a NetApp Insight conference: to learn some of the details of flash. We're not so concerned about the value proposition of deduplication, compression. I know there are a lot of benefits of capacity. That's not our primary concern. However, as time goes on, that's going to be more and more of an issue.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Stability-wise, it's fine.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Scalability has not come up yet. Obviously, we haven't been able to scale anywhere.

How is customer service and technical support?

We have not yet needed to use technical support.

Which solutions did we use previously?

We were previously using SAS and SATA. That said, with our Oracle environment, no one's been complaining. We've been getting quite satisfactory throughput. We just migrated from 7-mode, all on spinning disk, to Clustered ONTAP on newer hardware, smarter back-end aggregate design. We've really implemented more of the NetApp best practices. Actually, we're getting great performance out of our traditional arrays. For us, it's really a matter of education about how to deploy the All-Flash FAS units.

How was the initial setup?

Given the advanced disk partitioning and ONTAP 8.3, that was a small learning curve, but that's not unique to flash. Actually, it was pretty simple to set up. The fact that we have a heterogeneous disk type in the array made it simple. Our choice of aggregate type was very simple. Basically, we split the unit, an 8060. We split the capacity across both heads. It was pretty much a vanilla roll out.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

We were able to get good pricing; it was part of a larger acquisition. Other than that, if this were a standalone purchase, pricing would definitely be an issue. When we were pricing the AFF separately and comparing that to the other big company, a year ago, it really looked like the NetApp offering was very costly.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

The last purchasing cycle, two years ago, it came down to a bake-off between EMC and NetApp. We've been a NetApp customer for quite a while, so our skill set is heavily invested there. Also, we're about a 50% file-based shop as opposed to block, so NetApp is a pretty good fit. I like their file solutions more so than EMC, that it's all integrated. It's not a bolt-on appliance.

In general, when I choose a vendor, I look for stability, supportability, and that the product has actually been adequately tested; that it's not beta.

What other advice do I have?

Give more attention to your VDI solution. We have already implemented a VDI solution that's not using flash. That's a perfect workload candidate to put on flash. For my organization, it might have made more sense to put the back end on our NetApp All-Flash FAS, because we have the skill set to administer the storage, as opposed to bringing in another topology that might have some issues.

To be able to give it a higher rating, I would need to actually go and take that car out on some highways, where I could really open it up. I haven't given it a chance yet. That said, I would need to see it perform orders of magnitude better than the spinning disk, and that's what's advertised.

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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