NetApp’s Converged Infrastructure Approach
A Q&A with Henry Vail
Henry Vail is a Senior Architect for NetApp converged infrastructure solutions. He has 25 years of experience in software, hardware, and solution development with enterprise data center and virtualization technologies as well as converged infrastructure, cloud architecture, and service-oriented design.
StrataCloud: How do you see the market today for cloud-based storage systems, and how will this evolve?
Vail: There are a lot of challenges with delivering enterprise-class storage services in a cloud model. Unlike compute and network resources, which are ephemeral, storage must also be persistent. Adopting a cloud vision leads business to expect IT to operate resiliently and ubiquitously. To fulfill those expectations, business data needs to be available anywhere, anytime, while maintaining security. So cloud data needs to be highly mobile, available and secure. There are point solutions in the market today that address narrow use cases like data protection or DevOps, but no one is addressing this challenge at an enterprise scale.
From another angle, CIOs want to leverage technology as a business advantage, so simply employing a commodity approach through hyperscalers and open source isn’t sufficiently sophisticated to achieve that competitive edge. NetApp is well positioned to deliver a higher degree of business value through our advanced technologies – particularly around data mobility and proximity to the cloud — and we are continuing to evolve our portfolio in this direction.
StrataCloud: Tell us about NetApp’s approach toward converged infrastructure?
Vail: As a pioneer in this space, NetApp has a very open and flexible approach to converged infrastructure. We focus on giving customers choice. We started with FlexPod, and we are continually evolving that platform to enable our customers to grow according to their business needs versus any technology constraints. Other converged infrastructure vendors apply a very rigid approach, either limiting customer choice to specific hardware or particular sizes. This fixed approach forces customers into buying patterns that favor vendor sales rather than adapting to the growth of the customer’s business. The fixed stack approach, which can be appealing for traditional, project-scoped budgeting, ultimately drives inefficiency in how IT resources are managed. Business IT needs can vary dramatically, whether it involves large data transactions that consume network bandwidth, data processing with heavy computation or I/O that impacts performance, or the exponential growth rate of business data that increases demand on storage capacity and resiliency. With NetApp, you can scale and design these infrastructures flexibly without being constrained to a vendor-defined block of infrastructure. That means you can be more efficient, cost-effective, and optimized for your business demand.
StrataCloud: What are some of the related management requirements customers expect?
Vail: Converged infrastructure is an evolution of the data center, moving from disparate components and technology silos to a much more efficient environment where IT can deliver valuable business services as a cohesive system. Providers of these services need a unified interface that can interact with converged infrastructure and other operational systems in a holistic way. IT providers want to work in the context of the workload or application services they offer, rather than dealing with the complexity of hundreds or thousands of disparate components and low-level details that comprise each service offering. The management requirements for CI are to not only deliver but track those resources and manage them in a service-oriented way. We live in a world that expects instant gratification, so IT systems must respond quickly and resiliently and indicate if the company is achieving the expected service levels for a particular application or workload. When there are issues, IT providers need the ability to quickly identify and correct the cause. Historically, this has been very hard to do in legacy data center environments. It has required massive, time-consuming coordination among many individual experts. With converged infrastructure, we have the opportunity to bring all this together into one management system to understand and administer as a whole. IT providers will need new tools that can simultaneously and intelligently address multiple facets of IT infrastructure — storage, compute, network, and virtualization – both individually and collectively in a coordinated way.
StrataCloud: What’s the level of interest from enterprise CIOs in converged infrastructure, and what are their concerns?
Vail: CIO interest is very high. They really like the idea of standardizing their IT architecture and standardizing their operations to leverage more advanced technology for competitive business advantage. For example, when NetApp is working with Cisco on FlexPod, we are exposing very unique technical capabilities while making it easier for our customers to leverage our technology strengths. CI can elevate day to day IT operations from traditional “firefighting” into a well-oiled machine that delivers on end-user expectations. NetApp is working with our technology partners to provide such integrated solutions, whereas CIOs have historically faced that challenge themselves. CI relieves them of this burden, freeing CIOs to focus on more strategic business value. There is still much to be done in terms of shifting CI capabilities and management into a service-oriented business-centric context.
StrataCloud: What does a cloud architect do every day?
Vail: In a nutshell, cloud architects are focused on delivering simplicity and efficiency by offloading complexity. Just to clarify, there is somewhat of a “law of conservation” when it comes to complexity. Complexity still exists, but our job is to contain and hide it through good design. Some architects work on the core infrastructure itself, some on service models, others focus on optimizing best practice for operations or configuration, and some on intuitive design. My focus is on the service deployment and management engines, taking the design and best-practice work from my colleagues and encoding that into a comprehensive, coordinated system to support business-oriented IT goals. Cloud architects are challenged with delivering on the promise of hybrid IT, which is about helping business IT interoperate fluidly across multiple data centers, off-premise service providers, and public cloud environments. I work with companies like StrataCloud to integrate and leverage our technology toward solving this challenge for our customers.