Why GCP Anthos on NetApp HCI is a big deal?

Google Cloud & NetApp announced a new validated design with GKE running on NetApp HCI on-premise.

Read what you might miss from NetApp announcements during Aug-Nov 2019 compressed into a single article.

Kubernetes was originally designed by Google, Google is one of the main contributors to Docker, and obviously the most advanced, mature & stable on the market. If you tried GKE in GCP & other competitive solutions, you know what I’m talking about.

Containers on-premises are difficult when you want to make Enterprise solution for new containerized applications on-premises for number of reasons: Installation, configuration, management, updates of your core infrastructure components, persistent & performant & predictable storage performance, DevOps do not want to deal with infrastructure they want just consume it. These are the key problems to solve and NetApp aims to do it.

NVA-1141: NetApp HCI with Anthos. NVA Design/Deployment

Bullet points why Google Anthos on NetApp HCI is an important announcement:

  • Hybrid cloud. NetApp according to its Data fabric vision, continue to bring hybrid cloud experience to its users in the flash. Now with Anthos on HCI your on-prem data center becomes just another cloud zone. Software updates for GKE & Anthos are on Google’s shoulders, you just consume it. Not just NetApp HCI maintenance like software & firmware updates can be bought as a service, but space as well. You can pay as you go & consume infrastructure as a service: OPEX instead of CAPEX by request with NetApp Keystone
  • NetApp Kubernetes Services (NKS) In addition to NetApp NKS which allows for the deployment & management of on-premises & in the cloud kubernetes clusters, Anthos provides the ability to deploy clusters on-prem and fully integrated with Google Cloud, including the ability to manage from the GKE console. NKS bundled with Istio, Helm & many other components for your microservices which puts DevOps to the next level. Cloud infrastructure on-premises reached your data center
  • Storage automation. NetApp Trident is literally the most advanced storage driver for containers at the market so far which brings automation, API and persistent storage to containerization world. NetApp Trident with NKS & Anthos totally make sense. Speaking about Automation, NetApp Ansible playbooks are also the most advanced on the market at the moment with 106 published & supported modules, and SolidFire itself is known as fully API-driven storage, so you can work with it solely through RESTful API
  • Simple, predictive and performant enterprise storage with QoS whether on-prem or in the cloud: use Trident and Ansible with NetApp HCI on-prem or CVO or CVS in AWS, Azure or GCP, moreover replicate your data to the cloud for DR or Test/Dev
  • NetApp HCI vs other HCI solutions. One of the most notable HCI competitor is Nutanix so I want to use it as an example. Nutanix’s storage architecture with local disk drives certainly interesting but not unique and obviously have some architectural disadvantages, scalability was one issue to name. Local disk drives are blessing & great news for tiny solutions and not so good of idea when you need to scale it up, cheapness of a small solution with commodity HW & local drives might turn into curse at scale. That’s why Nutanix eventually developed dedicated storage nodes connected over the network to overcome the issue while stepping to the very competitive lend of network storage systems. Because dedicated storage nodes connected over the network is not something new & unique for Nutanix, there are plenty of capable & scalable network storage systems out there. Therefore, most exciting part of Nutanix is their ecosystem & simplicity not the storage architecture though. Now thanks to Anthos, NetApp HCI get in to a unique position with scalability, ecosystem, simplicity, hybrid cloud & functionality for microservices where some other great competitors like Nutanix not reached yet, and that gives NetApp a momentum in the HCI market
  • Performance. Don’t forget about NetApp’s Max Data software which already working with VMware & SolidFire, it will take NetApp only one last step to bring DCPMM like Intel Optane to NetApp HCI. Note NetApp just announced on Insight 2019 a compute node with Intel Cascade Lake CPUs which required for Optane. Max Data is not available on NetApp HCI yet, but we can clearly see that NetApp putting everything together to make it happen. Persistent memory in form of a file system for a Linux host server with tiering for cold blocks to “slow” SSD storage can put NetApp on top of all the competitors in terms of performance

HCI Performance

Speaking about which, take a look on these two performance tests:

  1. IOmark-VM-HC: 5 storage & 18 compute nodes using data stores & VVols
  2. IOmark-VDI-HC: 5 storage nodes & 12 compute nodes with only data stores

Total 1,440 VMs with 3,200 VDI desktops.

