NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP Review

Critical data is snapshotted more frequently making it easier to restore

What is our primary use case?

The primary use case is to move age old data to the cloud.

It is deployed on the cloud.

How has it helped my organization?

The tool saves us time and money. Now, it's easy to retrieve data back, where you can go back and look at the statistics to study them. Because my company is focused on healthcare, there's no time limit on the retention of information. It's infinite. So, instead of having all our data on tapes and things, which takes many hours to try to retrieve information back. This is a good solution.

What is most valuable?

The migration is seamless. Basically, we shouldn't be spending a whole lot budget-wise. We would like to have something reasonable. What's happening right now is when we try to develop a cloud solution, we don't see the fine print. Then, at the end of the day, we are getting a long bill that says, "Okay, this is that, that is what." So, we don't want those unanticipated costs.

We use the solution’s inline encryption using SnapMirror. We did get Geoaudits and things like that. In other words, everything put together is a security. It's not like just storage talking to the cloud, it's everything else too: network, PCs, clients, etc. It's a cumulative effort to secure. That's where we are trying to make sure there are no vulnerabilities. Any vulnerabilities are addressed right away and fixed.

The solution’s Snapshot copies and thin clones in terms of operational recovery are good. Snapshot copies are pretty much the write-in time data backups. Obviously, critical data is snapshotted more frequently, and even clients and end users find it easier to restore whatever they need if it's file-based, statical, etc. 

The solution’s Snapshot copies and thin clones have affected our application development speed positively. They have affected us in a very positive way. From Snapshots, copies, clones, and things, they were able to develop applications, doing pretty much in-house development. They were able to roll it out first in the test environment of the R&D department. The R&D department uses it a lot. It's easy for them because they can simulate production issues while they are still in production. So, they love it. We create and clone for them all the time.

The solution helped reduced our company's data footprint in the cloud. They're reducing it by two petabytes of data in the cloud. All of the tape data, they are now writing to the cloud. It's like we have almost reached the capacity that we bought even before we knew we were going to reach it. So it's good. It reduces labor, because with less tapes, you don't have to go around buying tapes and maintaining those tapes, then sending them offsite, etc. All that has been eliminated.

What needs improvement?

Right now, we're using StorageGRID. Obviously, it is a challenge. Anything that you're writing to the cloud or when you get things from the cloud, it is a challenge. When we implemented StorageGRID, like nodes and things like that, we implemented it on our bare-metal. So the issue is that they're trying to implement features, like erasure coding and things like that, and it is a huge challenge. It's still a challenge because we have a fine node bare-metal Docker implementation, so if you lose a node for some reason, then it's like it stops to read from it or write to it. This is because of limitations within the infrastructure and within ONTAP.

How it handles erasure coding. I feel it the improvement should be there. Basically, it should be seamless. You don't want to have an underlying hardware issue or something, then suddenly there's no reads or writes. Luckily, it's at a replication site, so our main production site is still working and writing to it. But, the replication site has stopped right now while we try to bring that node back. Since we implemented in bare-metal, not in appliance, we had to go back to the original vendor. They didn't send it in time, and we had a hardware memory issue. Then, we had a hard disk issue, which brought the node down physically. 

It needs better reporting. Right now, we had to put everything one to the other just to figure out what could be the issue. We get a random error saying, "This is an error," and we have to literally dig into it, look to people, lock files, look through our loads, and look through the Docker lock files, then verify, "Okay, this is the issue." We just want it to be better in alerting and error handling reports. Once you get an error, you don't want to sit trying to figure out what that error means in the first two hours. It should be fixable right away. Then, right away you are trying to work on it, trying to get it done. That's where we see the drawbacks. Overall, the product is good and serves a purpose, but as an administrator and architect, nothing is perfect.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

There's always room for improvement. Overall, it's still stable.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

60 percent of our tape data is sitting in the cloud now.

