Introducing NetApp HCI: The Next Generation of Hyper Converged Infrastructure

October 12th, 2017
Introducing NetApp HCI: The Next Generation of Hyper Converg...

Last week, thousands of IT professionals gathered in Las Vegas for the 2017 NetApp Insight conference. NetApp Insight is NetApp’s annual technical conference for storage and data management professionals. The conference was full of technical sessions, round-table discussions, self-paced hands-on labs, certification courses and much more.

One of the highlights of the year’s conference was the official unveiling of NetApp HCI, the next generation of hyper converged infrastructure, and the very first HCI platform designed for enterprise-scale. Chief Product Architect Adam Carter presented a brief overview of NetApp HCI which touched on hardware specifications, an installation/administration demo, performance guarantees, ONTAP select integration, and Data fabric consumption options.

Let’s dive a little deeper into what NetApp HCI has to offer:


Each 2U chassis holds four half width (1RU) storage and/or compute nodes. The base model starts with a dual chassis (4RU) solution consisting of two blank slots for expansion, four storage nodes, and two compute nodes for high availability (HA) and N+1. The minimum configurable model includes 32 cores for VMs, 512GB memory, and 5.5TB-11TB (depending on storage efficiency) of all flash capacity. Node sizes can be mixed and matched to achieve the desired host and storage specifications. Each node can push a staggering 50-100k IOPs depending on the type of workload. The best part is there isn’t a controller VM (CVM) for operations so the CPU and Memory shown will be dedicated to VMs (no “HCI tax”).

Cloud Scale and Datacenter Integration

Because the network is decoupled vs a traditional HCI model, storage and compute nodes scale independently and can coexist within the same 2U chassis. The ability to incrementally and independently scale storage or compute nodes creates a cloud like “grow-as-you need model.” This eliminates the need for a large investment every time there is a requirement to scale out. Nodes can scale into the “100s” according to Chief Product Architect Adam Carter. For additional cost savings, the cloud scale model eliminates the need to purchase additional ESXi licenses to add storage nodes vs traditional HCI platforms.

To scale, you add the node and run through a simple two step process. The node is then non-disruptively and seamlessly assimilated into the ESXi cluster or single storage pool. The same rule applies to a node failure. After replacing a failed node, the self-healing functionality of the cluster kicks in and brings the node back into the cluster with a short two step process.

Traditional HCI models are difficult to phase in and often require a full datacenter refresh. NetApp HCI leverages existing SAN/NAS switches and can present iSCSI storage to external servers for permanent use or to utilize a phase out approach. 

Installation and Administration

With over 400 steps automated by the NetApp Deployment Engine (NDE), the NetApp HCI cluster is VM ready in under an hour. To deploy NetApp HCI, the user accepts the VMware and NetApp EULAs, sets the admin password, then enters the IP information for storage and VM networking. The HCI cluster then automatically installs the SolidFire Element OS on the storage nodes, installs VMware ESXi on the server nodes, deploys a new vCenter or alternatively integrates with an existing vCenter, then installs NetApp HCI management plugins and the lightweight management VM used for alerting, management, and phone home. The system is now fully VM ready.

NetApp HCI is integrated with vSphere eliminating the requirement to learn a new UI. The automatically injected NetApp HCI plugins allow administrators to add new volumes by selecting the size, performance SLA, and target hosts (how big, how fast, and who needs it). The volumes are then automatically created and presented to the appropriate resources. Alerting is further integrated giving users the ability to view storage related events directly through vCenter. 

Advanced Storage Services

Simplicity is one of the key components to most HCI implementations. The tradeoff to simplicity usually means administrative capabilities are limited and unlocking advanced features is cumbersome. NetApp has considerably simplified their APIs and added what I think is a learning feature. Not only did NetApp consolidate and simplify their API commands, they added a checkbox to the GUI which will give administrators the API output. The administrator can then modify the API output to gain higher-level and repeatable management, orchestration, backup, and disaster-recovery options.  

For even greater advanced functionality, NetApp HCI goes beyond SAN. ONTAP Select comes prepackaged and deployed at no additional CPU, memory, or storage cost. This gives organizations best in class NAS file services for advanced CIFS and NFS configuration and protection.

Performance Guarantee

NetApp HCI storage is built on the SolidFire platform which was originally designed for cloud providers with multiple customers sharing the same infrastructure. Besides building in multitenancy, SolidFire added comprehensive Quality of Service (QoS) capabilities to guarantee performance of all tenants and workloads. NetApp HCI leverages QoS at the aggregate level or granular control at the VM level though the automated VVOL integration. Administrators can define and enforce performance guarantees with minimum, maximum, and burst settings for each volume or application independent of capacity.

Data Fabric Ready

It was also announced that SnapMirror will be added to NetApp HCI in the very near term. Administrators will soon be able to migrate data between NetApp portfolio products. In the near term, workloads will have the ability to be moved between or protected at endpoints between NetApp HCI, FAS/AFF, ONTAP Select, and ONTAP Cloud deployments. Below are the fundamental components of the NetApp Data Fabric ecosystem HCI can leverage:

  • File services with ONTAP select
  • Data protection with Snapshots and cloning capabilities
  • Data Management and Monitoring with Active IQ and OnCommand Insight (OCI)
  • Backup and recovery with Altavault, CommVault, or Veeam Snapshot integration
  • Object services with Storage Grid
  • Replication via SnapMirror

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