NetApp AFF (All Flash FAS) Review

Potential hardware issues have been removed from the equation.

How has it helped my organization?

It has improved my organization by being able to remove potential hardware issues from the equation; knowing that we're getting top throughput and performance from the system; and then being able to contain customer workloads within their subscribed tiers using QoS.

Learn about the benefits of NVMe, NVME-oF and SCM. Read New Frontiers in Solid-State Storage.

What is most valuable?

The most valuable feature is the low-latency, high-performance utilizations of the system; being able to deliver a high-tier storage performance for high-impacting customer applications.

What needs improvement?

There's nothing that I can think of that they haven't introduced with what they announced at a recent NetApp conference, with the built-in workflow automation, where you can basically deploy it in a matter of minutes for a dedicated workflow. They've built all that into the ONTAP 9. From my experience, that might be the only missing piece: If you have standard deployments to follow in those workflows, it's almost a push-button build, essentially.

Across the entire FAS platform, or maybe even across the entire product line, I would like to see some sort of bare-metal deployment configuration standard. It would be nice if we could use DSC, Puppet or something like that to do bare-metal deployments within an environment for standard configurations, such as auto-support and so on. You can accomplish that now via PowerShell and scripting, but if you could have a server that constantly monitored that and kept everything within a standard configuration for that node; kind of like the rest of the industry is doing with platform standardization.

You have a lot of flexibility to do that through scripting and other means, but there's nothing enforcing it. In other environments, for bare-metal hardware for compute, you can run Puppet or DSC (Desired State Config) through Microsoft. You can create configuration files for that physical hardware. If anyone goes in and makes a change, you could either alert or alert and automatically set it back to what it should be. Something to monitor, some way to do that at a bare-metal level, in the hardware-node configuration; that would be the only improvement I can think of.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Stability is the same as the whole FAS series line; very stable, huge up time, non-disruptive upgrades and capabilities. It falls in line with the rest of the family.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

It scales both horizontally and vertically with clustered Data ONTAP.

How are customer service and technical support?

I have not used support directly for the All Flash.

For other issues, NetApp support is not as good as it used to be. They've restructured their support organization a couple times over the last couple of years. It seems difficult to get a high-priority ticket through for an experienced engineer. It takes a while to get a hold of somebody who can actually help you with your problem.

Because we're a partner and we have certified engineers on our staff, when we call in, we don't need Tier 1 support. It's very hard to get escalation up to an escalation engineer who's going to be able to solve our problem. It didn't used to be that way. I've worked with NetApp for probably over nine years now.

Learn about the benefits of NVMe, NVME-oF and SCM. Read New Frontiers in Solid-State Storage.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We decided to invest in the All Flash FAS basically because of constant customer demand for a higher-tier, flash-based storage option. We didn't currently have anything with any other vendor available. It wasn't a storage offering that we had; not necessarily one that we thought we needed, because we use QoS and service levels within our environment, but customer demand mitigated purchasing an offering.

Previously, it was all hybrid NetApp FAS. We run NetApp throughout our entire environment, but we didn't have anything dedicated flash SSD. We would run flash pools in hybrid aggregate configurations, and then we would use QoS and service levels to guarantee SLOs. Customers, not really knowing what they want, hear the word "flash" and think they want flash storage for their application. Then, when they ask for it, and you don't have it as an offering, you're now an incomplete solution. Out of industry necessity, I would say, we've added it to our portfolio.

How was the initial setup?

Initial setup was pretty straightforward, the same as any other FAS solution, except for when you get into the disk slicing and other features for setting up your root aggregates. It’s pretty standard configuration, pretty easy. That has been our experience.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We looked at a couple of other options, just to see. It was between the All Flash FAS, which, because we're primarily a NetApp shop, was our first choice; we looked at Nimble and Tintri as potential other options; and then we also talked to NetApp about SolidFire as well.

We ended up going with the NetApp solution because there wasn't enough of a compelling reason to switch to a different architecture, to a different competitor, to take us outside of our current architecture, standards. There wasn't a good enough reason to not make that decision.

The main criteria for me when selecting a vendor to work with are full feature sets within a product, multiple avenues for manageability, and tie-ins to other possible orchestration applications; something that fits very well into the modern architecture and the direction that the industry's going, with automation, cloud and service on demand; and the ability to tie in to all of those, seamlessly into all of those requirements.

What other advice do I have?

Make sure that you understand the entire storage portfolio, that you understand your requirements. Don't get into the situation that a lot of people get into – that we typically got into ourselves – and purchase something because you need it as an offering. The All Flash FAS solution is a great solution and it fits right into your current infrastructure if you're running clustered ONTAP and you're familiar with All Flash FAS, but understand your workload and make sure you're getting what you need.

I don't know that I have that good of a reason for my rating. Based on what I saw at a recent NetApp conference, when it comes to solid-state requirements, the SolidFire solution is probably more in line with that type of workload because you can set the minimum requirements. SolidFire introduced the minimum requirements for a workload, which will guarantee that workload that SLA. Within the FAS solution, you can just guarantee the SLO. You can set ceilings on everyone, but you can't guarantee that someone's going to get that performance every time if they need it. I would say that's the only thing, and then SolidFire fills that need in the portfolio. I'd say that would be the only reason why the All Flash FAS doesn’t get a perfect rating.

We are looking into purchasing SolidFire as well.

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