Don’t get in a cluster fluster, Wikibon tells NetApp users

Migrating to CDOT might not be the best option for you. Just saying

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The Wikibon consultancy, in what amounts to a sustained analytical assault on NetApp’s product strategy, claims NetApp 7-Mode array users shouldn’t update to CDOT (Clustered DataONTAP), its latest FAS array operating system, and should think seriously about moving workloads to other suppliers’ systems.

CDOT clusters FAS arrays together so they can handle more work while operating as a scale-out system. The upgrade from the original so-called 7-Mode is complex and, so far, just 17 per cent of NetApp users have made the jump.

David Floyer, Wikibon’s CTO, has written about assessing the cost of NetApp ONTAP migrations in Oracle environments:

Moves from ONTAP 7-Mode to Clustered ONTAP have hidden costs which buyers should carefully evaluate prior to making purchase decisions.

Here is his thinking:

  • The break-even for most migration projects from ONTAP 7-Mode to Clustered ONTAP are poor at over 50 months – the Internal Rate of Return (IRR) is anemic at 12 per cent or lower
  • Such a low return is below the typical hurdle rate for technology investments which historically have been risky and require higher returns for CFOs to justify
  • NetApp customers with 7-Mode running well should consider passing on converting to Clustered ONTAP, and focus on conversions to true private clouds and public clouds, while:
    • Customers of latency-sensitive workloads should gain clarity on how NetApp plans to integrate SolidFire into its portfolio before migrating to Clustered ONTAP
    • Bandwidth constrained workloads should consider higher performance NAS appliances for Oracle workloads, such as Oracle’s ZFS appliance
    • For capacity-oriented workloads, customers should review all options to lower risk and improve ROI

Wikibon says a true private cloud (TPC) is a complete system, with a single point for purchase, support, maintenance and upgrades. This system features integrated hardware, OS, orchestration/automation management software, and all the way through to a hypervisor.

Some systems will include database layer(s), middleware layers and application layers as well.

This seems to us to include (or to be based on) what are otherwise known as hyperconverged or converged system stacks, as espoused by EMC’s VCE, Nutanix and others. NetApp might argue its FlexPod scheme, co-developed with Cisco, might be a true private cloud in the Wikibon sense as well.

Wikibon argues that such systems might evolve into what it defines as a true private cloud this year. Such private clouds will move almost all maintenance work from IT departments to the vendor or systems integrator. They can be on-premises, in a co-lo, or provided by a cloud services provider.

In detail

Wikibon urges customers to move to its TPC scheme as fast as they can, and in its analysis concludes:

  • Clustered ONTAP is not a good fit for latency sensitive workloads as the FAS metadata architecture does not have (for example) a 40GB RDMA InfiniBand high-speed, node-interconnect that enables a true clustered scale out architecture
  • The NetApp acquisition of SolidFire is clearly much better from a scale-out perspective than the NetApp FlashRay project it replaced, but is in the “scale-out light” category, with only a 1GbitE connections between the nodes:
    • For Oracle database latency sensitive environments an Oracle “engineered system” can be configured as a true private cloud, and is likely to be significantly lowest cost
    • For very mixed latency sensitive environments, the best strategic option is likely to be an interim all-flash, scale-out solution such as Kaminario’s K2, Dell/EMC’s XtremIO, Oracle’s FS (scale-out expected 2016), or NetApp’s SolidFire.
  • NetApp 7-Mode users should not undertake the migration to ONTAP systems for standard SAN workloads, but should focus on migrating these workloads to true private clouds
  • NetApp's WAFL architecture is not well suited to high-write and high bandwidth workloads
  • Alternative products such as an Oracle ZFS appliance deliver superior solutions with significantly lower costs
  • Wikibon’s research shows that the ZFS appliance is in a league of its own for high-bandwidth, write-heavy Oracle backup, ETL and batch environments
  • For 7-Mode users there are better alternatives to Cluster ONTAP for standard filers. Dell’s scale out solutions, Isilon (from EMC) and Oracle’s ZFS will probably offer much lower cost solutions as an interim platform
  • WORN (Write Once Read Never, or almost Never) storage is not best stored on CDOT, instead use cloud services from Amazon, Microsoft Azure, Oracle and others, or tape or distributed object stores such as IBM’s Cleversafe acquisition and HPE’s partnership with Scality, which can provide very low cost ways of meeting compliance requirements

It claims its "analysis is one explanation of why a low percentage (~17 per cent) of the NetApp installed base has migrated to Clustered ONTAP".

Five NetApp options

Wikibon claims NetApp’s traditional business is being completely disrupted by server SAN, true private cloud, and public cloud economics.

NetApp has several choices: manage declining revenues as a cash cow, focus on gaining market share from EMC, HDS, HP and other storage vendors/vendor divisions, merge with it (or acquire or become) a systems vendor, lapse into being an OEM supplier of its own software, or be acquired – like EMC.

The Wikibon analysis amounts to a powerful analytical attack on the heart of NetApp's product strategy, and it has doubts about the long-term future strategic relevance of the company. We shall see.

Wikibon, founded in 2007, is a community of consultants on technology, sharing free advisory knowledge.

By the way, we have contacted NetApp to find out what it thinks about Floyer's opinions, and will pass on what we hear. ®

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