I was at NetApp Insight 2018 in Las Vegas and had the opportunity to hear not only the general messaging during keynotes, but also get deep-dive on certain of the hot topics at NetApp. One of these was the NetApp Data Fabric, also known as NetApp Cloud Services.
Some of you might know that albeit being a failed science guy, I’m a fond space & cosmos nerd. In that context, I like the idea that NetApp Data Fabric is akin to string theory, but for storage; it builds a single, continuous, and inter-connected data space within organisations via a myriad (or, well, bunches) of participating devices (endpoints) such as NetApp storage arrays, NetApp HCI and so on, just like M-theory strings build the pattern of time and space. OK, enough pseudo-science from my part.
The goal of this data space is to better manage, monitor and orchestrate data flows, data tiering and data protection. Let’s look into this!
NetApp Data Fabric: a breakthrough in data management
Vendors like to change terminology and I haven’t been able to understand correctly whether it is NetApp Data Fabric or NetApp Cloud Services. Nevertheless, those services are SaaS based and delivered via a platform / GUI called NetApp Cloud Central.
The Data Fabric represents a major breakthrough (at least in my view) in how we manage data in organizations. I haven’t seen any other vendor doing something similar yet. Data Fabric takes control of the storage infrastructure and abstracts it at the data level, providing services that can be used in a granular fashion.
One of the most striking features of NetApp Data Fabric is the Cloud Tiering function. This feature can be enabled on any device participating in the data fabric. Once it is enabled, Data Fabric will monitor data usage on those assets. If data is no longer accessed after a certain period of time, Data Fabric will seamlessly move the data to a cheap cloud storage tier and will retain metadata to retrieve the moved data from cloud when necessary.
Flexibility is granted to customers, as they can choose from the 3 major cloud providers of today (Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform) as well as NetApp’s own cloud storage infrastructure. While we don’t have much details for the time being about this platform, NetApp made it clear that they cannot access (read) the data in any way: customers must provide a private key before storing any data on this cloud storage tier.
Future or Present?
Eiki Hrafnsson (Chief Architect Data Fabric at NetApp) made it clear that the Data Fabric is aimed at the present (or the future, depending on your organization’s perception of time and space) of applications. Integration with Kubernetes is a poignant example of what NetApp has done recently. Customers can either deploy NetApp-based Kubernetes clusters, or have Data Fabric manage their pre-existing clusters.
Last but not least is the workflow feature built into NetApp Data Fabric and delivered through Cloud Central. It helps create complex workflows based on one or more conditions triggered by all sorts of data-related events. The opened possibilities are incredible and give customers a single framework to take action, regardless of the underlying platform. It is not clear to me yet if this is restricted only to Kubernetes, or if this will extend to most (if not all) portions of the Data Fabric.
Show me the cost
According to NetApp, there’s no need to be a prior customer or to talk with a NetApp sales rep: signing up and providing a credit card number is sufficient to get started. During the presentation I’ve attended, NetApp hasn’t been very specific about how much Data Fabric services will cost. We however have some facts about the cost model.
NetApp Cloud Services billing model seems to follow that of the services provided by major cloud players supported (Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform). NetApp will apply a surcharge to cloud services that are eventually used by the customer. It is not clear to me yet if customers will pay the cloud provider for the service, plus NetApp for the surcharge, or if they will have a single point of contact for billing (i.e. NetApp bills to the customer the cloud provider fees + their own surcharge fee). This second model seems to be the most plausible though.
In the case of NKS (NetApp Kubernetes Service), the website mentions as of 30-Oct-18 that (customers simply need to) “just add 20% to the hourly cost of your (their) compute instance per month”. NKS is absolutely cool by the way, and I recommend anyone interested in K8S to have a look at what NetApp is doing in this space. In fact only a dedicated blog post on the matter would make it justice.
Finally, going back to pricing, it’s worth mentioning that NetApp Cloud Insights is integrated with NetApp Data Fabric, although only in a sort of freemium model (only the metrics relevant to consumed services are provided for free).
NetApp Data Fabric is quite an UFO in the storage world. Is it even storage? Is it already cloud? Or is it melting the boundaries of time and space(tm) between these worlds? No other storage company offers such a breadth of data services bridging the gap between on-prem and cloud, at least not with this advanced level of integration. A limitation I see is that some of the services may be restricted to NetApp customers (Cloud Sync / Cloud Replication).
But don’t stop here, anyone can go and sign-up for NetApp Cloud Services. You don’t need to own a NetApp array to get started. It certainly helps to unleash the full potential of the solution and maximize previous investments, especially if you are a NetApp shop. To NetApp’s defense, Data Fabric is much more than just a hybrid cloud management platform. It goes beyond storage arrays and most importantly it is multi-cloud capable.
Storage administrators have finally evolved into a different species where their traditional knowledge of storage is augmented by an understanding of cloud services, containers, and even (yes!) serverless. Not everybody made the full jump though, and some admins advance at different paces in their learning journey. They may not be fully comfortable to fully learn and master the intricacies of operating different cloud platforms, all with different terminologies and service offerings. There are thus very valid reasons for customers to adopt Data Fabric. Some still like the idea of having one throat to choke, others are interested by the abstraction provided, and others of course by the breadth of services offered.
Now let’s see if (or rather: when) NetApp will start supporting 3rd party storage devices. There is no technical reason why it wouldn’t: in a slide (presented very, very briefly at NetApp Insight 2018) NetApp Cloud Insights was showing support for a very broad scope of 3rd party arrays. If NetApp extends Data Fabric support to 3rd party storage arrays, it could well be bingo for them.
All of this to say that NetApp Data Fabric is a killer solution and it might well be the cornerstone proof of NetApp’s redemption. At least in my view.
Watch the video recorded at Tech Field Day Extra at NetApp Insight 2018 for a thorough overview and technical discussion around NetApp Data Fabric and Cloud Services.
This post is a part of my Tech Field Day related post series. I am invited to the event by Gestalt IT. Gestalt IT will cover expenses related to the events travel, accommodation and food during the event duration. I will not receive any compensation for participation in this event, and I am also not obliged to blog or produce any kind of content. Any tweets, blog articles or any other form of content I may produce are the exclusive product of my interest in technology and my will to share information with my peers. I will commit to share only my own point of view and analysis of the products and technologies I will be seeing/listening about during this event.