NetApp AFF (All Flash FAS) Review

Good price to performance ratio, no latency, and simple to use


What is our primary use case?

We use NetApp AFF mostly as a NAS solution, but we do some SAN with it. Basically, we're just doing file services for the most part.

We're running an AFF A300 as well as a FAS8040 that is clustered together with the AFF A300.

We're not allowed to use cloud models.

How has it helped my organization?

We don't use NetApp AFF for machine learning or artificial intelligence applications.

With respect to latency, we basically don't have any. If it's there then nobody knows it and nobody can see it. I'm probably the only one that can recognize that it's there, and I barely catch it. This solution is all-flash, so the latency is almost nonexistent.

The DP protection level is great. You can have three disks failing and you would still get your data. I think it takes four to fail before you can't access data. The snapshot capability is there, which we use a lot, along with those other really wonderful tools that can be used. We depend very heavily on just the DP because it's so reliable. We have not had any data inaccessible because of any kind of drive failure, at all since we started. That was with our original FAS8040. This is a pretty robust and pretty reliable system, and we don't worry too much about the data that is on it. In fact, I don't worry about it at all because it just works.

Using this solution has helped us by making things go faster, but we have not really implemented some of the things that we want to do. For example, we're getting ready to use the VDI capability where we do virtualization of systems. We're still trying to get the infrastructure in place. We deal with different locations around the world and rather than shipping hard drives that are not installed into PCs, then re-installing them at the main site, we want to use VDI. With VDI, we turn on a dumb system that has no permanent storage. It goes in, they run the application and we can control it all from one location, there in our data center. So, that's what we're moving towards. The reason for the A300 is so that our latency is so low that we can do large-scale virtualization. We use VMware a tremendous amount.

NetApp helps us to unify data services across SAN and NAS environments, but I cannot give specifics because the details are confidential.

I have extensive experience with storage systems, and so far, NetApp AFF has not allowed me to leverage data in ways that I have not previously thought of.

Implementing NetApp has allowed us to add new applications without having to purchase additional storage. This is true, in particular, for one of our end customers who spent three years deciding on the necessity of purchasing an A300. Ultimately, the customer ran out of storage space and found that upgrading the existing FAS8040 would have cost three times more. Their current system has quadruple the space of the previous one.

With respect to moving large amounts of data, we are not allowed to move data outside of our data center. However, when we installed the new A300, the moving of data from our FAS8040 was seamless. We were able to move all of the data during the daytime and nobody knew that we were doing it. It ran in the background and nobody noticed.

We have not relocated resources that have been used for storage because I am the only full-time storage resource. I do have some people that are there to help back me up if I need some help or if I go on vacation, but I'm the only dedicated storage guy. Our systems architect, who handles the design for network, storage, and other systems, is also familiar with our storage. We also have a couple of recent hires who will be trained, but they will only be used if I need help or am not available.

Talking about the application response time, I know that it has increased since we started using this solution, but I don't think that the users have actually noticed it. They know that it is a little bit snappier, but I don't think they understand how much faster it really is. I noticed because I can look at the system manager or the unify manager to see the performance numbers. I can see where the number was higher before in places where there was a lot of disk IO. We had a mix of SATA, SAS, and flash, but now we have one hundred percent flash, so the performance graph is barely moving along the bottom. The users have not really noticed yet because they're not really putting a load on it. At least not yet. Give them a chance though. Once they figure it out, they'll use it. I would say that in another year, they'll figure it out.

NetApp AFF has reduced our data center costs, considering the increase in the amount of data space. Had we moved to the same capacity with our older FAS8040 then it would have cost us four and a half million dollars, and we would not have even had new controller heads. With the new A300, it cost under two million, so it was very cost-effective. That, in itself, saved us money. Plus, the fact that it is all solid-state with no spinning disks means that the amount of electricity is going to be less. There may also be savings in terms of cooling in the data center.

As far as worrying about the amount of space, that was the whole reason for buying the A300. Our FAS8040 was a very good unit that did not have a single failure in three years, but when it ran out of space it was time to upgrade.

What is most valuable?

The most valuable feature of this solution is its simplicity. It is easy to use.

What needs improvement?

