NetApp AFF (All Flash FAS) Review

Good simplicity around data protection and data management and has good speed, performance, and reliability

What is our primary use case?

Our primary use for this solution is for production storage. We have got everything: VMware, SQL servers and file servers. It handles all of them.

How has it helped my organization?

NetApp AFF helped to improve our organization functions by improving our storage solution. We used to use tapes and that required a lot of effort and resources. Now the tape systems are all eliminated. We do onsite, offsite, SnapMirror, and SnapVault backups and it is a much better situation.

What is most valuable?

The most valuable features of the solution are speed, performance, and reliability.

What needs improvement?

The manufacturers are moving very fast with releases and additions of features. Versions 9.5 and 9.6 are already out and they are adding more and more features to every release. It has got way too many features as-is right now. The only improvement they need would be to make what they already have perfect.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability of the solution is very good. The reliability is just top-notch. We have not had any outage or unscheduled downtime. Sometimes a disk fails or the SSD fails, but it gets replaced without any users knowing about it because of service interruptions.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The scalability of the product is wonderful. It is just a simple matter of adding more shelves and provisioning more disk storage. 

How are customer service and technical support?

Tech support is a place where there is room to improve the product experience. Tech support is one thing that I am not 100% happy with and I do not strongly agree with many people who feel it is pretty good. NetApp has a wonderful product, but the support is subpar compared to the other vendors like EMC. So there is clearly room to improve.

The response time when they are busy is not very good. Even the priority-one calls are supposed to have like a two-hour response time or a 30-minute response time. I do not get any calls in that timeframe until I push them through different channels — through the back end.

Also, the primary support call center is in India. I don't get to the real technicians from the support team from North Carolina or places like that until much later. I understand they are trying to filter out calls that do not need upper-level support, but I know what I'm doing. I already know exactly what the problem is and then I still have to go through what should be unnecessary screening. It seems like a lengthy process. In the meantime, I might have only one strand of high availability running, which is not a good situation and I feel very uncomfortable that I could lose service.

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

We knew that we needed to invest in a new solution as it was mostly a cost-effective decision. When the purchase of our AFF system was announced — which was an AFF8040 — it was not any more expensive than SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) drives. So the cost was about the same and the solution was very effective. Sure enough, we made the right decision. It is performing very well, too, even though it is almost obsolete now.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup of the product was very straight forward to me. I'm certified on just about all the NetApp NCIE (NetApp Certified Implementation Engineer), all of those things like SAN, NAS, and Data Protection. So to me, it was very easy. I mean, they did a wonderful job helping set it up, but as more features are added it became more complex. Someone could easily forget to do one thing, like setting up a firewall, internal firewalls and stuff like that and leave some security holes. But it is fairly easy if you have some expertise and are a little careful.

What about the implementation team?

We did not need any help with the implementation. I do everything myself.

What was our ROI?

I do not study the return on investment or any of those types of things because our department is just constant and we are not a profit center. We know what "I" is, we just do not know what "R" is.

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

At the time when we purchased the NetApp AFF, it was bundled into the hardware price. That made the pricing okay. If we were to add more shelves now, the licensing cost increases exponentially. It is probably cheaper to buy brand new hardware in the new model. It will be faster and bundled in with software for a promotion where they throw in all the licenses. It works out well.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

Other vendors were not really on the shortlist at the time. NetApp is our standard for now. In the future, I don't know if it will remain that way and we may re-evaluate other solutions. FlexPod may be our future or HCI, but we are using NetApp big-time and it is a successful solution for us.

What other advice do I have?

The solution's simplicity around data protection and data management is very good. The SnapMirror and SnapVault data protection is a wonderful thing. Also using snapshots in lieu of tape or disk backups is handy.

The solution simplifies our IT operations by unifying data management in an approach to staying in NAS (Network-attached Storage) environments. For example, our SAN (Storage Area Network) provides the performance. We have Brocade switches with a fiber channel connection to AFF, which matches the performance of the AFF. We also have the file services. Lots of files are serviced from that as well. We have virtualized all of the hosts and the physical machines to virtual machines. That saved a lot of money and resource and effort.

The solution is helping us to leverage data in different ways. It is just more reliability and simplicity and the performance helps the business quite a bit. We used to experience a significant amount of downtime and outage. We do not experience that anymore, so business probably is more profitable.

I do not have any direct insight into profitability. We are like an expense center and not the profit center: we do not use the computer to make money. We use the computer to support making gasoline and energy.

Thin provisioning allowed us to add new applications and purchase additional storage. The thin provisioning is an essential part of what we do because the SQL DBAs are the worst. They ask for one terabyte for future growth when they need only 100 gigabytes in reality. Without the thin provisioning, I have to give them the one terabyte that they have asked for, which is a waste of resources. So it is a cost savings feature.

The solution has allowed us to move large amounts of data from one data center to another without interruption to the business. It is affecting IT operations in a tremendous way. The reliability is key for the IT services. Not having any outage, unscheduled outage, or latency and performance issues are the most important key features.

The solution has helped improve application response time. We used to have some issues with poor performance when we had the SAS disks. Sometimes we had situations when the VMware was competing for the storage. Now the AFF is just much faster and provides all the data needed for VMware and SQL servers.

The solution has also reduced our data center costs. The thin provisioning, SnapMirror, and all of those features have helped our processes. I'm not sure of any exact amounts but the cost savings are quite a bit.

On a scale from one to ten where ten is the best, I would rate the product as a nine. The product itself is a ten. The services are a seven. But I highly recommend the product.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?


Which version of this solution are you currently using?

Version 9.3
**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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