NetApp AFF (All Flash FAS) Review

Inline deduplication and integration with SnapManager allow us to set the storage with the Exchange team and forget it

How has it helped my organization?

Our use case is really just our Exchange environment right now. In terms of block or file storage, we present it to VMware and then present it off as RDM's to the virtual servers. Our AFF is not currently part of a cluster together with other NetApp FAS systems.

Because of all the inline deduplication and the integration with SnapManager, it allows us to set the storage and forget it with the Exchange team. They do all the restores through the Snap Single Mailbox Restore.

And it's quick, it's fast, even though IO is not huge for the Exchange environment, it's still nice to have that speed for when they do have that need.

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

What is most valuable?

Its integration with SnapManager products, really, is the main reason that we've stuck with it. Without having that integration it wouldn't allow our Exchange team to operate without us.

What needs improvement?

For us, probably the best feature would be an ONTAP-as-a-whole feature, the fabric pulling directly to cloud with unaccessed blocks over time. For us that would be the feature to revolutionize where NetApp stands, and bridge their connection with the cloud. It's actually a feature that they're introducing now, it's just not mature.

Right now you're only aging snapshots up to the cloud, and only if the aggregate is at 50% or more. It would be cool if the feature was that the fabric pulled just aged/unaged blocks. Who cares if a block is still there or not after it hasn't been accessed in three years? Just age it up to the cloud, if suddenly I need it just pull it back.

That should be automatic without extra things. You could use FPolicy to do it one way or you could do it a different way. But if that was just in the array and part of the normal hybrid flash pull array with the fabric pull on the end, to get rid of that extra old data.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

It's really stable, in our experiences, this stuff has been pretty rock solid.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

We haven't had to deal with scaling yet.

How are customer service and technical support?

I use NetApp's tech support all the time. I actually think they've done a great thing - the introduction of chat support has been really great.

Increasing hours for that would probably be good because it's easier to be on a chat call and be troubleshooting with something. Sometimes a lot can be lost on a phone call.

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've been a NetApp customer for a while so we've used disk-based and hybrid storage from them.

We use Nimble for our primary VMware storage right now. We haven't switched that back to NetApp yet. We're going to see how the next few years go and then we'll figure out from there.

We were using Exchange, we were using NetApp storage before, and we knew the SnapManager products were a huge part of that. And when you couldn't get the same functionality out of trying different things with different vendors, you don't want to beat your head against the wall reinventing the wheel with what you're doing. It was a natural progression for us.

How was the initial setup?

It was pretty straightforward. Our need and setup for it wasn't crazy.

What other advice do I have?

Our impression of NetApp as a vendor of high performance SAN storage before and after we purchased AFF was good. For our primary VMware storage, before, we went with a different vendor for a little while. Then we pulled back to NetApp for this, because of the ease of functionality and ease of use relationship with ONTAP.

Based on our experiences with AFF we are more likely to consider NetApp for mission critical storage systems in the future because of its reliability. We've tried out other vendors, and we might end up going back to NetApp for those solutions, given our different experiences.

When selecting a vendor to work the most important criteria for me would have to be:

  • Support - To me, that's the most important. Being an engineer, you have to rely on the support people to know what they're doing.
  • Ease of use, what you're familiar with, obviously - NetApp has a big community out there so it's easy to look up other stuff, and to find other opinions, and work with the information that's available, in the information age that we are in. In some cases you might find other solutions compared to when you call support. Support is down to looking through the same thing you are.

As for advice I would give to a colleague in a different company who's looking at AFF and other similar solutions, it depends on how they support their Exchange environment. But if they were willing to pay for the SnapManager and the Single Mailbox Restore suite, it's really hard to beat what NetApp has done with it. If you set up everything properly, and restores are pretty much a non-storage event, you can mostly push that off on your Exchange team, and just worry about when they need large data increases.

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