What is our primary use case?
We are moving to using a lot of NFS (Network File System). I normally work with VMware on the private cloud and then I use NetApp on NFS protocol with 10G connectivity.
Mainly I use it in two ways. I use a lot of hybrid flash storage. Hybrid meaning that you have a little bit of SSD (Solid State Drive) and then at the back, you can use either SATA (Serial ATA [Advanced Technology Attachment]) or SAS (Serial Attached SCSI [Small Computer System Interface]) disk. So I use the hybrid with SAS and SSD, or I just use all SAS.
What is most valuable?
One of the things I like the most about NetApps is that it is very easy to connect to the cloud and it is cloud-ready. I also really love the fact that they have stuck to their storage operating system for as long as I've been working with them. I started with them using ONTAP 7 and I think we are now on ONTAP 9. The company has not been bought and sold so the product has been stable under management. They have had a vision and a strategy and they have stuck to it. That is very good for me because once I got certified on the product I didn't lose the certification. I just had to recertify once when they made the move from 7-mode to cluster ONTAP. It has just been smooth sailing for me from there.
Once you understand the NetApp protocol, you can configure it for a small box or you can configure it for the largest box imaginable. The protocol or the method has remained the same and is really backward compatible and that is one of the beauties of NetApps.
What needs improvement?
I think where NetApp may have missed the boat and created challenges for themselves is that the product is probably one of the most complicated boxes to configure now. Other vendors, by comparison, have really made the effort to simplify configuration. NetApp has not because they want to keep it as a truly unified storage solution. It keeps building out and getting bigger and more complex because of the fact that it is unified. There are many facets of the product that you actually won't even use because so many options are available. Some features still require that you use the command line for configuration and management. You really need to know what you are doing to configure it properly. Things can go awfully wrong if you jump in there without knowing what you are doing. You really need to be certified or you need to take on a consultant to manage the system for you to have a successful deployment.
There is a level of complexity in configuring this product that people seem to have forgotten in this modern cloud age. Everybody wants everything to be easy, like using Gmail. That is not what NetApp is like and not how it has evolved over time. It could certainly stand to become a little bit more user-friendly and easier to deploy. As it is now, I don't know if most people would like trying to configure it. Because I'm a reseller with a lot of experience, it is good for me. As a user, I know it very well and can customize it to my needs. As someone reselling and consulting for a complex product, other people have to depend on me for my services and this works in my favor as well. There are situations in which customers have tried to deploy the solution themselves without training or a consultant and those customers have a disaster because they just are not ready for the level of complexity.
NetApp has tried to make the product more user-friendly already by enhancing the GUI, but what ends up happening is that many times there is a disconnect between what you can do in the GUI and what is actually possible using the command line. Eventually, you have to fall back to the command line to make the best use of a feature. They have tried to make shortcuts such as trying to create wizards to simplify the setup and configuration, but these never quite seem work for one reason or another.
What I'm trying to say is: you can't have your cake and eat it too. If you have a solution that is sophisticated and able to grow with you into the future while retaining backward compatibility, there is going to be complexity. So if you take up NetApp as a solution, you need to be ready for that complexity and be able to embrace it to really make use of the product.
As someone who could rightly be considered an expert in the solution, even I can't keep up with the number of features that they have right now. They have so much stuff in there that it is like they have got too many features. Certainly, they do not have too few. Someone coming to the product for the first time could get lost in the options.
As far as what I would like added, this is almost impossible to answer. This is already such a feature-rich storage solution already. It is full features — more than anyone knows. So the challenge for the end-user is how to keep up with what is already there and know how to use something if it is valuable to them. For me, I'm happy with the features that it has and I know what works for me.
Maybe along the lines of features, what they need is a little bit more research into what users need and a little bit more marketing to make sure that those features will be well-understood and well-used. I think that is one of their biggest challenges. They do not really need to add more features. They need to get end-users to use the features that are already there and to only add things that provide high utility. It would be a good goal to present any new feature in an easy-to-use way.
So they need to work on making users understand what features are meant to do and how to use them. Once users understand the purpose of a feature, they can provide training programs that make sure users are able to successfully implement the feature. Many times they will come out with some new feature and sometimes it may not be well prepared. The wizards sometimes don't quite work. Sometimes a feature disappears because they just take it out. When you come to understand that NetApp is a company of engineers and computer scientists, the soft side of the marketing and the training is not really their focus. The capability and capacity are the focus and things can get complex in trying to use any of the wonderful features that they have.
Just as an example, I had one instance with a client where they were using a wizard for setting up something called ONTAP Select. It turned out that the NetApp team hadn't tested the networking vigorously. When the client ran the wizard the test used temporary IPs. When the client ran a test before deployment, there was an IP conflict and the test failed. The client thought had tested correctly and they thought that they had found a problem. Because the test failed, obviously they thought they should not go ahead and deploy. But the reality of the situation was that if you just go ahead and deploy the feature to production, it works. It took me two weeks to convince this client what the issue was and to go ahead with the deployment.
