This content is part of the Conference Coverage: NetApp Insight 2019 Las Vegas: Conference highlights and updates

NetApp Keystone cements file vendor's hybrid cloud fabric

NetApp Keystone allows customers to choose a service level and type of storage. NetApp then uses its analytics to tailor storage to meet performance and capacity needs.

LAS VEGAS -- NetApp wants to write the next chapter of its flash-to-cloud story. The evolving plotline revolves around a plan to sell more of its storage by the drink and to earmark flash for a broader set of use cases.

The file system vendor kicked off NetApp Insight by introducing NetApp Keystone, which expands how customers can obtain NetApp cloud arrays. In addition to traditional upfront capital purchases, enterprises now can choose OpEx models to deploy NetApp storage systems and software as a local host or a NetApp-managed service.

NetApp isn't abandoning hardware. New all-flash models of NetApp AFF SAN and hybrid FAS arrays were unveiled, along with the first all-flash arrays for NetApp StorageGrid object storage. The new AFF and FAS arrays are the first to be offered under a more streamlined process designed to ease ordering and acquisition.

NetApp cloud customers react

NetApp wants to establish Keystone to help regain momentum after a recent slip in revenues. NetApp Keystone subscriptions allow data centers to run OnTap file storage locally with burstable compute into the public cloud via NetApp's Data Fabric cloud technologies.

"NetApp came out with the Data Fabric, and now it's extending that data connectivity across your data center or whatever cloud you want," said Steve McDowell, a senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategies, based in Austin, Texas. "It's not that no one else is doing this, though. NetApp did get a jump on the rest of the players in the market with Data Fabric, so Keystone is a logical extension of what they need to do next."

With Keystone, enterprises set a required service level for either block, file or object storage but don't choose the storage: NetApp uses its ActiveIQ analytics to pair the type of storage and services needed to meet capacity and performance requirements. Keystone gives users the option to administer the local storage or hand it off to NetApp.

NetApp is the latest storage vendor to launch pay-as-you-go consumption pricing. Hewlett Packard Enterprise recently said it plans to sell all compute, services and storage through its HPE GreenLake licensing program. In September, the Pure Storage storage-as-a-service offering was enhanced to enable customers to upgrade FlashArray and FlashBlade array controllers systems on a rolling three-year basis.

NetApp CTO Biren Fondekar said NetApp Keystone takes a different approach by tailoring storage to a customer's service-level agreements (SLAs). He said that gives users flexibility to mix and match payment methods and storage types.

"We aren't leasing you the storage hardware. It's the SLA you're buying, not a particular box," Fondekar said.

Even before NetApp Keystone's formal launch, customers at NetApp Insight expressed interest in expanded cloud options, providing the price is right. Although NetApp emphasized Keystone would be simple to use, it did not provide cost estimates.

Collin Mariner, vice president of data center operations at home-services marketplace HomeAdvisor, said NetApp has made strides in easing cloud migration with Data Fabric.

"It would be extremely attractive to purchase compute or storage with the click of a button. Not having to pay a premium would [hit] a sweet spot for us," Mariner said.

Syracuse University runs NetApp FAS primary storage with Fibre Channel (FC). Eric Sedore, associate CIO for infrastructure services at the university, said Syracuse is taking a deliberate approach to transition select applications to NetApp OnTap in the cloud.

"We're primarily consuming AFF FAS storage platforms and [plan] to move forward to OnTap, either in a colo or into the cloud, depending on the affordability. We're into the cloud a little bit. One metric we use is whether there is a fiscal benefit to the cloud. The other metric is if the cloud augments our services in ways we can't [provide] on-premises," Sedore said.

NetApp's expanding flash hardware

On the hardware front, NetApp introduced the midrange AFF A400 to help companies modernize mission-critical SAN deployments. The A400 combines traditional SAS SSDs and NVMe over FC to address traditional and performance-dense AI workloads. NetApp added self-encrypting disk to protect data at rest, using either the onboard key manager or Key Management Interoperability Servers.

Two NetApp FAS hybrid models were added to the product family, as NetApp starts to transition to newer form factors and emerging media. The FAS8700 is aimed at workload consolidation and tops out at 176 TB of raw capacity with a 4U controller. It is a midrange array below the high-end FAS9000, which provides the same storage in 8U.

The NetApp FAS8300 is designed for midrange deployments that need to balance capacity, cost and performance. It scales to 88 TB of raw storage. The new FAS systems run OnTap version 9.7.

The new arrays are transitional models as NetApp implements newer storage technologies, said Eric Burgener, a research vice president of storage at IT analyst firm IDC.

"NetApp built these to hit a certain performance or capacity," Burgener said. "The arrays are going to cost less, which means they can charge their customers less or get higher margins out of it. Or maybe a little of both, like IBM was able to do when it introduced its FlashSystem 9100."

NetApp also added the GridScaler SCF6024 all-flash appliance, which scales densities from 800 GB to 15.3 TB SSDs. The existing SG6060 StorageGrid array received a capacity boost by adding support for two expansion shelves, enabling 400 petabytes in a single namespace.

The StorageGrid SG1000 grid server was added for namespace hosting. Deployed as two nodes, SG1000 provides high availability across sites by acting as a load balancer, an administrative node, or both. NetApp said SG1000 makes it possible for customers to deploy an object grid comprised of all-flash nodes.

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