Notice how asymmetrical number of storage nodes compared to compute nodes are, and in “Real” HCI architectures with local drives you have to have more equipment, while with NetApp HCI you can choose how much storage and how much compute resources you need and scale them separately. Dedup & compression were enabled in the tests.


This article is for information purposes only, may contain errors and personal opinions. This text neither authorized nor sponsored by NetApp. If you have spotted an error, please let me know.

ONTAP improvements in version 9.6 (Part 2)

Starting with ONTAP 9.6 all releases are long-term support (LTS). Network auto-discovery from a computer for cluster setup, no need to connect with the console to set up IP. All bug fixes available in P-releases (9.xPy), where “x” is a minor ONTAP version and “y” is P-version with a bunch of bug fixes. P-releases going to be released each 4 weeks.

New OnCommand System Manager based on APIs

First, System Manager no longer carrying OnCommand last name now it is ONTAP System Manager. ONTAP System Manager shows failed disk position in a disk shelf and network topology. Like some other All-Flash vendors, the new dashboard shows storage efficiency with a single number, which includes clones and snapshots, but you still can find information separately for each efficiency mechanism.

Two system managers available simultaneously for ONTAP 9.6:

  • The old one
  • New API-based one (on the image below)
    • Press “Try the new experience” button from the “old” system manager

NetApp will base system Manager and all new Ansible modules on REST APIs only which means NetApp is taking it rather seriously. With 9.6 ONTAP NetApp brought proprietary ZAPI functionality via REST APIs access for cluster management (see more here & here). ONTAP System manager shows the list of ONTAP REST APIs that have been invoked for the performed operations which allows to understand how it works and use APIs in day to day basis. REST APIs available through System Manager web interface at https://ONTAP_ClusterIP_or_Name/docs/API, the page includes:

  • Try it out feature
  • Generate the API token to authorize external use
  • And built-in documentation with examples.

List of cluster management available through REST APIs in ONTAP 9.6:

  • Cloud (object storage) targets
  • Cluster, nodes, jobs and cluster software
  • Physical and logical network
  • Storage virtual machines
  • SVM name services such as LDAP, NIS, and DNS
  • Resources of the storage area network (SAN)
  • Resources of Non-Volatile Memory Express.

APIs will help service providers and companies where ONTAP deployed many instances in an automated fashion. System Manager will save historical performance info, while before 9.6 you can see only data from the moment you have opened the statistic window and after you close it, it would lose statistics. See ONTAP guide for developers.

Automation is the big thing now

All new Ansible modules will use only REST APIs. Python SDK will be available soon as well for some other languages.


On Command Unified Manager renamed to ActiveIQ Unified Manager. Renaming show Unified Manager going to work with ActiveIQ in NetApp cloud more tightly.

  • In this tandem Unified Manager gives a detailed, real-time analytics, simplifies key performance indicator and metrics so IT generalists can understand what’s going on, it allows to troubleshoot and to automate and customize monitoring and management
  • While ActiveIQ is cloud-based intelligence engine, to provide predictive analytics, actionable intelligence, give recommendations to protect, and optimize NetApp environment.

Unified Manager 9.6 provides REST APIs, not just proactively identifying risks but, most importantly, now provide remediation recommendations. And also gives recommended to optimize workload performance and storage resource utilization:

  • Pattern recognition eliminates manual efforts
  • QoS monitoring and management
  • Realtime events and maps key components
  • Built-in analytics for storage performance optimizations


SnapMirror Synchronous (SM-S) do not have automatic switchover yet as MetroCluster (MCC), and this is the key difference, which still keeps SM-S as a DR solution rather than HA.

  • New configuration supported: SM-S and then cascade SnapMirror Async (SM-A)
  • Automatic TLS encryption over the wire between ONTAP 9.6 and higher systems
  • Workloads that have excessive file creation, directory creation, file permission changes, or directory permission changes are suitable (these are referred to as high-metadata workloads) for SM-S
  • SM-S now supports additional protocols:
    • SMB v2 & SMB v3
    • NFS v4
  • SM-S now support qtree & fpolicy.


