NetApp AFF (All Flash FAS) Review

We had no downtime nor failures; it's rock solid

What is our primary use case?

The primary use case for AFF is as a SAN storage for our SQL database and VMware environment, which drives our treatment systems. We do not use our it currently for AI or machine learning.

We are running ONTAP 9.6.

How has it helped my organization?

Our AFF 8040 is currently helping us in terms of response time and speed because it is a flash system. Most importantly, it enables our SQL Cluster to respond to database queries and things a lot faster. It minimizes latency and stuff like that, which is important in radiation treatment.

The latency is important in that the data that we serve from the system drives LINAC, which is a big machine that shoots radiation into cancer patients. The latency affects how long the patients end up having to sit there tied down to these tabletops for the radiation treatment. It also helps speed up the setup of the machine, which takes about five minutes because the machine has to rotate around and do all these things. Sometimes, if the system doesn't respond in enough time, these interlocks happen and the machine stops. There are a lot of safety interlocks that cause the system to stop if things don't happen right, so we aren't mistreating patients and killing people. It's not a typical file server. We tell people usually it's a black box for radiation treatment. On airplanes you have the black box which records all data, this is exactly what our NetApps do for radiation treatment.

Our AFF does simplify our SAN and NAS environments. We currently don't use any cloud because we're a medical institution that hasn't approved cloud storage of any type because of HIPAA violations. When we came from our old NAS work solution, we could only do one or the other: It was NAS or SAN. The, AFF provides the ability to do both. It consolidates a lot of our storage into one or two chassis, which makes money savings in our data center. It saves a lot of rack space, which we don't have much of anymore. We have a new building and are almost out of space already.

What is most valuable?

The simplicity of the data management in our current system is really easy, especially with the setting up of redundant volumes and SnapMirror. We have it mirrored over to an 8200 non-flash system. We use that for our DR SVMs, so if our SQL Cluster goes down, the other volumes take over, and we have no downtime because it drives patient treatment. It gets complicated fast. 

The data protection that we currently use is SnapMirrors and SnapVaults. We have our SnapVault off on an offsite with a FAS2552 system.

What needs improvement?

We currently use some thin provisioning for our planning system, but we will probably move away from thin provisioning because our Solaris planning system actually has some issues with the thin provisioning and way Solaris handles it, since Solaris uses a ZFS file system. The ZFS file system doesn't like the thin provisioning changing things and it brings systems down, which is bad. 

One thing that could be improved is the web interface. I would like to see some of the features in the web interface, like where the Snapshots are located, brought up a bit more to the front. This way I don't have to do as many clicks If I'm using the GUI, which I do once in a while. We are usually going in and looking at Snapshots for doing restores, etc., and if it is more upfront or to the surface, it might save a few clicks. It's not so bad.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

We have had our AFF for three years now and not had any problems with it whatsoever. It's been rock solid. They haven't lost a drive or node. We haven't had a hardware failure. It has been fantastic.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The scalability of AFF in our NetApp systems in general has been ewonderful. I have another enclosure full of flash drives sitting in our dock right now ready to go in. I can schedule it, put it in the rack, and have it in the system and utilized in maybe half an hour. It works just great.

Our AFF has freed us up greatly in terms of allocating storage. Our old system didn't expand at all. With the new system, we can add another shelf in, merge data into the aggregate, and grow volumes (all live), which is great in a hospital.

How are customer service and technical support?

The tech support has been awesome. We have meetings with our local guys once a month, whether we need it or not, and they answer our questions. I have been able to hot call them on demand on the weekends when we were doing upgrades and side things on our NetApp, then had some issues. I was able to call, and they stop and help out, which has been fantastic. They are probably our best vendor. 

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

I chose NetApp because I was most impressed with the engineers that we talked to about the system and its overall metrics along with the things that we were given, like latency and redundancy. I was most impressed with the demos that they did that, which included: ease of setting up an AFF, ease of deploying storage to a SQL Cluster, and just overall simplicity of how easy it is to move data around to back up things.

What was our ROI?

Our AFF has improved our application time greatly. Our database response time has gone up a lot from our previous SaaS storage that we had. The systems were nine-years-old and were about do to go. When we went to the flash, we noticed a huge increase application response rate (50 percent or more). It was like night and day.

It was more of an expensive system at the time when we bought it because flash was relatively new. We probably save the most amount of money just in the time to set up with it. We had to set up in an afternoon, then we were serving out data later on that day. Just the fact that it's been rock solid. We haven't had to sit there and baby it, fixing things, tweaking and tuning it. It just works. The biggest savings is not having to sit there and keep it warm.

What other advice do I have?

I would give our AFF probably a 10 (out of 10). We had no problems with it. It's an easy upgrade. We can do everything on the fly in the middle of the day, which is important. With the hospital, it's been a great all around piece of hardware.

**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
More NetApp AFF (All Flash FAS) reviews from users
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