Rise of the NGA

In a previous blog, I talked about predictable performance and how it can have a huge impact on your any business. In this blog, I’ll go into detail on another aspect of predictability within the SolidFire array.

But before we start, I’d like to address how we refer to SolidFire as a product. I’m not happy using the term array. SolidFire is so much more than a storage array, in the same way that a Ferrari GT250 California is so much more than a car. As it’s designed for the next generation data centre, I think we should be referring it to as a “next generation array” or NGA.


So let’s start by taking a look at the predictability of this NGA in terms with how it deals with failures.

One of the many reasons SolidFire does so well in the service provider space is it can deal with a wide range of possible failure scenarios. It’s so good at this, in fact, that we even refer to it as a “self-healing” system. This means SolidFire can cope with disk and node failures, hardware upgrades and replacements, and software upgrades ALL without downtime. The loss of a disk/controller/shelf initiates a fully automatic self-healing process—which, by the way, does not affect gQOS at all (for an explanation on gQOS, see my previous post).

For those of you who may be new to the technology, SolidFire as a Tier 0 storage technology does not use RAID (redundant array of independent disks) protection. Instead it uses something that is referred to as the SolidFire Helix.

Usually deployed in a “double Helix,” this core part of the operating system provides cluster-wide RAID-less data protection while avoiding single points of failure. If a failure does occur, it “self-heals” the whole cluster and restores redundancy. What does that translate to in terms of exposure? Try less than 10 minutes for a drive failure and less than 1 hour for a node failure! Now that’s next generation.

Another distinguishing feature of SolidFire is their proactive philosophy when it comes to support. Available to every customer, Active Support is divided into three key services:

•    24/7 support with immediate access to a level 3 support engineer

•    Secure Assist: remote assistance over a secure connection

•    Active IQ: real-time telemetric data and trending analysis SaaS


Active IQ is the main attraction in the Active Support toolset. It allows you to visualise problems and challenge areas at varying levels of granularity, giving you the ability to better anticipate their outcome and undertake any proactive measures. Allowing you to model for “what if…” scenarios and accurately envisage how to maximise your investment, Active IQ receives telemetric data in 10 second intervals, and allows you to perform performance modelling and historic trending with ease. You can also enable real-time, customisable alerts for what YOU want to know about. Just think of the icons on the above graphic as blades on a Swiss army knife and you get to personalise the multi-tool.

Not only can the NGA guard against data corruption in the case of hardware failures and protect during planned downtime and upgrades, it can balance its workload around the cluster it can help plan the future and reduce the risk of exposure during an outage and automatically regain redundancy to provide data availability without impacting performance.

So when you look at it the SolidFire NGA is more predictable than Nostradamus watching a Roland Emmerich film whilst listening to a metronome waiting for the sun to rise. And it already knows the answer.

Getting to grips with SolidFire

We’ve had Nike MAGs, Pepsi Max and Hover boards now we look to the data centre of the future

I have been doing more and more with SolidFire over the last few months, and I’ve had somewhat of a revelation about it. Around this time last year, I thought there was too much overlap with the FAS wing of the portfolio for NetApp to be pursuing an acquisition. To the uninformed, this may look true on paper, but it is completely different in practice. The more I learn about SolidFire, the more I am impressed by the decisions NetApp has made and the direction they are heading.

Hopefully you are aware of all the great benefits of using a SolidFire cluster within your environment, but for those of you who aren’t, I’ll sum it up in one word—predictable. This predictability extends to all features of the architecture including capacity, performance, overall health and healing, and scalability.

