What impressed me the most about these systems are their excellent reliability, ease of administering (both in GUI and command line), and their very good documentation that is easy to access and understand. It provides very good storage, High Availability, and data protection by employing the use of two separate storage controllers that can take over each other's role as soon as any of them goes down. The technology has been improved even more after the introduction of the cluster cDot ONTAP OS.
Improvements to My Organization
NetApp systems are a good choice if you want a versatile unified system that's also capable of delivering performance. Our company has been using NetApp filers both as file sharing solutions (CIFS over LAN) and also as block storage (LUNs) for VMware ESXi hosts.
Since we switched to the newer 2552 models, we now benefit from better data protection and improved storage capacity thanks to the clustered Data ONTAP OS.
Room for Improvement
The thing we'd like to see the most is the possibility of pairing LAN/SAN ports from different nodes. Currently, the systems only provide pairing (and thus redundancy) only at same-node level. Also, it wouldn't hurt having this sort of cross-functionality when it comes to choosing disks for aggregate structures. Right now, you can't integrate in the same storage aggregate disks from different shelves.
Use of Solution
I've had the chance to work a lot with NetApp FAS 2552 series and also have some experience with older models such as 2050, 2040, 3240 and 2240. I think it's a pretty reliable unified storage solution. The FAS 2552 model, especially, offers good performance and excellent reliability. My experience with similar storage systems is, currently, somewhat limited however.
My company has been using NetApp for a few years now, over four I think, and I have come into contact with this technology for over a year.
When it comes to deployment we had our share of issues. Some of these issues are to blame on the vendor's lack of experience with the new models and ONTAP versions, but sometimes the systems themselves were faulty.
The most recent issue we had involves a LAN card that couldn't be set on the correct bandwidth setting. In consequence, the vendor had to replace one of the node's motherboard.
There have been no issues with scaling it, other than during the actual deployment of new devices.
Customer Service and Technical Support
If you buy NetApp systems from third-party vendors, then you would be surprised that their technicians aren't exactly up to date with the latest ONTAP versions. NetApp releases new versions (with great improvements) so often that it's hard for some vendors to stay up to date with their technical knowledge base.
However, when it comes to technical support from NetApp directly, they tend to have a very competent team and the reaction time is pretty decent. Perhaps their biggest strong point in this chapter is their public knowledge base which helps you solve on your own most of issues you can encounter with configuring and administering.
All I can say is that if you take your time and study the NetApp documentation, you shouldn't have any issue, provided the initial setup was done properly by the vendor technician.
Initial setup is usually performed by NetApp or the third-party vendor from whom you purchased the devices. Our experience with third-party vendors isn't the best due to reasons stated above. All other configuration and administration is done in-house.
Pricing, Setup Cost and Licensing
When it comes to software licensing, I think that NetApp promotes a very fair system. Basically you only pay for the features you need (eg.: Cluster Mode, SnapMirror, SnapVault, etc.).
The best advice I can offer is to try and purchase it directly from NetApp in order to have a better chance of having a successful initial configuration from the first try. Also, make sure you purchase the system with a General Availability OS version as Release Candidate ones tend to be bugged.