NetApp and Microsoft are close to delivering a working version of the former's storage operating system Data ONTAP as a virtual machine capable of running under Hyper-V, and therefore on Windows Azure.
Once some final issues are addressed, The Reg understands it will be possible to run a virtual NetApp array on Azure and maybe to federate it with on-premises NetApp arrays.
The seed for this approach was sown in May 2012, when Microsoft, Citrix and NetApp announced they would work together to make FreeBSD run as a guest OS under Hyper-V.
Data ONTAP is based on FreeBSD, but in mid-2012 virtual SANs were rather less interesting than they are today: NetApp's own ONTAP-v was a curiosity offered only in partnership with Fujitsu.
A lot has happened in the cloud since May 2012 and virtual SANs are now a serious challenge to many classes of array. NetApp itself suggests a virtual SAN is a fine idea for branch offices.
The company feels it is now close, according to a staffer familiar with the matter, to developing a virtual version of Data ONTAP capable of being deployed in either Hyper-V or Microsoft's Azure cloud. Drivers remain a hurdle to be overcome, but Microsoft and NetApp are working to solve the problem.
Once the virtual array emerges, it may become possible to operate it in the cloud and point it at Azure storage, or federate on-premise and cloud storage. A Microsoft-centric version of NetApp's Direct Connect deal with Amazon Web Services (AWS), which sees NetApp arrays live in AWS data centres to hasten data movements to and from the cloud, is also a prospect.
Bursting from on-premise workloads reliant on a physical array to a virtual cloudy array is another planned usage model. AWS won't be left out of that party.
Just when this will all emerge isn't known. Citrix, Microsoft and NetApp have been working on FreeBSD for nearly two years now, but Windows Server doesn't look like getting an update until 2015.
Would Redmond push out some extra Hyper-V drivers to give NetApp a leg-up before then? If it gives Microsoft a way to make Azure more attractive, and score some serious coin from long-term cloud storage customers, just maybe.
John Rollason, NetApp's EMEA director of products, solutions and alliances marketing told us: "[I c]an’t comment on specific future plans, but can say we are committed to working with leading service providers to take advantage of the value of our software, including ONTAP as a VSA. The really unique value for customers is the possibility to use Data ONTAP as the Universal Data Platform across a choice of hybrid of Private, Public and SP clouds." ®