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NetApp automates VMware snapshots, storage provisioning

Updates to NetApp's software portfolio add new automated features and integration, but users and analysts say there's still room to tighten things up.

Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) is adding a SnapManager software module for virtual servers and automated storage provisioning as part of a series of upgrades to its software portfolio.

The new SnapManager for Virtual Infrastructure (SMVI) software module is similar to NetApp's SnapManager modules for applications, such as SAP and Oracle. The products create an interface for setting data protection schemes that is meant to run in the idiom of the application being protected and through an interface on the application server itself. SnapManager products also run on virtual, as well as physical servers.

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NetApp has supported snapshots of virtual servers, but these updates make the snapshots more complete and granular, according to NetApp vice president of solutions marketing Patrick Rogers. "SnapManager support means snapshots will operate inside the hypervisor environment, and snapshot and recover the entire VM, similar to the way SnapManager does backup and recovery on SQL and Exchange servers," Rogers said.

NetApp is also adding a Provisioning Manager. This application allows administrators to create storage policy groups with predetermined settings, such as RAID levels and snapshot schedule, and automates provisioning of new hosts according to their assigned policy groups. There are no predefined limits to the number of policy groups supported. "It's similar to provisioning VMware and other virtual machines," according to Rogers.

For now, Provisioning Manager won't automate virtual server provisioning, something at least one NetApp customer said he'd like to see soon. Tom Becchetti, storage engineer for a large medical manufacturing company , said the ability to delegate certain provisioning tasks after automating the initial setup of volumes will come in handy. But where it would really work best, he added, is for rapidly provisioning virtual hosts.

"I like the fact that I can set up the volumes but let admins go in later and carve out the LUNs," he said. "But it would be nice if Provisioning Manager had a workflow specifically for Vmware -- it could mean we can say to internal customers, 'don't even bother us, just use these checkboxes'."

In an email to, a NetApp spokesperson said the vendor plans to add specific workflow for provisioning VMware hosts and SMVI integration in future releases of Provisioning Manager.

Provisioning Manager will be integrated with Protection Manager, which NetApp brought out last year. Users will be able to view and change Protection Manager policies, such as snapshot frequency and replication type, through Provisioning Manager. NetApp is giving Protection Manager a minor facelift, adding real-time disaster recovery status monitoring, an automated failover process and a documented failback process.

Forrester Research senior analyst Stephanie Balaouras warns that there are pros and cons to automated provisioning, the biggest con being additional storage overhead. "You have to store additional metadata information about everything [to automate provisioning]," she said. "But you should make up for it over time as you reduce your overall capacity requirements … [using] thin provisioning, space efficient snapshots, deduplication and RAID 6."

Like Becchetti, Balaouras said the new integration between products is good, but there's more on the to-do list. "They continue to introduce new SnapManager offerings," she said. "Longer term, they will integrate the SnapManager offerings [together], as well as with Protection Manager."

Another NetApp upgrade is a dot release of the OnTap operating system. OnTap 7.3 adds NetApp's data deduplication option to all NetApp products. Previously, deduplication has been limited to use with NearStore licenses. NetApp's deduplication still does not work across volumes, and it will likely be a while before it finds its way into production for primary storage.

"It's something I might look into for test/dev," Becchetti said. "I'm still unsure of its performance characteristics, so I wouldn't take the risk of deploying it for primary storage right away."

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