[SUMMARY] Experience with network appliances [Network Appliance]

From: David Foster (foster@dim.ucsd.edu)
Date: Fri Jun 02 2000 - 17:47:48 CDT

This is pretty long, but it might be useful for people looking into
network appliance storage solutions.

Original Question:
> Can anyone share experiences/opinions/war-stories regarding
> Network Appliance (or other) "appliance" type hardware for
> centralized NFS disk storage?
> We are currently looking at Sun's T300 but have been hearing
> positive things about the NetApps stuff.
> There were a few posts like this in the archives, but the
> most recent was '96. We have to make a purchasing decision
> fast and I am too swamped to research this thoroughly...any
> help would be greatly appreciated.

Well, to say that folks are happy with Network Appliances hardware
would be a big-time understatement. Seems people couldn't say enough
about the ease of configuration and maintenance, reliability and
speed of the appliances, and I've never seen a company spoken of
in such glowing terms.

See their web page at: http://now.netapp.com

Alternative resources were suggested for further research:

   Network appliance list "toasters" is run by a majordomo at mathworks.com
     Archives: http://teaparty.mathworks.com:1999/toasters/Search.html


   http://www.raidzone.com Linux-based journaling filesystem NAS

Got one vote of confidence for Auspex, and a few for Sun raid solutions
(though I got more people complaining about Sun hardware).


1) Very easy to set up and configure. Simple maintenance.

2) Very easy to upgrade firmware or OS

3) Very reliable. Calculated uptime is 99.994%

4) Very robust, through drive failure, power-supply failure, and
   lusers pulling the plug!

5) Great service! This was mentioned repeatedly. You can have
   status reports emailed automatically, and they will warn you
   of problems. One person said they were sent a replacement drive
   before they even knew there were problems.

6) The snapshot feature is invaluable. And quite ingenious. Allows
   for very fast and easy restores of user-deleted data.

7) Interoperability. They speak NFS and CIFS, so they are happy
   with NT systems, and will be much faster than the Sun solution which
   will depend on something like Samba or TotalNet. Of course they
   will like the new Mac OS X systems as well.

Here is a particularly useful (and very representative) reply in its

   I have nothing but positives to report about my companies' (and my own)
   experiences using Network Appliance gear.

   We are (were) a small startup and I had maybe 20 engineers on a
   couple of NFS files systems running off of Gateway boxes running
   FreeBSD. I knew this was not sufficient both in terms of redundancy and
   capacity. After a shot of venture capital I looked at a few solutions
   and from experience from friends. A buddy from 3Com had them and loved
   them as well as someone from Cabletron. I took the plunge on an F230
   which I thought would do for at least 18 months as it maxed out at about
   110gb. Wrong. No problem with the box but with the insatiable desire
   for disk space by the engineers required more. We upgraded to a F740
   (1 TB max) in January.

   From the day I received the original system to today, I've never had any
   problems, not a single crash, zippo. We physically moved to a larger
   site in August '99 and I was sweating puppies about it. No need.
   Powered up like nothing ever happened. The move from one unit to the
   other was relatively easy as with one command (snap copy) I moved over
   100GB from one unit to the other, changed hostnames and the engineers
   didn't know we did zip. Just this last weekend we moved the bigboy
   (hostname borg %^)) into a new lab to cut the noise down (It does sound
   like a jet engine with all the redundant fans) and I was again having
   puppies. Moved fine. Powered up, no problem. I then installed another
   disk shelf (to take us to three FC shelves 300+GB) and rebooted. Again
   perfect, booted, saw the new disks and added them as hot spares. On to
   Memorial day cookout.

   We have a 7x24 service contract but I almost (almost mind you) question
   the need for it.

   The setup is quit simple for anyone Unix literate (or even not so
   really) and the "snapshot" facility is great for idiot endusers who
   delete and come begging for "a file I really need back now".

   We are now over 100 engineers and I'm using only 1, 100tx ethernet port
   and I've seen no complaints/problems with speed of access. The beast
   has a 4, port quad ethernet that I'm going to setup as a trunk soon but
   just haven't had the time to test it out fully before deploying. They
   also have gigabyte options but I'm not there yet. It's still not even
   breaking a sweat.

   Backups are done via NDMP using Veritas on an NT box and the tape drive
   is an Exabyte 220 Mammoth library directly connected to the Netapp.

   Bottom line: The sucker works, easy setup, easy upgrade path,
   and it's the one box in my lab that I don't even
   think about any more. Network Appliance should pay me
   for this testimonial but I mean it. After years
   doing this crap for a living you come to appreciate a
   system that does what it advertises regardless of its cost.

   Good luck and just my humble opinion,



   Quite expensive (example: $200k for 160G...I'm going to verify
   that figure as it seems extremely high).

       - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

   A general comment that backup software for it can be
   very expensive, and in general there is no real good
   backup solution right now. Veritas was recommended. Possible to
   use NDMP, and Legato does have a module but it's "there are
   issues ... and it's not fun at times".

       - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

   Not recommended for use with Oracle, use EMC instead.

       - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
   i found out that going up a full version takes a few minutes,
   but going down a major version takes all night of downtime.
   i suggested to netapp that they have SOME kind of heuristic with
   each operation, like (est: 1hr downtime per gig per qtree).
   the techs ran through my procedure on an empty machine and so
   wasn't aware of a time issue....

   they also need to be more 'downtime' sensitive, IE have ways to
   not have huge blocks of downtime, or to isolate downtimes to qtrees
   more...probably this would make their OS code more complicated
   and they sell the simplicity of their code as avirtue.

   i've heard there are some problems with handling massive
   NFS demands and oracle."

       - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

   "I have never lost data on the netapps but have found that
   we often get on the patch treadmill and part swapping frenzies."

       - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

   "Because it's a network fileserver you've
   always got network overhead. This means... a) you'll never
   get scsi speed performance like you'd get with a scsi-mounted
   disk array... and... b) all disk activity has to go over the
   ethernet meaning more and more network traffic."

   We back up our network appliance using Legato Networker
   (Solstice Backup). Because it's neither a unix manchine nor
   an MS NT machine... you can't load a Networker client onto
   it. Which means you have to back it up as an NFS mount
   from another machine. As a result... backups are reallllly slow.

Thanks to:

Mark I.
McDonough, Tim
Chris O'Malley
Caleb A Warner
Dan Penrod
Walter Reed
Jeff Kennedy
Darren Chan
Thomas Vincent
Steve Widup
Brett Morgan
Jim Johnson
Damir Delija
Richard Bond
Neal Curran
Ramji Venkateswaran
Kevin Ying
Matt Reynolds
John Stoffel

   David Foster National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research
    Programmer/Analyst University of California, San Diego
    dfoster@ucsd.edu Department of Neuroscience
    (858) 534-7968 http://www-ncmir.ucsd.edu/
          [All opinions expressed are mine -- duh]

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