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NetApp's OnTap GX finally shipping

NetApp ships clustered NAS with OnTap GX; beta user Industrial Light & Magic says it's a huge improvement over existing systems but needs better management suite.

Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) is finally shipping its new Data OnTap GX operating system, the fruits of its acquisition of Spinnaker Networks two and a half years ago.

OnTap GX is aimed squarely at the high-performance computing (HPC) market for users who require extremely high I/O and bandwidth ahead of more advanced data protection features. For that reason, the first version of OnTap GX does not support NetApp products like SnapLock, SnapClone, SnapMirror or SnapVault [there are others that it doesn't support, and too many of them to list].

"Here at ILM [Industrial Light & Magic] we don't use any of that Snap stuff, we just need to get data to the boxes at warp speed," said Michael Thompson, senior systems engineer at ILM.

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Data OnTap GX is a combination of the global namespace and clustered NAS functionality of SpinOS (the Spinnaker Networks operating system) with Write Anywhere File System, FlexVol, RAID-DP and Snapshot from NetApp's existing OnTap 7G operating system. NetApp claims OnTap GX, coupled with its new FAS6070, scales up to 24 nodes and 6 petabytes, and achieves performance of more than 1 million operations per second, based on the SPEC SFS benchmark. The global namespace enables multiple nodes to be presented to applications as a single system and data to be moved between storage nodes and/or tiers online while the data is still being accessed.

A feature unique to OnTap GX is the so-called FlexVol HPO, for high-performance option, which allows users to stripe individual files or datasets across all the nodes and spindles in the system, providing a huge increase in bandwidth performance.

Generally speaking, storage performance can be measured along two axes: I/O per second and bandwidth, explains Rich Clifton, NetApp vice president and general manager for the network storage business unit, "and for a successful storage product, you'd better be able to do both."

Thompson is looking forward to FlexVol HPO. ILM plans to use this for a video streaming application that requires "ridiculously high bandwidth," according to Thompson. "If we can play back video off our core storage, we won't need to use proprietary HD [high-definition] video servers any more."

ILM was an early adopter of Spinnaker's product and has persisted with the management of two systems (the Spin servers running the global namespace and clustered file system, and 200 terabytes of NetApp disk) while NetApp has been gradually integrating the products.

"GX rolls that administration into one console, which will simplify management for us," Thompson said. ILM is planning to cut over to OnTap GX in the next few weeks.

More to work on

OnTap GX is still missing some management software, which Thompson hopes will be in future releases. ILM has scaled its system from 100 volumes to 10,000 volumes in two years. It wrapped the whole setup in an Oracle database to keep track of everything. "I'd like to see that provided by NetApp out of the box," he said.

In addition, NetApp needs to do more work integrating the product with backup software as the global namespace feature "throws a wrench" into the backup process, according to Thompson. The namespace function moves data around between servers, which he says confuses NetBackup as it is used to managing data on single servers. "NetBackup sees the data as brand new data as it hasn't seen it on that server before and so backs it up again … it needs to become global namespace aware," he said. ILM's workaround to this problem is to continuously collect metadata on where all its data is and track this in a database, then have the database talk to the backup software.

But with this initial release, Clifton, for one, is unapologetic about OnTap GX's shortcomings. With other types of storage, HPC users have to tinker with things like data placement to get the performance they need. OnTap GX, with its performance and global namespace, frees them up "so they can focus on other stuff."

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