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Sub-$20K Storage Systems Get $100K+ Features; Interview with NetApp VP Dave Mooney Part II

The objective of storage systems shipping today is to deliver more business value while minimizing IT management. As simple as that sounds, delivering on that promise is much more complicated than first meets the eye. Today I continue a conversation with NetApp VP Dave Mooney as we look at how features previously only found in $100,000+ storage systems are finding their way into sub-$20K E-series storage systems in order to make them worry-free from a management perspective.

Jerome: What are the top three features businesses should be looking to adopt when they acquire a new storage system?

Dave: Implementing flash is obviously very important as we are seeing that all over the place. People are constantly asking about it at all price points. Whether or not it is going to work everywhere or as well as people expect, that is a separate point people need to consider.
Another aspect is virtualization. Questions we frequently get asked are:

  • How seamlessly will our storage system work in a virtualized environment?
  • Is it going to readily connect?
  • Is it going to handle the workload?
  • Will it handle a massive number of virtual machines and the larger strains they introduce?

The storage system has to handle these virtualized workloads in such a way that organizations do not have to think about them.

The third aspect gets back to the issue of how easily can an organization manage, expand, and keep its data reliable should anything happen. This goes beyond just drive rebuilds.

What if an organization wants to double its storage capacity (say add 100 TB overnight) but the IT administrator is on vacation? Can that task still be completed and done easily? Further, how quickly can the system react and take advantage of that additional storage capacity?

Finally, if I were to add a fourth one, it is a unified storage interface. People are connecting more applications with different price points and performance requirements. Unified storage systems with their multiple network interfaces accommodate these specific application needs.

Jerome:  How are NetApp E-Series storage systems making it easier for organizations to take advantage of these new features?

Dave: That is something we have been focusing on. The storage market is not a single market nor is it as uniform as say maybe the Ethernet switch or even the server market. So we have been focusing in storage systems with price points that are under $20,000. There is a lot of volume there and we are looking to make storage system deployments as seamless as possible in customer environments.

For instance, in VMware engagements, we want a simple plug and play environment, where they can manage their data from the VMware vCenter Server interface. Organizations do not need to buy extra software to manage it because organizations do not want to think about that.

They want to manage their data with an application view. We make it very seamless and easy to implement with a one click installation so they do not have to learn a new management interface.

Then when they need to perform storage system related tasks – adding more hard drives, provisioning storage, managing which servers need access to storage – these tasks are done seamlessly with very few mouse clicks.

We also offer a high level of data protection that they previously could have only gotten with a $100 – 200,000 system. They can now have a product that’s impervious to disk drive rebuilds with data reliability that was previously only available on $100,000+ systems for $15,000.  We are adding a lot of value and making it very, very seamless in the process.

Jerome:  So people get all of the simplicity, ease of management and all of these other features in E-Series storage systems in the $15-20,000 range?

Dave:  That’s correct. Our latest version of software that was just introduced is impervious to data rebuilds. You can have multiple drives failing very, very quickly without any data loss or impact to performance. We call this worry free storage as it uses a kind of crush algorithm with patents on top of it that allow it to do wide striping.

Previously the only products you could get like that were $100 – $200,000 products. But we have implemented that technology in products available at a lower price point and we have done it in a very simple fashion in such a way that it works seamlessly with software packages such as VMware. This is something that other providers have not done before.

Jerome: How mature are these technologies and have you been anticipating these changes?

Dave: We have been building them in our firmware over the last year with our latest release including a number of good innovations. The crush algorithm we introduced just recently which is a firmware upgrade to the current hardware that we have been selling.

So people can take E-series storage systems they bought a year ago and upgrade the firmware in them to these technologies which takes away rebuild times as an issue. Now if they potentially have multiple drive failures, storage systems can handle these failures much more effectively without any interruption in performance.

We have already had 10,000 customers download and implement this firmware which is both amazing and gets to the heart of the value of these systems.  By applying this firmware, they receive a lot of extra value out of a system they might have bought 12 – 18 months ago.

Further, all of these new features are included in the firmware as no extra cost as we want to make our E-series storage systems easy to buy and maintain. That is part of the benefit of these systems.

Organizations at this price point do not want to think about storage. They are running small businesses. They are operating on tight budgets. They might not even have a storage administrator. Their administrator is often a generalist who is doing everything. So they can get the new software and upgrade it and drive their business. It gives them a lot more value; a Worry-free storage.

In Part I of this interview series, we examined how the clock is ticking on decades-old storage technologies.

In the third and final part of this interview series with Dave Mooney, we discuss what changes are occurring both from a cultural perspective and a technology perspective to facilitate faster adoption of these technologies in storage systems going forward.


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