Are You Maximizing NetApp's Potential?

Dave Robbins, CIO, SVP, Ellie Mae
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Dave Robbins, CIO, SVP, Ellie Mae

One of the key challenges every CIO faces is keeping pace with new innovations and best practices. Yet for many organizations, the solution for a more efficient, less costly and ultimately safer infrastructure may lie within. This is especially true if you’re using NetApp but not taking advantage of everything NetApp has to offer.

In fact, many organizations are not only neglecting the inherent benefits of a converged architecture environment that they could achieve through NetApp, they’re not even using the very basic features that NetApp provides. By not doing so, they are wasting precious capital and staff resources.

If you are using NetApp and are not achieving the results you want, one or more of these tips may apply to you.

Get Out of the Plumbing Business
Traditionally, network engineers have been “plumbers” of the organization, responsible for configuring hardware, routers, and firewalls. Over the past five years, however, we've seen an enormous transformation toward “shifting up the stack” and leveraging cloud-based solutions rather than investing in more people and hardware.

As a result, more and more CIOs have taken non-strategic applications— ones that do not have to be built, do not run on intellectual property, and do not require much staff to run—and pushed them outside the organization. NetApp enables organizations to create this converged architecture to happen. Yet, surprisingly few organizations are actually leveraging NetApp this way. They remain stuck in a legacy world of infrastructure design in which they have engineered everything on their own, a world that is increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain.

Learn to Capture, De-Dupe and Clone
A key challenge for organizations is the ability to move large chunks of data as quickly as possible. Yet few CIOs realize how easy it is to do so within NetApp.

For example, NetApp’s “snapshot” feature allows users to copy data instantly, as if you were taking a picture, while applications are running—with no impact on system performance and regardless of the volume of data. This enables organizations to create instant online backups in seconds, thus protecting large amounts of data quickly.

For copying, NetApp's FlexClone technology is another underutilized tool that lets organizations create exact replicas of datasets without using additional storage—again with no impact on performance. If you need five copies of the same dataset, instead of making a copy to give to someone, you can clone it and allow different users to write to their individual views of the data. This keeps users from constantly making copies of huge amounts of data, since NetApp keeps track of all updates.

Finally, deduplication allows users eliminate duplicate datasets across multiple applications and storage areas and increase storage efficiency. For example, if you have multiple blocks containing the same data, regardless of where they are located, “de-duping” reduces all the duplicate data to one block. The benefits vary depending on the type of data and how aggressively the tool is utilized, but de-duping enables organizations to get maximum return on their storage space—plus it only takes minutes and has relatively low impact on IT performance.

Scale Horizontally with Flexpod
For organizations that are tired of being in the plumbing business, FlexPod is an ideal solution since it combines storage, networking and servers into one.

One of the first decisions I made when I joined Ellie Mae was to leverage Flexpod, and the results have been significant. Ellie Mae provides software and services that help lenders, banks and credit unions create and sell mortgages. We have thousands of customers, including six of the largest U.S. mortgage lenders.

Imagine all the data and the different parties involved with buying a house—appraisals, credit scores, mortgage insurance, bank statements, amortization tables, and investors guidelines—and you get a good idea of how important our data is and how efficient we need to be.

The key buying decision for me was to have a pre-validated infrastructure that was engineered to scale horizontally and includes network and security features that allow us to run the business without having to hire an additional 50 people. The primary benefit of Flexpod is that when a NetApp user calls someone for support and says they are running Flexpod, they don’t have to launch into a lengthy explanation describing how their infrastructure was created.

Starting in January of 2012, Ellie Mae replaced all of its hardware and migrated all users to a FlexPod environment. Since then, our IT ecosystem has grown from 140 Terabytes to 2.9 Petabytes. Through FlexPod, that growth has been very easy to scale and manage.

If organizations want to get the most out of NetApp or any other IT solution, the first step is to stop engineering plumbing, utilize converged architecture and shift resources up the stack. The second is to use your now freed-up resources to utilize the NetApp tools you already have—whether it’s snapshots, de-duping or cloning—to boost efficiency. The key is to have a partner or a solution that allows you to make this shift. For many organizations, that partner may be right in front of them.

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