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NetApp begins rollout of Data Ontap 8

NetApp's Data Ontap 8 lets Data Ontap 7G and scale-out Data Ontap GX to share a code base, but not all features have been integrated. NetApp also adds Data Motion migration application, Flash performance application module and new DS4243 SAS/SATA disk shelf.

NetApp Inc. launched the long-awaited rollout of its Data Ontap 8 operating system today, bringing support for scale-out NAS clusters in Data Ontap GX into the same code base as Data Ontap 7G, NetApp's most recent "conventional" operating system release.

The merger of the code base comes nearly six years after NetApp acquired Spinnaker Networks for its scale-out network-attached storage IP. Until now, the scale-out capabilities were limited to GX, while Ontap 7G contained data management and protection features such as snapshots and replication, and only supported two-way high-availability clusters.

Integration of the two operating systems will be incremental, according to Patrick Rogers, NetApp's vice president of solutions marketing. While the two pieces of software have been integrated into the same underlying code base to lay the foundation for feature integration, customers must still choose between running in "7G mode" and "GX" mode with the first release, available in September. Volume mirroring is one exception to this -- that feature will be made available in GX mode with the first release.

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After that, a series of dot releases "will deliver increasing integration," Rogers said. "We'd like to provide forward-looking investment protection for customers, and our 7G install base needs to move forward smoothly," he said, declining to give a timeframe for full convergence of 7G features with scale-out in Ontap 8.

NetApp execs had promised full integration in Ontap 8 last year when they talked of 7G and GX convergence, but integrating the products' code bases has proved quite a difficult task.

"This is very hard stuff to do, especially maintaining cache coherency in a scale-out environment. Adding advanced features like remote and point-in-time copies and consistency groups is hard to do—harder to do than a lot of companies realized," said Terri McClure, an analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group, citing Hewlett-Packard's recent purchase of Ibrix Inc. as an example.

"It's not a full integration, but it's a good step to get it on a common code base where the library under both modes is the same," said Russ Fellows, a senior analyst at Greenwood Village, Colo.-based Evaluator Group Inc. "People are getting really anxious, saying 'Where's the 100% integration?', but this is probably the right way to do it, focusing on a seamless transition for 7G customers."

One customer said he's not in a rush. "We haven't tested it at this point – it's a future [scenario] for us," said Rich Angalet, IT manager at Sprint Nextel Corp. in Overland Park, Kan. Angalet oversees storage for the company's 4S cloud application services offering, most of which uses NetApp gear. Eventually, though, he's looking for scale-out capabilities to reduce the number of separate storage devices under management in his environment as well as cut data migration time when adding new systems.

Other Ontap 8 additions: Data Motion and larger aggregates

With this release, NetApp is also combining its SnapMirror, MultiStore and Provisioning Manager software to create a new software service called Data Motion. Data Motion is similar to VMware's Storage VMotion, except that it allows the migration of data between separate physical devices according to which tenant "owns" a virtual file system. VMotion performs migrations according to logical unit number (LUN), volume or attachment to a particular host, virtual or physical. Data Motion only works across NetApp arrays.

"This is technically something they could do before, but the integration they've done makes it a lot easier," the Evaluator Group's Fellows said. "It's a good first step toward a standard interface for the virtual machine environment to kick off those migrations."

Sprint Nextel's Angalet said he's especially looking forward to support for larger, 64-bit aggregates in Ontap 8. "Larger, contiguous storage pools will allow us to better implement thin provisioning and dedupe," he said. Previously, aggregates were limited to 16 TB; with this update they can now support 100 TB. "A smaller aggregate uses smaller volumes, and there's more wasted space," Angalet noted.

New hardware: PAM II and a SAS/SATA disk shelf

NetApp is also bringing out new hardware, including a Flash-based version of its Performance Acceleration Module (PAM). The first PAM used NVRAM to speed writes to NetApp filers. PAM II uses Flash to accelerate and boost the scale of read cache. PAM II cards are available in 256 GB and 512 GB sizes, with support for up to 4 TB capacity in one filer.

A new SAS/SATA expansion shelf, the DS4243, will also be available for NetApp FAS and V-Series filers. "Few vendors have gotten SAS expansion shelves to market," NetApp's Rogers said. The new shelf, which holds 24 drives in 4U for up to 48 TB capacity, includes point-to-point SAS connections to disks, out-of-band management support, and Storage Bridge Bay-compliant I/O modules.

Cloud strategy a continuing theme; object-based interface coming

NetApp is trying to put a cloud wrapper on the product launch, the culmination of a few weeks of cloud storage-focused messaging that began with strategic leaks of philosophy from NetApp's corporate bloggers and continued during the vendor's quarterly earnings call last week.

"Are they slapping a new label on what they already have?" the Evaluator Group's Fellows asked. "In a way, yes, but they're also providing potentially better products to people building IT as a service data centers, because the cloud or IT as a service aren't products in themselves. NetApp is trying to show its customers how to build their own infrastructure rather than using one particular platform."

ESG's McClure said the jury's still out on cloud computing, but policy-based data management and scale-out hardware are changing enterprise IT regardless of what happens with the cloud. "The good thing is that the cloud has focused attention on scale-out systems that make operations more efficient," she said.

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