I want an interface through ONTAP that look more like what it does for the E-Series with SANtricity. One of the things that I liked about the SANtricity GUI is that it is standalone Java. It doesn't have to have a web browser. Secondly, when you look at it, there are a lot more details. It shows the actual shelves and controllers, and if a drive goes bad then it shows you the exact physical location. If it has failed, is reconstructing, or whatever, it shows you the status and it shows you where the hot spares are. In other words, be rearranging the GUI, you can make it look like it actually does in the rack. From a remote standpoint, I can call and instruct somebody to go to a particular storage rack and find the fourth shelf from the top, the fifth drive over from the left, and check for a red light. Once they see it, they can pull that drive out. You can't get simpler than that.

There are a lot of features with ONTAP, and the user interface is far more complicated than it needs to be. I would like to see it more visual.

For how long have I used the solution?

We have been using this solution for about three months

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability is incredible. If you looked up the word "stability" in the dictionary, it would show you a picture of the A300 or the FAS8040 in a NetApp array.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Scalability is not a problem. When we got the new flash system, we were able to combine it with the old hybrid that included iSCSI, SATA, SAS, and flash, into a four-way cluster. It was all running before the end of the day, and we moved about four hundred terabytes worth of data between them.

How are customer service and technical support?

I find the technical support for NetApp to be really good, although I'm a little biased because I used to be one of those guys back in the days under the E-series. If I have a question for them and they don't know the answer, they'll find the person who does. When I was a support engineer, that's the way I worked.

Both pre-sales and post-sales engineers are good. Our presales engineer has been a godsend, answering all of the techie questions that we had. If he didn't know something then he would ask somebody. Sometimes the questions are about fixing things, but at other times it is just planning before we tried something new.

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

We've had NetApp since day one. Within our organization, there are multiple other teams and almost all of them use NetApp on classified networks. We have a little bit of HP and I think there's a couple of EMCs floating around somewhere, but they're slowly going away. Most of them being replaced by NetApp.

Mainly, NetApp is very robust, very reliable, and they cost less. Nowadays with the government worried about costs, trying to keep taxes down, that's a big plus. It just so happens that it's a very good product. It's a win-win.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup was pretty straightforward.

What about the implementation team?

I handled the implementation myself, although I would contact technical support to fill in any gaps that I might have had.

When we installed the new A300, we used NetApp Professional Services because the person who was brought in was able to do it a lot faster than I could. That is all he does, so he is exceptionally proficient at it. It took him about two and a half days, whereas it would have probably taken me a little over a week to complete.

What was our ROI?

The only thing that I can say about ROI is that our costs are probably going to be less than if we had stuck with our original idea.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We didn't have any other vendors on the list, although we had one team that tried to push HP on to us and we said no. HP was really the only other possible alternative that we had. We had tossed around a couple of other vendors, but we never really gave them any serious thought. We already knew NetApp, so it made more sense because they could integrate better and that was the main thing we were looking at. The level of integration. Since we had a NetApp that we've had for many years, it just made sense to stick with what we had, but a newer and faster version.

What other advice do I have?

One of my favorite parts of this solution is that most of the day I sit there and do nothing, watching the lights go green on unify manager, knowing that they should stay green because it indicates that it is working. That's what I look for. It works, and most of the time I don't have to do a lot with it unless somebody wants some space carved out.

I've been in the storage business since 1992. I've been doing work with storage systems before there was such a thing as a storage area network (SAN) or network-attached storage (NAS). Those are buzzwords that came along about fifteen or sixteen years ago and I was well entrenched in storage long before then. My expectation is not very high other than the fact that it's fast and reliable. Other than that, as far as what we can do with it, it's capabilities, I have a pretty low bar because I know what storage can do and I know what it should do and the only time I'm disappointed is when it doesn't do it. I haven't experienced that with NetApp.

The only thing that I would change is the GUI, which is cosmetic. It will not make the product better, but it will make it a lot simpler for those of us who have to support the NetApp equipment, and we can do it in a more timely fashion.

My advice to anybody who is researching this solution is to buy it. Don't worry about it, just buy it. NetApp will help you install it, they'll help you with the right licensing, and they'll help you with all of the questions you have. They will even give you some suggestions on how you might want to configure it based on your needs, which is never accurate, but that's not the fault of the installer. It's usually because the customer doesn't know what they want, but you at least get a good start and they can make recommendations based on past experience. As far as price per performance, this solution is hard to beat. I'm a big supporter.

I would rate this solution a ten out of ten.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

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