An initial 4 node SolidFire deployment

Let’s have a look at performance first. Starting with four nodes, you have 200K IOPS available. By adding more nodes to this cluster, you can grow predictably at 50k per node*. And that’s not even the best part. The real showstopper is SolidFire’s ability to provide you with precisely the IOPS your workload requires by assigning a policy to each volume you create. If you undertake this task via the GUI, it’s a set of three boxes that sit in the bottom half of the creation wizard asking you what your minimum, maximum, and burst requirements for this volume are. These three little text boxes are unobtrusive and easy to overlook, but they have a huge impact on what happens within your environment. By setting the minimum field, you are effectively guaranteeing the quality of service that volume gets. Think about it, “guaranteed QOS,” (gQOS, if you like). That little g added to an acronym we have used for years is a small appendage with massive importance.

Volume Creation wizard

Most other vendors in the IT industry will say that the use of QOS is merely a Band-Aid — a reactive measure—until you can fix the issue that has caused a workload to be starved or bullied. This requires you to carry out some manual intervention, not to mention the repercussions of you letting things escalate to that point where they have already had a negative impact on the business.

We need to change from this reactive methodology. Let’s start by lifting the term “quality of service” out of its drab connotations, give it a coiffured beard, skinny jeans, and a double macchiato. Let’s add a “g” to this aging acronym and turn that hipster loose on the world. gQOS is the millennial in the workplace, delivering a twenty-first-century impact on the tasks and procedures that have been stuck in a rut for years. When you hear someone use QOS ask, “Don’t you mean gQOS?” Then walk away in disgust when they look at you blankly.

With SolidFire you are able to allocate performance independent of capacity in real-time without impacting other workloads. What does this mean you may ask? No more noisy neighbours influencing the rest of the system. gQOS addresses the issue of shared resources and allows you to provide fool-proof SLAs back to the business something sought by those Enterprise organisations looking to undergo a transformational change and Service Providers with hundreds of customers on a single shared platform.

gQOS in action

So let’s start positively promoting gQOS because if it’s not guaranteed can we really call it quality? If I was in the tagline-writing business, this area of the NetApp portfolio would read something like “SolidFire Predictability Guaranteed.”

*The SF19210 adds 100K per node.

Grays Sports Almanac image courtesy of Firebox.com

Hindsight from Insight

NetApp Insight Las Vegas 2016 Roundup

I was lucky enough to get to go to Las Vegas with the NetApp A-Team and attend the NetApp Insight Americas and APAC conference. I have attended Insight EMEA many times, but this was my first time attending it on US soil

I would be remiss if I did not mention that both the Vegas and Berlin events have the same number of high-quality breakout sessions. As expected, the majority of the sessions that were offered in Vegas are re-offered in Berlin. The organisation of the conference is the same, with things like Insight Central consisting of NetApp partners and vendor showcases. From that standpoint, it felt like I could very well have been at the EMEA conference. There is also a high number of NetApp technical employees on hand to debate different deployment methodologies which is a great reason in its self to attend.

However, Vegas did seem a lot more relaxed, and with over twice as many attendees there, it somehow felt quieter due to the size of the conference centre. There’s also a lot more going on in the evenings, (even just within the Mandalay Bay Hotel, never mind the rest of Vegas) with lots of opportunities for delegates to mingle and converse.

At this year’s conference, NetApp announced 16 new products! This is a huge amount for any company, and I think it just goes to show how NetApp are trying to stay at the leading edge of the storage industry. There were disk shelves and controllers announced, and if you would like to know more about the new controllers, see my previous post here. There was also an update to ONTAP Select as well as the arrival of ONTAP Cloud for Azure, all made possible by the release of ONTAP 9.1. There was a lot of messaging in both the general sessions and in the breakouts geared towards DevOps and this new way of deploying applications either on premises or in the cloud.

This year we also had the joy of SolidFire joining in, and with a raft of sessions available, this technology did prove popular. The two-hour deep dive by Andy Roberts was the third-most attended session of the conference, and the SolidFire Hands-On Lab was the third-most requested. They also announced the integration of SolidFire into FlexPod, which my A-Team colleague Melissa Wright (@vmiss33) coined the “DevOps workhorse.” It is a perfect tag line, and one I am going to start to use.