But this is an example of where NetApp was trying to help with a wizard. They hadn't quite thought it all the way through and completed the development. I don't want to criticize NetApp because I'm a huge NetApp fan. The way of the world now is that the end-users are doing the testing, not the manufacturer. Because manufacturers are trying to be very aggressive and bring out a feature-rich product and beat their competition, they create some challenges for the end-users. They try to do too much in too little time in order to go out to market first. They skimp on testing and this is when mistakes happen, things do not get fully developed, and problems occur.
For how long have I used the solution?
I've been using NetApp Private Storage since 2011, so I've been using it for almost nine years.
What do I think about the stability of the solution?
This product is stable. But one thing you have to monitor is congestion in the storage. You have to be a bit careful when it gets to be close to capacity. When it is at capacity — which happens a lot to us, unfortunately — the results can be catastrophic. It actually would not be so bad — and might actually be better — if the system would just shut down. But sometimes when it gets full, you can get into a bad situation with data loss or corruption if you are not careful.
What do I think about the scalability of the solution?
The scalability of the product is brilliant. You can scale it vertically and you can scale it horizontally. In terms of storage software, NetApp scalability is the best out there by far.
How are customer service and technical support?
The technical support is wonderful when you get through to the right people. In our part of the world, the company is regretfully not physically present. Everything for support in our case is online or it goes through email and Webex. By comparison, some other product vendors actually have a physical presence here, which is nicer for the end-users. NetApp does not have a presence in this country.
Even though the actual technical support you receive is very good, I have noticed a decrease in the quality of the support services. Technical support which used to be brilliant before is less so now. But of course — and I think this is really something happening with every vendor — they just do not perform quite as they used to in the past because they are trying to cut costs. Every vendor is really trying to scale back on exposure with technical support to stay competitive in other ways.
It is a little discouraging that you really need to fight a bit to get technical support going on an issue. You really need to convince the first level of support that you have an actual issue that requires the assistance of an engineer. The guy you talk to at first will not be a technician who is going to help you. He is screening the issues before pushing it on to the next level of support.
Many times I find myself working with older products at client sites. Working in my part of the world, people don't have money to invest much in upgrades. As a result, all some of them have is an ancient box and an ancient version of NetApp.
There is support that they can get that will cost them. If they pay for the support — and most of these companies cannot afford to pay for it — that support is sometimes still difficult to get because of the newer screening practices.
What I do like about support is that the process is simple and clear. You send in an email to request help with an issue and then you go through the rigamarole where the first level of support where they try to prove that it is not a real issue. The first level is completely useless for the consumer. When you get through that to the second level of support, then the process moves fast and you get a resolution.
I'd say I'd give NetApp tech support a B-plus in my more recent experience with them.
Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?
There are a number of products that I am familiar with that are in the same family of products as NetApp. I've used DMT (Database Management Tool). I've used Dell EMC Unity and I have experience with several EMC products. I'm using more than one solution concurrently because I'm a reseller, so I have to have knowledge of a range of products to meet clients' needs.
I have customers who use Unity. I have customers with EMC storage. It is the VNX* series that includes VNXe. I've also had some customers using the basic HP solutions in the P2000 series. I've also had the opportunity to work with HPE 3PAR. So I've used all of those to some extent and they are the basic line I use to supply to my customers. I have not switched from any of them and continue to work with them based on client needs and what exists already on client sites.
How was the initial setup?
This product is probably one of the most complex to set up on the market. There are so many options and possibilities and ways to go about deployment that the variations are essentially infinite.
What other advice do I have?
My advice for those who are considering using NetApps Private Storage is to get yourself trained on the solution. It is worth it because the architecture does not change very often and certification and skills will be valid for a long time. I would say they should get a reseller — of course, they have to pay that person to do the implementation — and then after about six months, take training to enhance their knowledge of the product. When you complete the training you will be good for a long time after that.
The NetApp company is stable. They are not going to sell out or be bought. They have created the product in such a way that somehow it is available for less now than the original cost and it is ten years later. That alone is amazing.
The biggest lesson I have learned from using NetApp Private Storage is that the most important thing is to properly evaluate the requirements for the setup. For example, you want to make sure you have 70% free space if you want to use data searches. Do not push the recommended maximums, especially when it comes to capacity. Another thing I would say is you should make sure you get the maximum performance from your storage space and drives. NetApp has a good storage operating system. The performance is fast. Taking advantage of compression, software acceleration, and flash are just some of the tricks for making the solution go faster and perform better. But you should be careful, again, not to go far above the performance maximums at any time. Of course, you have to size correctly or else you could find yourself in big trouble.
NetApp has really added a lot of features over the years to improve the product and performance. They can do things now like control ingress. They can control egress. These were things that you never imagined or you never thought were going to be possible before but they can do it now. I think what happens is that sometimes there are so many new features on NetApp that it becomes a challenge in terms of knowing how to use them correctly.
I think that is where the training comes in as an important factor. The user communities are also very important because they help you to stay on top of things. Participating there and watching trends in the discussion will help keep you informed. The storage operating system is the same as before, but other users' experience with a new add-in can help you understand how to use it and how you can configure it. There are so many new features that appear that sometimes you don't have any idea they are even there and discussion boards can help you understand what is trending and why.
On a scale from one to ten where one is the worst and ten is the best, I would rate this product as a nine out of ten.
Really, I sell only NetApp because I know it and its really good and very predictable.
Which deployment model are you using for this solution?