As if the hyper converged market wasn’t already crowded enough with offerings from EMC, Cisco, Nutanix, and Simplivity, NetApp has finally thrown their hat into the ring today with a SolidFire based solution.  In my opinion SolidFire is an awesome product and I am happy to see NetApp finally doing more with it post-acquisition.  Based on the messaging and configuration options it is apparent they are targeting enterprise-scale workloads instead of edge use cases. 

Let’s dig in.

Problems with existing HCI solutions as Netapp sees it:

Inability to fully consolidate workloads:  Traditional HCI cannot accommodate all enterprise workloads, leading to multiple silos of technology.  Most HCI use cases at this point are remote site or “generic” data center workloads.  Very rarely will customers place mission critical applications such as SAP, EHR, Oracle, etc. on HCI.  Those mostly remain on traditional stacks.

Unpredictable performance:  Most HCI solutions have no way of providing granular per-VM performance guarantees.  Some solutions handle high utilization better than others, but it’s still a “first-come-first-serve” scenario susceptible to noisy neighbor issues.

HCI Tax: The inability to scale compute and storage resources typically results in either overbuying storage or compute resources. 

 

The NetApp Solution:

What NetApp has put forward will result in some discussion around the definition of HCI.  The approach is totally unique in the market; some may contend that it’s not even HCI.  However, it DOES address a lot of the issues above and allows customers to be confident in the ability of the platform to deliver predictable performance levels for the most critical workloads.

NetApp has chosen to use the 2RU 4-node SuperMicro chassis.  In the solution, there are discrete Storage nodes and Compute nodes.  The Storage nodes form a SolidFire storage cluster and the Compute nodes run the hypervisor (VMWare at FCS) and connect to the storage cluster via iSCSI.  Storage or Compute nodes may be scaled independently as needed.  Only flash storage nodes are available, no hybrid!

Minimum Configuration:

  • (2) 2RU 4-Node Chassis
  • (4) Storage Nodes
  • (2) Compute Nodes

 

Node specifications:

Highlights:

  • Setup is a simple browser based install with 30 inputs, 30 minutes or less and includes storage, vSphere, and vCenter configuration.  At FCS, VMWare is the only hypervisor supported.
  • Managed via vCenter plugin and Management VM for monitoring, upgrade, and remote support.
  • Given the underlying storage is SolidFire, the HCI offering inherits all the robust QoS and API features that allow granular control at a VM level.
  • Will integrate with the NetApp Data Fabric to include SnapMirror, SnapCenter, AltaVault, and StorageGrid.

Musings from the Engineer:

As I stated previously, there is going to be a lot of discussion around this even being HCI.  It has separate storage, compute, and network so on paper it appears to be more of a CI “lite” approach shoved into multiple 4-node chassis.   I’ll leave that argument to the talking heads.  When I speak to customers they want administrative simplicity, secondary is the form factor.  Do they care if the nodes are truly Hyper converged or Single-purpose?  Even with the role-based node architecture, this is a compact and easy to administer solution that provides all the functionality of existing HCI and has promise to solve a lot of the issues that are holding HCI back in data center environments. 

As far as hypervisor support, I hope that NetApp will expand support for others quickly.  More and more, customers are asking for Hyper-V and XenServer support (yes, XenServer!).  Based on the architecture it should not be difficult to add multi-hypervisor support. 

Stay tuned for lab testing!

 

Brad Craig

ROVE - Senior Solution Architect

@BradCraig_F3

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