There's a limitation to scalability. Right now, when you want to expand the initial architecture, we have to add additional loads just so it can handle the data without hurting the performance. Then, we have to go back and request for more licensing. It adds to our licensing, thus adding to the cost. In regards to scalability, unless you have a five to six year plan ahead, we can't say, "Great, we have run out of space. Okay, let's try to increase space." It's not like increasing volume.

How are customer service and technical support?

Unless a much more experienced person comes, I think the print and tech guy is only reading what he sees on the website. He pulls up their code or whatever, because what we see when we open a case is already there is an automatic case that's opened. We see typical questionnaires, but nothing pertaining to the case. For example, you run out of space or high nodes, the technical support is sitting there asking us something else. Nothing to do with high nodes and the volume being down or offline. It's not relevant. It is a generalized thing. You have to sit down and explain to them, "This has nothing to do with the questions you're asking. It's out of context, so you might want to look again and get back with the proper input." That's a pain.

However, the minute we say, "It's very critical," we see a good, solid SME on the line who is helping us.

I'm not experienced as many of my colleagues. They're really frustrated. We did convey this concern to our account person and have seen a lot of change.

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

The company has always been a NetApp shop even before I entered the company. We continue to use it because of the good products. We do market research, obviously. We do see good products, and every year there is improvement. When we want to do hardware upgrades, it's still very good. The way we are trying to develop, it's very seamless for us and not a pain. 

We have never felt, "We are done with NetApp. Let's move onto something else." I love to introduce other vendors into the mix, just so it's not a monopoly. We still love NetApp as our primary.

How was the initial setup?

It is a little complex. It's completely different from the regular standard ONTAP, and how you manage and the learning code. Half the time you get confused and try to compare it with a standard cloud. You start to say, "Oh, this feature was here. How come it's not there? That was very good there. How come it's not here?"

We used NetApp Cloud Manager to get up and running with Cloud Volumes ONTAP. The configuration wizards and its ability to automate the process was good. We liked it. It's all in one place, so you don't have to go around trying to use multiple tools just to get things worked out. You see what you have on the other side plus what do you have on your end, and you're able to access it.

What about the implementation team?

Mostly, we did it ourselves. When we went to MetroCluster, we used their Professional Services. For the rest of ONTAP, we deployed it ourselves. It is pretty much self-explanatory and has good training.

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

Cloud is cloud. It's still expensive. Any good solution comes with a price tag. That's where we are looking to see how well we can manage our data in the cloud by trying to optimize the costs.

I do know our licensing cost to some extent, but not fully. E.g., I don't know overall how much we have gone over the budget or where did we put costs down just to maintain licensing on it. That part of it, I don't know. 

I know the licensing is a bit on the high-end. That's when we had to downsize our MetroCluster disks and just migrate to disks that were half used. We migrated into those just to reduce maintenance costs.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We use Caringo. It's object storage migration for age old data. It is a cheap solution for us, so that's why we use that. When we compared prices, Caringo was much cheaper.

Once we migrated everything to Caringo, there were challenges because it's another vendor, and then you're working with two different vendors. We started having issues, so now we use StorageGRID.

We chose NetApp because we already had the infrastructure. Adding additional resources and features into the mix is much easier because it's one vendor, and they understand the product. If we needed to add something and improve on the solution, it's much easier.

What other advice do I have?

I would recommend NetApp any day, at any time, because there's so much hard work in it. It's more open and transparent. Nobody is coming from NetApp, saying, "We're going to sell this gimmick." Then, you view all the good stuff but begin to realize, "This is not what they promised." For this reason, I would recommend NetApp.

They make sure the solution fits our needs. It's not, "Okay, we'll go to the customer site and tell what we feel like regarding their products." Even if it fits or not, it doesn't affect that they've gone through the door. A lot of people do that. NetApp makes an assessment, then they make sure, "Okay, it does fit in."

The product: I would give it an eight (out of 10). The company: It's a six (out of 10).

We have not yet implemented the solution to move data between hyperscalers and our on-premises environment. It's just from our NetApps to the cloud, not from the hybrid. The RVM team is planning on that. So, they can have the whole untouched thing put on the cloud rather than being hosted on our data stores.

**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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