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NetApp's STEALTH launch of ONTAP 8.1

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If you were expecting NetApp to launch Data ONTAP 8.1 with a splash, forget it. The software is shipping already; no fuss, no muss, no splash, no bash, no nothing.

John Rollason, NetApp's senior manager in the company's EMEA organisation, told The Reg ONTAP 8.1 had been shipping since 22 September.

He said it features enhanced non-stop operations, scale-out SAN, storage efficiency, replication, and enhanced multi-tenancy.

First of all though, ONTAP 8.1 Cluster-mode is still separate from the 7-mode product and the two will still be offered. Customers will not be forced to go to Cluster-mode.

A cluster can grow non-disruptively to 24 FAS nodes and V-Series nodes. ONTAP 8.1 clusters now support SAN protocol data access, meaning iSCSI and Fibre Channel, which they did not do before, but such a SAN cluster is limited to four nodes. El Reg expects this limit will probably be increased in future ONTAP releases.

ONTAP 8.1 has virtual servers (vServers) as standard building blocks on top of FlexVols. They securely isolate workloads and they're a key part of the FlexPod for VMware offering. In ONTAP 8.1 Cluster-mode vServers can span multiple nodes, unlike 7-mode, and they can be expanded across controller nodes and shrunk dynamically.

Most of the efficiency features in 7-mode are now available in Cluster-mode, and these include block-level deduplication (A-SIS), FastCache, and cloning.

Snap Mirror, asynchronous mirroring, is now supported between clusters. SnapVault remains a 7-mode facility but El Reg assumes it will come to Cluster-mode eventually.

ONTAP 8.1 supports parallel NFS according to a chart we saw.

As ever NetApp's target market is storage for mainstream enterprise applications and not extreme or corner-case applications. It competes, for example, with Panasas, DataDirect Networks and Isilon in the scale-out storage area, but makes the point that they don't offer Fibre Channel or FCoE access and have few or no storage efficiency features.

NetApp and flash

When asked about pure flash storage fronting arrays, Rollason said FlashCache (a flash cache in the FAS controller) was the same thing as flash in front of the disk storage. He said NetApp had no current capability to manage flash caches in servers, but El Reg knows it is doing work in that area.

Rollason said: "Our focus is on broad-based infrastructure. Server-side flash is an immature market. What happens if you want to move a workload from one server to another?" He said FlashCache has a much broader use case than server-side flash. He also mentioned that NetApp has shipped a few all-flash FAS arrays by the way.

Once again El Reg would not be surprised to see NetApp activity in the server-side flash cache area if it were to become a broader customer requirement.

For NetApp, ONTAP 8.1 is another step on the journey begun several years ago with the Spinnaker acquisition. It's no big deal; well, all right then, it is a big deal but we're not going to make one out of it. ®

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