What is our primary use case?
We use ONTAP for systems management, running and managing storage appliances.
ONTAP, for us, is underpinning all the software that sits on top of our hardware. We manufacture the infrastructure side of NetApp appliances. We use the capabilities of ONTAP for our customers. It's a case of implementation of that software and using that software to manage the storage arrays we're putting into our clients' environments. We also use it for PoCs. We'll deploy the software and demonstrate it for customers.
How has it helped my organization?
When you look at traditional, simplified storage, you would have a lot of manual command-line toolsets, you would have a lot of simple features and capabilities. With ONTAP and features like SnapMirror - the ability to have these more advanced capabilities - NetApp is leading that space. There are a lot of stats out there about what NetApp is doing around storage features and it's making it easier for our customers to consume rich storage features more easily.
The customers we work with absolutely use this solution for their mission-critical apps. For example, we have a university customer where NetApp underpins all their corporate systems. For them, that's mission-critical because they have to pay and manage, from an AP perspective, all of their internal customers. Without that system in place, without it being robust and reliable, they have no business, effectively, as a university. For them, it is absolutely mission-critical.
We have customers who have had ONTAP deployed for each of machine-learning, AI, real-time analytics, and similar groundbreaking applications. Our university customer is a good example. From an SAP perspective, they have a lot of rich analytics being done on that platform. ONTAP provides the best value for them. How the system gets architected is key, ensuring they have the right solution in place to get the best performance. The fact that NetApp performance, in general, is better than a lot of the competitors anyway has helped the university immensely.
In terms of helping us reduce the overall cost of storage, efficiencies such as Flash Cache and Flash Pool allow us to make better use of slower, cheaper storage and have some faster storage sitting up front taking a lot of the caching and the reading. The way that has been optimized for the NetApp platform is better than the competitors. It has reduced our cost of storage because we're buying cheaper storage, for the bulk capacity, which is really effective.
Storage efficiencies in ONTAP have been fantastic. For things like Snapshot-ing, when you are rolling out multiple clones, having good storage efficiency is really key.
What is most valuable?
Valuable features are SnapVault, SnapMirror, all the capabilities around Snapshot-ing.
Also, the ability to then spin up copies of data in other data centers, on other storage appliances, is the most valuable for us and the one that we see the most interest in from our customers.
What needs improvement?
I would like to see more in the public cloud space around things like object storage. A bit more granularity around how that gets deployed would be nice, but other than that I think they've got it nailed.
The trend is heading in that direction, where more and more customers want to deploy applications that leverage object storage. It would be nice to have a more seamless integration, although it's not bad at the moment.
What do I think about the stability of the solution?
ONTAP is now in its ninth version. It's the most robust software on a storage platform on the market at the moment. I don't think anyone else has the same capability with the same level of flexibility.
What do I think about the scalability of the solution?
The fact that you can have large clusters, you can keep bolting on more and more nodes, more and more appliances, makes it a lot more flexible than a lot of other providers. Normally, with a traditional SAN, you put a big SAN in the corner, stick some stuff into it, and leave it alone. Compared to having to buy another SAN with a different workload, the fact that, with NetApp, you can cluster and spread workloads across, makes it more scalable.
How are customer service and technical support?
From what limited exposure I've had personally, our local support is fantastic. In terms of the process of raising tickets, I've not heard of customers having issues with the support mechanisms that NetApp has in place.
Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?
What typically drives the solution is the outcome for the customer. The customer will naturally follow down the path of needing a particular feature set to achieve some sort of outcome. We work through that list and figure out what that looks like. ONTAP seems to tick more of the boxes than any other product.
How was the initial setup?
For the average person, it might not be straightforward but, in my opinion, the setup is more straightforward when compared to other storage platforms. Active IQ and the tools you have access to are a lot better than the competitors'.
What about the implementation team?
Typically we work directly with NetApp on all our installations. Our experience with them has been fantastic. Really good guys, really good to work with, extremely knowledgeable.
What was our ROI?
We haven't measured ROI, but I guarantee there would be some. The cost per IOP is different for every customer environment so I can't give a figure for that.
Which other solutions did I evaluate?
IBM, since we're a partner. The reason I would go with NetApp is their products are a higher enterprise-grade than the IBM products, which is saying something. IBM is more of a mid-market play. The NetApp stuff is a more holistic, feature-rich set. It has more capabilities. The price points are roughly similar compared to competing products. NetApp is just a richer experience.
What other advice do I have?
Do your research. Undestand what NetApp can offer. Talk to local NetApp resources and you'll find out a lot. One of the challenges a lot of customers have is that they don't know what they don't know. The more you talk to people, the more you will understand. I would advise talking to the local resources first, see what they've got. They probably have a solution, as far as ONTAP is concerned, that would fit into your requirements, the outcomes you're looking for.
I sat in on a session about NVMe over Fabrics this morning here at NetApp Insight 2018. Reducing the latency, getting storage to the application as quickly as possible, is phenomenal. That becoming the new standard, instead of the old-school SCSI approach, is going to become the next big thing. The fact that they're reducing that controller piece in it, the latency drops so significantly - traditional Fiber Channel is missing out on an opportunity to improve performance.
In terms of using NVMe over Fabrics with existing Fiber Channel, the good thing is that if customers already have investment in Fiber Channel networks, they can still take advantage of new technology from a storage perspective, without having to worry about upgrading and forklifting in new, specific equipment for that particular purpose.
As a software set, from a storage perspective, I would rate NetApp at eight out of ten because the maturity of the product is so much greater than the competition. I don't think anybody else has the level of flexibility and feature sets that ONTAP has.