NetApp AFF (All Flash FAS) Review

We reduced our data center footprint by implementing this solution

What is our primary use case?

The primary use case for AFF is for use in our production environment. Within our production environment, we have a number of different data stores that AFF serves. We use a number of protocols from NFS to CIFS, as well from the file system protocols, and in the block level we use iSCSI.

We are a fully on-prem business as far as data positioning data sets. 

We don't have real-time applications that we run in-house, being a law firm. The most important thing is the availability of our environments and applications that we serve to our client base. We don't have real-time applications that we could be measured in real tangible form that would make a huge difference for us. Nevertheless, the way it goes: the faster, the better; the more powerful, the better; and the more resources you can get from it, the better.

How has it helped my organization?

We have had issues before on our infrastructure where 20 to 30 percent of the people would come to us pointing the finger at the storage technology or storage back-end. That is now virtually zero.

We have one program that has been running for about a year. It is called Nakhoda, and it is an AI application (written in-house) based on AI technology. As far as latency, it is not visible nor noticeable because these machines throw hundred of thousands to millions of files per second.

For DR, we use the SnapMirror technology that ONTAP provides us on based on these platforms. Then, for the local backups, we use snapshots mainly. We are currently implementing SnapCenter for Exchange and VWware to utilize the backup features that the solution provides us.

What is most valuable?

AFF gives us a number of really valuable features. It ranges from a full flash to all-flash product. So, the speed and resources that we get from AFFs is just unparalleled in storage environments. Also, we utilize all the OCR features that AFF gives and has built into its ONTAP environment, like dedupe, snapshotting, data compression, and the number of the other things. 

Using System Manager for green management or command line interface, we have a single point for managing the cluster. It is much easier to manage. It is very seamless. The product is robust and solid.

What needs improvement?

We have been seeing some challenges around the application layer implementation. We are having some teething problems now with the cooperation between the application layer and backups to things, like SnapCenter. This may be a question of product maturity. Overall, for the pure back-end, we are not seeing any issues whatsoever.

With our previous storage solution provider, we had the availability of synchronous mirroring. SnapMirror is asyncronous. I would just like to see if NetApp has any plans to implement synchronous mirroring for DR solutions into the tool in the future.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

We were early adopters of the cDOT environment five or six years ago. In the early stages of deployment (five or six years ago), we saw some challenges around cDOT. However in the last two to four years, the product has matured incredibly. Ever since the introduction of ONTAP 9.X, we haven't seen any issues in terms of availability and performance.

We are upgrading to ONTAP, which will give us a data encryption level at an aggregate layer of the ONTAP environment. We are looking forward to that.

We are using SnapMirror and not seeing any issues. Let us hope it stays like that.

How are customer service and technical support?

The technical support has always been really helpful. 

In recent times, the first line of support has moved and is now concentrated in Bulgaria. If they are new to working with your customers, we have seen some slight challenges in terms of speed when transferring higher priority cases to higher levels of NetApp's support structure. Hopefully, this will be resolved soon.

Once I reach the second or third line of support engineering, the support has always been good.

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

Before moving to NetApp, we were with their major competitor.

How was the initial setup?

In simple terms, you just rack the hardware, you load your codes, and it's ready for configuration. That is pretty straightforward.

What was our ROI?

We benefited from implementing all-flash by reducing our data center footprint. We took it from 30 racks to just over five. This is one of the biggest savings for us.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

NetApp is the largest storage vendor in the market, purely based on storage technologies. I hope it stays that way.

What other advice do I have?

We have been really happy with the product. It is a robust, strong, solid platform.

I would rate the product a nine and a half (out of a 10). The product is robust, solid, easy to manage, and provides a number of features with speed of operations. The resources are okay, but they are not unlimited. They are at a very high level.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

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