One of the big announcements coming out of NetApp Insight in Las Vegas is the release of Microsoft Azure Enterprise NFS Service using Data ONTAP technology.  The idea that a cloud hyperscaler could use a mainstream technology for storage instead of building their own is unique enough, but the more interesting scenario is the ability to use native Data ONTAP functionality directly in Azure.

File Services in the Cloud

Last year I wrote an analysis piece for a vendor, comparing the implementation of file services in AWS.  Amazon was less than happy, despite the content being debatable, but not actually wrong.  The post was eventually taken down to keep AWS happy.  I’d taken the opportunity to compare EFS (Elastic File Service) to the features expected in an enterprise NAS platform, with particular reference to NetApp Data ONTAP.

My point was to highlight that enterprise NAS has a mature set of features, including snapshots, quotas, multi-tenancy, etc that didn’t exist in EFS.  If AWS were looking for customers to move to the cloud and use their file service offering, then a serious uprating of features was needed.  The Amazon view was to claim EFS offered the entry level of services needed for file.  However, even features like accurate consumption reporting were flaky, making it difficult for an enterprise to justify using the service.

Cloudy Data ONTAP

Over the last 25 years, NetApp has set the standard for file services with Data ONTAP.  Yes, there have been some wobbles, like merging in the Spinnaker code, but in general, from a features perspective, Data ONTAP is the gold standard.  So the idea that Data ONTAP in some form could be available in the public cloud is intriguing.  Let’s qualify things for a moment though.  ONTAP is already available in the public cloud.  ONTAP Cloud for AWS and ONTAP Cloud for Azure run as virtual machines, available for purchase in the marketplace of both cloud providers.  There’s also NetApp Private Storage.  This is dedicated hardware that runs in a co-lo near the cloud provider and connects to the public cloud with high-speed, low latency networking.

So why get so excited about the idea of an Enterprise NFS service?  The reason is integration.  At the client end, Enterprise NFS should integrate into Azure services that include security and data management.  At the back end, there’s the possibility to use native Data ONTAP services to get data in/out of the public cloud, without convoluted networking and other issues.  On that last point, I say “possibility” as I haven’t seen or tried the new service.  However, knowing the work that’s been done on the Data Fabric, it would make sense to offer native integration for customers with features like SnapMirror.  It would also make sense to expose traditional NetApp APIs to allow customers the ability to extend their existing automation and management frameworks.

The Architect’s View

So here’s why this announcement is important:

  • It provides a mature file services platform, directly integrated into the public cloud provider.
  • It extends the capabilities customers of NetApp have invested time, money and skills into.
  • It (hopefully) provides native integration of efficient data management features like SnapMirror.
  • It provides a basis to deploy cloud-native services by having a shared data platform.

The last point here is really important.  File will be the interface for sharing data between applications in the cloud.  Block is too stupid; object is too slow and immutable.  File will be the dominant protocol for sharing data between public and private clouds and within the cloud provider.  So having a highly efficient file platform is essential.

Perhaps the only negative here is the integration between public clouds.  It’s likely that ONTAP in the AWS Marketplace could be integrated with Azure EFS.  But this isn’t native in AWS.  Of course, cloud vendors want stickiness to their platform and this is one way Microsoft has of attracting and retaining large enterprise customers.

You can sign up for a preview of Azure ONTAP at this link –

Further Reading

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Written by Chris Evans

With 30+ years in IT, Chris has worked on everything from mainframe to open platforms, Windows and more. During that time, he has focused on storage, developed software and even co-founded a music company in the late 1990s. These days it's all about analysis, advice and consultancy.