Nearly all important FlexGroup limitations compare FlexVols now removed:

  • SMB Continuous Availability (CA) support allows running MS SQL & Hyper-V on FlexGroup
  • Constituent volume (auto-size) Elastic sizing & FlexGroup resize
    • If one constituent out of space, the system automatically take space from other constituent volumes and provision it to the one needs it the most. Previously it might result at the end of space error, while some space was available in other volumes. Though it means you probably short in space, and it might be a good time to add some more 😉
  • FlexGroup on MCC (FC & IP)
  • FlexGroup rename & re-size in GUI & CLI


Alibaba and Google Cloud object storage support for FabricPool and in GUI now you can see cloud latency of the volume.

Another exciting for me news is a new “All” policy in FabricPool. It is excited for me because I was one of those whom many times insisted it is a must-have feature for secondary systems to write-through directly to cold tier. The whole idea in joining SnapMirror & FabricPool on the secondary system was about space savings, so the secondary system can also be All Flash but with many times less space for the hot tier. We should use secondary system in the role of DR not as Backup because who wants to pay for the backup system as for flash, right? Then if it is a DR system, it assumes someday secondary system might become primary and once trying to run production on the secondary you most probably going to have not enough space on that system for hot tier, which means your DR no longer working. Now once we get this new “All” policy, this idea of joining FabricPool with SnapMirror while getting space savings and fully functional DR going to work.

This new “All” policy replaces “backup” policy in ONTAP 9.6, and you can apply it on primary storage, while the backup policy was available only on SnapMirror secondary storage system. With All policy enabled, all data written to FabricPool-enabled volume written directly to object storage, while metadata remains on performance tier on the storage system.

SVM-DR now supported with FabricPool too.

No more fixed ratio of max object storage compare to hot tier in FabricPool

FabricPool is a technology for tiering cold data to object storage either to the cloud or on-prem, while hot data remain on flash media. When I speak about hot “data,” I mean data and metadata, where metadata ALWAYS HOT = always stays on flash. Metadata stored in inode structure which is the source of WAFL black magic. Since FabricPool introduced in ONTAP till 9.5 NetApp assumed that hot tier (and in this context, they mostly were thinking not about hot data itself but rather metadata inodes) will always need at least 5% on-prem which means 1:20 ratio of hot tier to object storage. However, turns out it’s not always the case and most of the customers do not need that much space for metadata, so NetApp re-thought that and removed hard-coded 1:20 ratio and instead introduced 98% aggregate consumption model which gives more flexibility. For instance, if storage will need only 2% for metadata, then we can have a 1:50 ratio, this is of the cause will be the case only with low-file-count environments & SAN. That means if you have 800 TiB aggregate, you can store 39.2 PiB in cold object storage.


  • Aggregate-level encryption (NAE), help cross-volume deduplication to gain savings
  • Multi-tenant key management allows to manage encryption keys within SVM, only external managers supported, previously available on cluster admin level. That will be great news for service providers. Require Key-manager license on ONTAP
  • Premium XL licenses for ONTAP Select allows consuming more CPU & memory to ONTAP which result in approximately 2x more performance.
  • NetApp support 8000 series and 2500 series with ONTAP 9.6
  • Automatic Inactive Data Reporting for SSD aggregates
  • MetroCluster switchover and switchback operations from GUI
  • Trace File Access in GUI allows to trace files on NAS accessed by users
  • Encrypted SnapMirror by default: Primary & Secondary 9.6 or newer
  • FlexCache volumes now managed through GUI: create, edit, view, and delete
  • DP_Optimized (DPO) license: Increases max FlexVol number on a system
  • QoS minimum for ONTAP Select Premium (All-Flash)
  • QoS max available for namespaces
  • NVMe drives with encryption which unlike NSE drives, you can mix in a system
  • FlashCache with Cloud Volumes ONTAP (CVO)
  • Cryptographic Data Sanitization
  • Volume move now available with NVMe namespaces.

Implemented SMB 3.0 CA witness protocol by using a node’s HA (SFO) partner LIF, which improve switchover time:

If two FabricPool aggregates share a single S3 bucket, volume migration will not rehydrate data and move only hot tier

We expect 9.6RC1 around the second half of May 2019, and GA comes about six weeks later.

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