NetApp HCI Review

A strong and efficient product that can scale storage and compute independently

What is our primary use case?

We do not run NetApp HCI ourselves. This is a solution that we implement for our customers. The version that we provide is normally the latest, although a customer will sometimes request an earlier version.

Depending on how the solution is architectured to the customer, the deployment model can be on-premises, in a public cloud, or private-cloud based. Our team goes in and delivers against that architecture. When it is a public cloud deployment, Microsoft Azure is our preference.

For the customers that we talk to, their primary use case is normally to build their own version of the cloud with a quality of service where they can move workloads to the HCI solution while taking advantage of the Cloud and doing it in a more cost-effective way. The administration costs are lower and it is a simpler solution to run.

How has it helped my organization?

NetApp HCI's ability to scale on demand is a differentiator in the marketplace. The ability to scale storage and compute together or separately is one of the differentiators for the customers.

This solution can scale compute and storage independently, whereas in competing solutions if I need more compute, I have to bring more storage along with it. This means that I have idle storage. Conversely, if I need more storage then I have to bring more compute along with it. With NetApp, I get to look at each of those separately and then plan separately. It allows me to utilize my internal resources better because I'm not spending money on things that I don't need. It also allows me to tailor that solution and that platform more to my business needs versus working with a platform that does great things but I'm having to bring things in at a scale that I don't need.

The simplicity of the Element software, once it is deployed, is one of the things that draws people to it. The ease of management and the ability to provision toward the quality of service so that I can set parameters where I need them and walk away are big draws because it makes things easier for the customer.

I would say that using NetApp HCI has improved application performance, but not just where you would see it. I am not speaking about the IO of the applications, but rather in the teams that support applications within our organization. They're more effective and more efficient. They have a better solution and they're not having to spend time trying to keep it running. They set it up and then go on to work on other things, which makes their organization more productive.

In terms of storage performance, capacity utilization is probably the biggest impact. I've got what I need and I can get more of what I need, and then I can set it to perform as I need without having to necessarily manage it the same way. I would have a traditional storage management team or administrator. It's rolled up in the singular product. It's more of a one-button way of doing things. There's a lot of magic that goes on underneath, but the applications get what they need because I'm able to guarantee it through quality and service.

As far as maintenance costs go, I would think NetApp absolutely reduces them because you're able to migrate multiple things to a singular platform. You don't have as many footprints of support. Maintenance is a big cost from an operational standpoint for the customers and having a single platform where you can merge workflows and then have them all with a quality of service means there's no way that it can't save people money.

On the topic of TCO, I can't speak to it for any specific customer, but in today's environment with the cost structure and cost pressure on IT, if this solution didn't improve TCO then it wouldn't sell. You're looking at a product that's disruptive in the sense that it can change the way you deploy headcount within your organization. It changes the way you deploy applications within your organization. That's all measured by executives from a TCO standpoint. If it's having success and people are being drawn to it, and people who have platforms are growing them, then it is probably having a positive effect on the organization.

What is most valuable?

This is a strong product and it works very well, and the processes around it continue to grow and mature.

The user interface continues to improve.

What needs improvement?

I would like to see the implementation process improved. It's like the product is almost ahead of the ability for everybody to make sure that it's packaged right to go into a marketplace for a user.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

My impressions of the stability so far are really good. The customers that we install for, seem to really like it. They've taken to it very quickly, have become very dependent on it, and are scaling out their environment.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The scalability is very good. This is a very common-sense approach to a platform that didn't exist in the marketplace. NetApp has been able to make it work where you can scale storage and compute independently of each other, and right now they continually push the upper limit of the number of nodes, but the system seems to be sized against most workloads that we see, adequately. So, they're ahead of the curve, and as they continue to push that forward and more people come to the platform, it should continue to be very successful. 

How are customer service and technical support?

The technical support is very good. They have some great expertise that is geographically dispersed around the United States. For the rank and file, if you create a support ticket then it's a little clumpy because not everybody is up to speed. But, as you get to the resources who truly understand it, it's very good. As the platform gains broader acceptance, you expect that to migrate down through the organization a little bit.

How was the initial setup?

Conceptually, the initial setup is pretty straightforward. The practice of it is rather complex because it involves so many different teams from the customer. You've got different networking teams, security teams, and operations teams, and all of those have to be orchestrated on the front end before successful implementation. Assuming that those pieces are in place, it goes pretty well.

What about the implementation team?

We install NetApp HCI for our clients, and there are some changes that I would like to see. The biggest thing is that I think the paradigm could be changed. There's always a lot of focus on getting a date with a customer of when we can do an installation. There's a workbook that comes with it, which is essentially a listing of all the IPs, the addressing information, and the naming schemes for the systems. You have to have those before the net deployment engine, which basically launches the system, will launch successfully.

We have found ourselves getting onsite at the push of either a customer or a sales team, and then those things aren't in place. It makes the deployment very, very difficult and then kind of frustrating for the customer because now it's a scramble to get those pieces put together. If we did those things first and said, okay, make sure all these IPs are filled out and the networks are hot, which means all the ports are turned on, then let's talk about a date, I think it would be a much better customer experience. We found ourselves having to do a part of the installation and go back to finish it later, so it's just not as clean as it should be.

What other advice do I have?

Speaking as a partner who sells the product, our standpoint is that data is ubiquitous. It's everywhere now. Everybody from our kids to our grandparents is creating data and consuming data. NetApp is the one company that has an ability to, from the creation or the acquisition of data, make it usable and available to you wherever you are, regardless of the platform given of ONTAP capabilities. They had these endpoint platforms, which is HCI, which is E series, which is FAS, which is storage created, that allows very robust systems to manage certain types of data. Then, you can use ONTAP with the cloud to make it accessible within your organization. So, the barriers that separated data are going away and NetApp is, from our point of view, ahead of many other people in the marketplace making that happen.

NetApp has a very good message and I think that it can be enabled to push an organization forward.

I would rate this solution an eight out of ten.

**Disclosure: My company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Partner.
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