NetApp Insight also gives you the opportunity to take NetApp certification exams, so I thought I should try some. I passed two exams whilst there: the updated FlexPod design NS0-0170 and the new Hybrid Cloud NS0-0146, which give me the NCSA accreditation. These came with some lovely luggage tags courtesy of Liz Burns from NetApp University, to  add to the certificates which I already held. This is a great way to provide value back to your employer for attending if you need a stronger reason to attend. It’s best to book your exam before you get there as it can be very busy, and you may have to wait around for a while for a walk-in appointment.

A nice colourful collection

If you are new to SolidFire and want to understand how it’s managed, the two-hour deep dive mentioned earlier is a great place to start. It’s a great mix of slideware and demonstration on how to configure various key features of the Element OS. I would also recommend Val Bercovici’s (@valb00) “Why DevOps will move to the ‘lean’ cloud” break out. This session will help you understand the shift in application development and what you can do to try and keep pace and remain relevant.

NetApp now seem to be pivoting towards messaging that helps the developer and the DevOps team, providing products and tools that will integrate into their style of working as we have seen over the years with NetApp. Below is the link to the scenario covered in the General session on the third day. I think it provides good insight into how the pace of application development is changing, the tools that this new breed of developer is adopting and using, and also how NetApp is taking this methodology seriously (as evidenced by the fact that they have a site with a host of tools and scripts aimed purely at DevOps). Also embedded in the picture below is the link to the scenario acted out on stage during the general session.

I would also recommend looking into the sessions on VMware’s vVols functionality. They’re a great primer on this area of VMware’s evolving portfolio and they also show how NetApp can utilise this ever-improving technology. Andy Banta (@andybanta, who wrote an insightful blog on the topic and appeared on GreyBeards on Storage Ep. 36) and Josh (‘the intern’) Atwell (@Josh_Atwell) gave a joint session on how SolidFire differs from conventional storage arrays in their implementation and how best to utilise policy-based storage with SolidFire. Then there was Andreas Engel from NetApp and Pete Flecha (@vPedroArrow) from VMware who provided a deploy, implement, and troubleshoot session which was almost as popular as Pete’s session at VMworld. It illustrated some handy tips, tricks, and gotchas that a lot of the audience then took with them as they headed to the Hands-on Labs to get up to speed with vVols.  I would also keep an eye out for the Inform and Delight sessions, including a great one by Veeam on “Closing the Door on the Data Center Availability Gap.” And let’s not forget the “Dave and Dave show,” which is a must-see attraction.

Also in Vegas this year attending NetApp Insight for the first time was vBrown bag. Their online presence has been helping IT professionals become more proficient with virtualisation for the past six years and is a must point of call for anyone chasing a VCP or other certification, due to the wealth of knowledge on their site. They were there to expand their ever-increasing field of topics, and one of the presentations recorded was Sam Moulton (@SamMoulton), Champion of the NetApp A-Team(@NetAppATeam) with A-Team member Trey Davis (@ntap_seal), Senior Consultant from iVision in Atlanta providing some insight into the NetApp A-Team and what we do. This short discussion (embedded within picture) will hopefully help people understand the team better and where we fit within the ecosystem.

For more information on the A-Team’s presence in Las Vegas this year, check out the session called “Birds of a Feather: Walk the line with the A-Team” which is hopefully on the site for review. There will be a strong presence in Berlin, so come up and talk to us or send us a tweet.

One of the highlights during the opening of the third general session was the reel put together from the carpool Karaoke. I would urge you to have a look and a laugh.

This was a great conference, with a phenomenal amount of superb content, too much to take on board in the four days but I will enjoy reviewing over the next few weeks. I am thankful to my employer for letting me attend and I now feel invigorated and more confident to go out and have discussions and point out why customers should be looking at NetApp for their cloud, hybrid, and on-premises storage needs. If you are heading to Berlin, then I will hopefully see you there.