NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP Review

All our data shares and volumes are on one platform making adjustment of share permissions easier than with Azure native

What is our primary use case?

It is managing services in our production environment that are in Azure. It provides file shares, both NFS and CIFS, that are used by other applications that are also in Azure.

NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP is part of the production environment of our company so the entire company, over 5,000 employees globally, is touching it somehow. It's a part of an application that has data that resides on it and they may consume that application.

How has it helped my organization?

Cloud Volumes ONTAP is great because of the storage efficiencies that it provides. When you look at the cost of running Azure native storage versus the cost of Cloud Volumes ONTAP, you end up saving money with Cloud Volumes ONTAP. That's a big win because cost is a huge factor when putting workloads in the cloud. We had a cost estimate survey done, a comparison between the two, and I believe that Cloud Volumes ONTAP saves us close to 30 percent compared to the Azure native costs.

Azure pricing is done in a type of a tier. Once you exceed a certain amount of storage, your cost goes down. So the more data you store, the more you're going to end up saving.

The storage efficiencies from the NetApp platform allow you to do inline deduplication and compaction of data. All of this adds up to using less of the disk in Azure, which adds up to savings.

We have two nodes of the NetApp in Azure, which means we have some fault tolerance. That is helpful because Azure just updates stuff when they want to and you're not always able to stop them or schedule it at a later time. Having two CVO nodes is helpful to keep the business up when Azure is doing their maintenance.

The solution provides unified storage no matter what kind of data you have. We were already using the NetApp platform on our on-premise environments, so it's something we're already familiar with in terms of how to manage permissions on different types of volumes, whether it's an NFS export or a CIFS share. We're able to utilize iSCSI data stores if we need to attach a volume directly to a VM. It allows us to continue to do what we're already familiar with in the NetApp environment. Now we can do them in Azure as well.

It enables us to manage our native cloud storage better than if we used the management options provided by the native cloud service. With CVO, all of your data shares and volumes are on the one NetApp platform. Whether you are adjusting share permissions on an NFS export or a CIFS share, you can do it all from within the NetApp management interface. That's much easier than the Azure native, where you may have to go to two or three different screens to do the same stuff.

What is most valuable?

The storage efficiencies are something that you don't get on native.

Also, because of the NetApp product, we're able to use the SnapMirror function and SnapMirror data from our on-prem environment into Azure. That is super-helpful. SnapMirror allows you to take data that exists on one NetApp, on a physical NetApp storage platform, and copy it over to another NetApp storage platform. It's a solid, proven technology, so we don't worry about whether data is getting lost or corrupted during the SnapMirror. We are also able to throttle back the speed of the SnapMirror to help our network team that is paying for a data circuit. We're still able to copy data into Azure, but we can manage the transfer cost because we can throttle back the SnapMirror. It's just very solid and reliable. It works.

And all of us IT nerds are already familiar with the NetApp platform so there was not a major learning curve to start using it in Azure.

NetApp also has something called Active IQ Unified Manager, and it gives us performance monitoring of the CVO from an external source. There are several people on my team that utilize the CVO and we each have a personal preference for how we look at data. The Active IQ Unified Manager is a product you can get from NetApp because, once you license your CVO, you are entitled to other tools. CVO does have resource performance monitoring built in, but we primarily utilize the Active IQ Unified Manager.

Beyond that, it provides all the great stuff that the NetApp platform can do, but it's just in the cloud.

What needs improvement?

I think this is more of a limitation of how it operates in Azure, but the solution is affected by this limitation. There's something about how the different availability zones, the different regions, operate in Azure. It's very difficult to set up complete fault tolerance using multiple CVO nodes and have one node in one region and one node in another region. This is not something that I have dug into myself. I am hearing about this from other IT nerds.

For how long have I used the solution?

We've been using NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP for two years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

We had issues with Azure when they did maintenance on the nodes. They just do their maintenance and it's up to us, the customer, to make sure that our applications are up and data is flowing. When Azure does their maintenance, they do maintenance on one node at a time. With the two nodes of the CVO, it can automatically fail over from one node to the node that is staying up. And when the first node comes back online, it will fail back to the first node. We have had issues with everything failing back 100 percent correctly.

We have had tickets open with NetApp to have them look into it and try and resolve it. They've made improvements in some ways, but it's still not 100 percent automated for everything to return back. That's an ongoing thing we have to keep an eye on.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

It is definitely scalable. You can add more disk to grow your capacity and you have the ability to add more nodes. There's a limit to how many nodes you can add, but you can definitely scale up.

How are customer service and technical support?

Tech support is good. A lot of it depends on the technician that you get, but if you're not happy with one technician, you can request that it be escalated or you can request that it just be handled by another technician. They're very eager to help and resolve issues.

How was the initial setup?

We had some issues with permissions and with getting the networking correct. But we had a lot of support from NetApp as well as from Azure. As a result, I would not say the setup was straightforward, but we got the help and the support we needed and you can't ask for more than that.

I've always found NetApp support to be accurate and good with their communications. Rolling out this product in Azure, and working with the IT nerds in our company and with Azure nerds, occasionally it does add another layer of who has to be communicated with and who has to do stuff. But my experience with NetApp is that they are responsive and very determined to get situations resolved.

It took us about a week to get everything ironed out and get both nodes functional.

We had done a PoC with a smaller instance of the CVO and the PoC was pretty straightforward. Once we rolled out the production CVO that has two nodes, that's when it was more complicated. We had a plan for getting it deployed and to decide at what point we would say, "Okay, now it's ready for prime time. Now it's ready to be put into production."

For admin of the solution we have less than 10 people, and they're all storage administrator analysts like me.

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

Our licensing is based on a yearly subscription. That is an additional cost, but because of the storage efficiencies that the NetApp gives, even with the additional cost of the NetApp license, you still end up saving money versus straight Azure native for storage. It's definitely worth it.

What other advice do I have?

Make sure that you can stay operational when Azure is doing their maintenance. Make sure you fully understand how the failover and the give-back process works, so that you can deal with your maintenance.

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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