Zoning for cluster storage in pictures

NetApp AFF & FAS storage systems can combine into a cluster up to 12 nodes (6 HA pairs) for SAN protocols. Let’s take a look on zoning and connections on an example with 4 nodes (2 HA pairs) in the image below.

For simplicity we will discuss connection of a single host to the storage cluster. In this example we connect each node to each server. Each storage node connected with double links for reliability reasons.

It is easy to notice only two paths going to be Preferred in this example (solid yellow arrows).

Since NetApp FAS/AFF systems implement “share nothing” architecture we have disk drives assigned to a node, then disks on a node  grouped into a RAID group, then one or a few RAID groups combined into a plex, usually one plex form an aggregate (in some cases two plexes form an aggregate, in this case both plexes must have identical RAID configuration, think of it as an analogy to RAID 1). On aggregates you have FlexVol volumes. Each FlexVol volume is a separate WAFL file system and can serve for NAS files (SMB/NFS) or SAN LUNs (iSCSI, FC, FCoE) or Namespaces (NVMeoF). A FlexVol can have multiple Qtrees and each Qtree can store an LUN or files. Read more in series of articles How ONTAP Memory works.

Each drive belongs to & served by a node. A RAID group belongs to and served by a node. All objects on top of those are belong to and are served by a single node, including Aggregates, FlexVols, Qtrees, LUNs & Namespaces.

At a given time a disk can belong to a single node and in case of a node failure, HA partner takes over disks, aggregates, and all the objects on top of that. Note that a “disk” in ONTAP can be entire physical disk as well as a partition on a disk. Read more about disks and ADP (disk partitioning) here.

Though an LUN or Namespace belong to a single node, it is possible to access them through the HA partner or even from other nodes. The most optimal path is always through a node which owns the LUN or Namespace. If a node has more than one port, all ports to that node are considered as optimal paths (also known as Non-Primary paths) through that node. Normally it is a good idea to have more optimal paths to a LUN.


ALUA (Asymmetric Logic Unit Access) is a protocol which help hosts to access LUNs through optimal paths, it also allows to automatically change paths to a LUN if it moved to another controller. ALUA is used in both FCP and iSCSI protocols. Similarly to ALUA, ANA ( Asymmetric Namespace Access) is a protocol for NVMe over Fabrics protocols like FC-NVMe, iNVMe, etc.

Host can use one or a few paths to an LUN and that is depended on the host multipathing configuration and Portset configuration on the ONTAP cluster.

Since an LUN belong to a single storage node and ONTAP provide online migration capabilities between nodes, your network configuration must provide access to the LUN from all the nodes, just in case. Read more in series of articles How ONTAP cluster works.

According to NetApp best practices, zoning is quite simple:

  • Create one zone for each initiator (host) port on each fabric
  • Each zone must have one initiator port and all the target (storage node) ports.

Keeping one initiator per zone reduces “cross talks” between initiators to 0.

Example for Fabric A, Zone for “Host_1-A-Port_A”:

Host 1Port APort A
ONTAP Node1Port ALIF1-A (NAA-2)
ONTAP Node2Port A LIF2-A (NAA-2)
ONTAP Node3Port A LIF3-A (NAA-2)
ONTAP Node4Port A LIF4-A (NAA-2)

Example for Fabric B, Zone for “Host_1-B-Port_B”:

Host 1Port BPort B
ONTAP Node1Port BLIF1-B (NAA-2)
ONTAP Node2Port B LIF2-B (NAA-2)
ONTAP Node3Port BLIF3-B (NAA-2)
ONTAP Node4Port BLIF4-B (NAA-2)

Here is how zoning from tables above it looks like:

Vserver or SVM

An SVM in ONATP cluster lives on all the nodes in the cluster. Each SVM separated one from another and used for creating a multi-tenant environment. Each SVM can be managed by a separate group of people or companies and one will not interfere with another. In fact they will not know about other existence at all, each SVM is like a separate physical storage system box. Read more about SVM, Multi-Tenancy and Non-Disruptive Operations here.

Logical Interface (LIF)

Each SVM has its own WWNN in case of FCP, own IQN in case of iSCSI or Namespace in case of NVMeoF. Each SVM can share a physical storage node port. Each SVM assigns its own range of network addresses (WWPN, IP, or Namespace ID) to a physical port and normally each SVM assigns one network address to one physical port. Therefore one physical port might have a few WWPN network addresses on a single physical storage node port each assigned to a different SVM, if a few SVM exists. NPIV is a crucial functionality which must be enabled on a FC switch for ONTAP cluster with FC protocol to function properly.

Unlike ordinary virtual machines (i.e. ESXi or KVM), each SVM “exists” on all the nodes in the cluster, not just on a single node, the picture below shows two SVMs on a single node just for simplification.

Make sure that each node has at least one LIF, in this case host multipathing will be able to find an optimal path and always access an LUN through optimal route even if a LUN will migrate to another node. Each port has its own assigned “physical address” which you cannot change and network addresses. Here is an example of network & physical addresses looks like in case of iSCSI protocol. Read more about SAN LIFs here and about SAN protocols like FC, iSCSI, NVMeoF here.

Zoning recommendations

For ONTAP 9, 8 & 7 NetApp recommends having a single initiator and multiple targets.

For example in case of FCP, each physical port has its own physical WWPN (WWPN 3 in the image above) which should not be used at all, but rather WWPN addresses assigned to an LIF (WWPN 1 & 2 in the image above) must be used for zoning and host connections. Physical addresses looks like 50:0A:09:8X:XX:XX:XX:XX, this type of addresses numbered according to NAA-3 (IEEE Network Address Authority 3), assigned to a physical port, and should not be used at all. Example: 50:0A:09:82:86:57:D5:58. You can see addresses numbered according to NAA-3 listed on network switches, but they should not be used.

When you create zones on a Fabric, you should use 2X:XX:00:A0:98:XX:XX:XX, this type of addresses numbered according to NAA-2 (IEEE Network Address Authority 2) and assigned to your LIFs. Thanks to NPIV technology, the physical N_Port can register additional WWPNs which means your switch must be enabled in NPV mode in order ONTAP to serve data over FCP protocol to your servers. Example 20:00:00:A0:98:03:A4:6E

  • Block 00:A0:98 is the original OUI block for ONTAP
  • Block D0:39:EA is the newly added OUI block for ONTAP
  • Block 00:A0:B8 is used on NetApp E-Series hardware
  • Block 00:80:E5 is reserved for future use.

Read more


Please note in this article I described my own understanding of the internal organization of ONTAP systems. Therefore, this information might be either outdated, or I simply might be wrong in some aspects and details. I will greatly appreciate any of your contribution to make this article better, please leave any of your ideas and suggestions about this topic in the comments below.

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