[ Disclosure: I was invited by GestaltIT as a delegate to their Storage Field Day 19 event from Jan 22-24, 2020 in the Silicon Valley USA. My expenses, travel, accommodation and conference fees were covered by GestaltIT, the organizer and I was not obligated to blog or promote the vendors’ technologies presented at the event. The content of this blog is of my own opinions and views ]
NetApp® presented StorageGRID® Webscale (SGWS) at Storage Field Day 19 last month. It was timely when the general purpose object storage market, in my humble opinion, was getting disillusioned and almost about to deprive itself of the value of what it was supposed to be.
“Cheap and deep“, “Race to Zero” were some of the less storied calls I have come across when discussing about object storage, and it was really de-valuing the merits of object storage as vendors touted their superficial glory of being in the IDC Marketscape for Object-based Storage 2019.
Almost every single conversation I had in the past 3 years was either explaining what object storage is or “That is cheap storage right?”
Not following the lemmings
In this session, NetApp® has come to realize that performance is becoming an important factor for object storage. Their SGWS presenter, Aditya Kalyanakrishnan brought the analogy of growing from an 800cc car, to a 1200cc and to now a V10. And their All-Flash SGWS appliance was brought forward at the NetApp® Insight late last year. Now, they, like other general purpose object storage vendors have to re-invent a new narrative for their object storage solution, just as Swiftstack making the shift away from cheap-and-deep. The herding of the general purpose object storage lemmings jumping off the cliff has suddenly become complicated.
It was obviously odd that SGWS had all the time in the world to lead as a high performance object storage and yet remain nonchalant about the shifting sands of the general purpose object storage market in recent years. As described in the SFD19 presentation, they did not re-engineer the SGWS software to boost performance but has been ironing out the kinks and the inefficiencies of their software. This made me think that SGWS is a great piece of software engineering because it was mallaeble and adaptable to many different forms and formats, software-defined or appliance, and yet was able to deliver high performance when it mattered. But why did NetApp® took so long to cross the performance chasm when it should have done it much earlier? Why did they remained cosy serving the general purpose object storage market when it could have taken the lead and differentiated itself performance-wise, create a blue ocean strategy in the burgeoning cloud native applications market?
Foster child syndrome
SGWS has a long history of almost 2 decades. Bycast, the original company behind SGWS was acquired by NetApp® in 2010.
Bycast by mid-2000 was a small yet well known company with a respectable medical archive solution. After the acquisition, its strong position in medical archive could have given NetApp® a leg up to build a commanding lead in the Healthcare and Life Science (HLS) market, if NetApp® had pursued that market strongly. Instead, Bycast name in HLS got eroded over time, and it had appeared that little development was poured into SGWS until 2015, 5 years after the acquisition.
At present, the development of SGWS since then has been gaining strength, with continued improvements. The latest series of SGWS appliance editions are based on NetApp® E-Series All-Flash with the following “parts”:
- EF600 2U x 24 drives – 360TB raw
- EF570 2U x 24 drives – 120TB raw (EF570 with 4 x 2U/24 expansion shelves)
- EF280 2U x 24 drives – 96TB (EF280 with 3 x 2U/24 DE224C expansion shelves)
And leveraging on the E-Series Dynamic Disk Pools (DDP) for node resiliency.
In retrospect, the opportunity for SGWS to go All-Flash really took quite a while. Perhaps NetApp® was distracted by Solidfire, their HCI, and not-to-forget, the ever-present ONTAP WAFL.
Strangely, ONTAP 9.7 also released their object storage on WAFL just a week after Storage Field Day 19. As quoted in Justin Parisi’s blog – “ONTAP S3 complements StorageGRID by providing an ingest and pre-processing point on the Edge, helping customers build an extended data fabric for object data, demonstrating yet again the power of NetApp’s industry-leading data management solution portfolio.”
This puts a ring of confusion around SGWS of where it can be deployed. Where does SGWS stand in the whole Data Fabric narrative? Does WAFL has to be the center of the NetApp® universe all the time?
A leader but not a visionary
After 10 years with NetApp®, SGWS version 11.3 was released at their Insight conference in October last year. There were many new features, with some key ones listed below:
A lot of work has been done now extending SGWS into the cloud native world, with even more possibilities into verticals and industries to go even further. And I believe it was sheer grit to see SGWS breaking out in the past couple of years, and demanding more of what it could truly be.
My question remained. Why didn’t NetApp® do more for SGWS when it had the opportunity? Now, from now on, it can.