Monday, 6 October 2008

Could Netapp make a virtual NAS appliance?

As well as storage, one area of IT I find really interesting is virtualisation. Over the years I've used VM (e.g. the IBM mainframe platform), MVS (now morphed into z/OS) as well as products such as Iceberg. More recently I've been using VMware since it was first released and finally have managed to deploy a permanent VMware ESX installation in my home/office datacentre. That has given me the opportunity to install and test virtual SAN appliances, such as VSA from LeftHand Networks and Network Storage Server Virtual Appliance from FalconStor. I'll publish more on these in a week or so once I've done some homework, but for now I want to discuss Netapp.

As many of you will know, Netapp have offered a simulator for ONTAP to their customers for some time (BTW, Dave and the crew, although I'm not a customer, I would be grateful of an up-to-date copy). The simulator is great for script testing and learning new commands without totally wrecking your production operations. However I think it is about time Netapp took the plunge and offered ONTAP as a virtual appliance.

It shouldn't be hard to do for two reasons (a) the code is mostly Unix anyway and (b) most if not all the code exists in the simulator. It also seems to me to be an easy win; there are many organisations who wouldn't consider placing a Netapp filer into a branch office due to cost, but would deploy VMware for other services. A virtual filer could provide File & Print, iSCSI, SAN *and* most usefully, replicate that data back to core using standard Netapp protocols such as Snapmirror and Snapvault.

Perhaps Netapp haven't done it as they don't want to cut into their generous hardware margin on disk, but with a virtual offering to complement their physical ones, Netapp could retain their position as NAS vendor of choice.


Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,

Ontap has had Vfilers/Multistore for years now. Granted they are virtual filers residing on a NetApp controller but they are still there.

Personally I am not sure what sense a virtual filer without underlying RAID hardware would make, ref. data protection.

So I dont think there is a way to get away from disks.

Sorry if I misunderstood your point, that could be the case .-)


Chris M Evans said...


Thanks for the note. Yes, I'm aware of the benefits of MultiStore, having deployed it many times.

However what I was alluding to was the concept of full virtualisation. So today Netapp provide MultiStore to virtualise on a single piece of hardware and v-series to provide a "gateway filer" using OEM storage at the back end. What I'm suggesting is that Netapp's IP is in software, so why not produce a virtual appliance that takes both vfilers and v-series that one step further? The benefit to Netapp is that they reach a whole set of customers who wouldn't otherwise use their product but may do, if the price point were lower (i.e. just the software). In addition, companies with branch offices where they don't want to run physical filers in each location (but do want to run a VMware stack) could use a single hardware platform but get the benefits of Netapp features - like the ability replicate to core datacentres for backup etc.

Jim said...

It's quite an interesting idea, however it opens up a whole list of "things to overcome" such as ONTAP having to run on Windows or Linux - be qualified on a multitude of CPU types, motherboard types, HBA models / driver and firmware levels, just to list a few things.

Not to say - it's impossible - just a - would it make a difference in the market share that NetApp would capture? My opinion is no.

NetApp also already has a very low end system and price point called StoreVault, which you / your readers may or may not know about, that they can research also.

Just some opinions on your comment, hope they are well received.