NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP Review

Tiering saves us significant costs, and Unified Manager helps resolve issues before they have an impact

What is our primary use case?

NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP is where we host our NAS storage on which we keep our files, et cetera. We have three clusters of CVO, each serving close to 300 terabytes of data. We have our SQL backup workloads and the application data residing in it. We are using the tiering policy, which pushes the inactive data down to cold storage to help save on costs.

Cloud Volumes ONTAP is all cloud-based and we have our workloads on Azure.

How has it helped my organization?

At one point we were paying close to $80,000 a month for cloud resources, and now it's down to $25,000 to $30,000 after using the tiering.

Also, using Unified Manager we are able to resolve issues before they have an impact. For example, there were conditions where bulk operations were happening against a particular volume, and our business was also writing the data. We caught it using Unified Manager. The IOPS were low and there was a high latency, close to 1,500 milliseconds. We had a look at exactly what operations were happening and, before the user even reported it, we reached out to the team that was doing the bulk operations to stop whatever process they were running. That's just one example. We have had a lot of occasions where the tool has been really handy when it comes to proactive monitoring. 

And it's not only for proactive monitoring. The same tool is also used for a lot of root cause analysis.

What is most valuable?

The storage tiering is definitely the most valuable feature. With the pay-as-you-go plan, we can choose between standard and premium storage, but we use only premium for high performance. High IOPS and low latencies are the main features of the premium storage. With respect to tiering, the inactive data is pushed to a lower tier where the storage cost is cheap, but the access cost is high.

NetApp also has something called SnapMirror replications and that's how we replicate our data from production to the DR site, for our BCP. It has pretty solid solutioning for the replications so the SnapMirrors are pretty handy when it comes to BCPs.

In terms of cloud resource monitoring, we use Unified Manager and it's pretty cool. It has both Excel-based metrics as well as graphical representations, which give us a clear idea of which particular file systems have performance problems. We can go over the statistical information and it comes in very handy. At the same time, it has an alerting mechanism where any sort of conditions can be configured and alerts are then sent to your mailbox or your mobile SMS.

What needs improvement?

It definitely needs improvement with respect to clustering and with respect to more collaborative integrations with Azure. Right now, we have very limited functionalities with Azure, except for storage. If CVO could be integrated with Azure that would help. When there is any sort of maintenance happening in the cloud, it disrupts the service in Cloud Volumes ONTAP. 

If those could be rectified, that would be really good news because it would reduce the administrative overhead my team and I are facing.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have been using NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP for close to two years now.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

It is stable, at least with respect to Azure, which is what we use.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

NetApp is scalable. When we initially started with Cloud Volumes ONTAP, it had a hard limit of 378 terabytes as its maximum capacity per cluster. Beyond that you couldn't expand. So we had to spin up another cluster. When that was almost full we had to get a third cluster. But I believe that in the recent build of CVO they have introduced the ability to stack one license on top of another cluster, so you can have infinite data per cluster. So there were challenges, particularly with vertical scalability before, but that has now been fixed in the recent release.

In terms of increasing our usage in the future, we definitely will if required. It gives us the flexibility to perform automations and it has its own encryption tools. Right now, we are using it for one particular region in Europe, but we do have plans to get it out to other regions as well, but that's not going to happen immediately.

How are customer service and technical support?

We have used their technical support on a lot of occasions and they have been pretty helpful. I'm completely satisfied with the resolutions they have come up with. We have created more than a hundred tickets in the last two years. Those were all submitted initially, when we had an older version of CVO, but now we hardly create tickets with support because our team has the ability to administer it.

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

We had ONTAP before CVO. We also used Dell Isilon and SoftNAS before we migrated to CVO. We switched because we found that SoftNAS was not stable enough to handle the workloads. We often had problems with the applications.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup of Cloud Volumes ONTAP is pretty straightforward. We didn't have any sort of difficulties getting it spun up. It was also pretty quick. We had everything needed in Azure. It hardly took us three to four hours to have the entire environment set up and ready.

We did some architectural planning for setting this up and we got all the approvals and licenses well in advance, before we actually configured it.

When it comes to maintenance, it depends on what kind of coverage an organization wants. We are a team of four who administer NetApp clusters alongside the cloud resources. We have roughly 2,000 users.

What about the implementation team?

We worked only with NetApp. We had one architect and one contractor from Professional Services.

What was our ROI?

Now that we have started using tiering, we could still actually save more costs, but we haven't gone to that specific area. We know it is definitely going to affect the performance if we keep all the data in the cloud tier. That's why we haven't. But Cloud Volumes ONTAP has the flexibility to dump all the data to the cloud tier to save every penny possible.

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

We have an annual license renewal for all the clusters. The license comes with annual training and with some Professional Services time. We have used all of those. I'm not sure if that's standard or it's an agreement between our organization and NetApp, but that's what we get as a part of our licensing.

The money you can save with CVO depends on what type of configuration an organization needs. They can also push all the data down to the cold tier. The pricing model for the Azure Cool Blob offering is pretty low compared to the premium or the standard. The cost of cold storage would probably be 10 cents per GB.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

Very few of the cloud service solution providers have that tiering option. Tiering results in a lot of savings.

What other advice do I have?

NetApp, on the whole, is a whole different tool for me. Two years back, when I started, when I had my hands on it for the first time, I found it pretty interesting. I would note its simplicity. It's simple and, at the same, time very powerful and able to handle any sort of storage workloads.

NetApp is really cool. If your organization is looking for cost savings, NetApp is the way to go.

Overall, I would rate CVO a nine out of 10. We had a lot of problems with NetApp, but those were in the very early stages. And NetApp always promises to upgrade their products and they actually listen to the customer's problems. We have raised a couple of defects with NetApp, and they have always been supportive, getting these resolved as soon as possible. 

The NetApp organization, on the whole, is pretty good. They're coming up with go-to-market products like Azure NetApp Files, etc., which is actually the beta version of Azure Sites.

Which version of this solution are you currently using?

**Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor.
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Learn what your peers think about NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP. Get advice and tips from experienced pros sharing their opinions. Updated: April 2021.
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