Entry into hyper-converged market highlights multiple major NetApp announcements

Other highlights include the new version of their ONTAP software, a new usage-based consumption option to purchase infrastructure, enhancing their OCI software, and expanding their free controller upgrade program to credits for a broader array of NetApp purchases.

Today, NetApp is making a flurry of major announcements. They include the new 9.2 version of their ONTAP software, a new usage-based consumption option to purchase NetApp infrastructure, the enhancement of their OnCommand Insight (OCI) hybrid IT infrastructure monitoring and analytics software, and a new credit program towards future purchases. The most high profile element, however, is likely the announcement of NetApp’s long-anticipated entry into the hyper-converged space with NetApp HCI.

NetApp HCI, which the company as touting as the industry’s first enterprise-scale hyper-converged solution, won’t take the market by surprise. It not only has been rumored for many months, but company executives have frankly discussed it at public forums.

“We are super excited about this new space for us,” said Brett Roscoe VP of product and solutions marketing at NetApp. “We feel that like we bring some capabilities around scale and enterprise capacity, with its being built on a Solidfire foundation with ONTAP and data fabric elements.”

NetApp’s claim to be the first enterprise-scale HCI offering on the market is unlikely to impress the existing players in the space, but the company said that the assertion is justified.

“We have been working on the strategy for the last couple years, almost since the time we acquired Solidfire,” said John Rollason, Director, Products & Solutions Marketing, Next-Generation Data Centre at NetApp. “We have seen some very large deals take place in the space, but they are still 4 to 8 node silos. We have made some architectural choices that are different, that allow us to overcome these limits. So we are able to scale beyond the limit of a VMware cluster, linearly and with no downtime, and with no storage efficiency limit.”

“The guaranteed performance levels we can provide, the scale we can reach, and the QoS that comes from the Solidfire DNA differentiate us,” Roscoe added. “They all allow us to run multiple workloads effectively, which has not been the case to date.”

Roscoe indicated that NetApp isn’t concerned that NetApp HCI may cannibalize some of its existing install base.

“Our goal with this is to attract new buyers who may not have looked at us before, who didn’t want an AFF, Solidfire or a FlexPod,” he said. “We see that market for simpler solutions like HCI growing. If NetApp was trying to hold on to our legacy products, this would be more of an issue, but we aren’t worrying about cannibalization.”

While hyper-converged products are simpler for customers, they have been complex under the hood, and many channel partners of existing vendors in the space have been unable to deploy them unassisted.

“The complexity of something that’s supposed to be very simple has been a problem for partners, and we know we aren’t going to solve all these issues from day one,” Rollason said. “However, we have been scoping and productizing and building this with an A Team of partners who have been heavily involved. This is absolutely intended to be a channel product, and we think they can get a solution up and running in about 30 minutes.”

NetApp HCI is planned to be generally available in Fall 2017.

The new 9.2 version of NetApp’s ONTAP data management software significantly increases performance for their AFF all-flash arrays.

“We have also expanded our inline dedupe capabilities to multiple volumes, to provide up to 30 per cent more storage efficiency,” Roscoe said. “We have improved out QoS services, providing new automation around new data and application placement, including the ability to recommend the best placement for data. Analytics around predictive modelling have been increased. We also now have a new mobile application for the auto-support function. Auto-support has been around for a while, but now instead of just a Web browser, we can also do it with a mobile application, so you can manage it with a smart phone.”

ONTAP 9.2 also makes available the FabricPool feature, which was demonstrated at last fall’s NetApp Insight event.

“It automatically tiers cold data to an S3 environment,” Roscoe said. While right now it just supports S3, he indicated the plan was to quickly add support for other clouds.

New features have also been added to ONTAP Select software-defined storage software, which enables ONTAP on commodity servers. The big one here is enabling it to move downmarket.

“We’ve added capabilities to scale down to 1-3 node high availability configurations, which will let us get this into more SOHO/ROBO environments.” Roscoe said.

Another software enhancement sees NetApp’s OnCommand Insight (OCI) software, which provides hybrid IT infrastructure monitoring and analytics across the Data Fabric, add new functions to ease hybrid cloud migration.

“Historically, this was a heterogeneous on-prem product with predictive analytics,” Roscoe said. “We have now added broad public cloud support, and also use cases to easily plan data migrations. OCI helps reduce complexity. Hybrid cloud adds complexity, so with this we want to streamline things and make them as efficient as possible.”

NetApp is also announcing a OnDemand consumption model for its on-premises infrastructure environments. The public cloud-like usage-based consumption model combines NetApp ownership of the infrastructure with management by the customer – or by the partner, since it lends itself to a data-management-as-a-service managed service.

“You pay only for what you use, using the fabric to connect to a cloud environment,” Roscoe said.

“OnDemand will reach into the lower parts of the market who may not have had the resources for an all- flash array, but it won’t just be the lower end of the market who will be interested in this,” Roscoe added. “Even some very large customers want more flexibility, and we have been working with some very large customers on this.”

NetApp is also introducing a new future credits program, NextCredit, which extends their free controller upgrade program.

“It moves beyond the controller upgrade by adding credits that can be introduced across the portfolio,” Roscoe said. Customers who purchase eligible AFF A Series models and associated support contracts, will receive a flexible, fixed dollar credit toward future purchase of NetApp products when they exercise the renewal terms. These can be used in multiple ways, from the original controller upgrades, to new nodes in a Data Fabric cluster, to licenses for ONTAP Cloud.

“It provides more flexibility in future-proofing customers as they buy their products,” Roscoe said.