Behind the Scenes Episode 393: SnapCenter 5.0 Use Cases


SnapCenter 5.0 brought with it a ton of new features and functionality, and NetApp Solutions Architect Artie Noel joins us to discuss how exactly SnapCenter 5.0 can benefit your backup and recovery use cases.

The following transcript was generated using Descript’s speech to text service and then further edited. As it is AI generated, YMMV.

Tech ONTAP Podcast Episode 393 – SnapCenter 5.0 Use Cases
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Justin Parisi: This week on the Tech ONTAP Podcast, Artie Noel drops by to tell us all about his radical experiences with SnapCenter in the database world.

Podcast intro/outro: [Intro]

Justin Parisi: Hello and welcome to the Tech ONTAP Podcast. My name is Justin Parisi. I’m here in the basement of my house and with me today I have a special guest to talk to us all about some extra SnapCenter stuff. We had a SnapCenter 5.0 podcast a few weeks ago, but now we’re going to talk a little bit more and dive in a little bit more with Artie Noel, so Artie, what do you do here at NetApp and how do we reach you?

Artie Noel: I’m a solutions architect. That is a fancy way of saying I work with our customers on how they integrate ONTAP solutions with their VMware and SQL environments. And I can be reached at either [email protected]. Or you can hit me up on Twitter or x, formerly known as Twitter, or LinkedIn looking for @artieontap or Artie Noel.

Justin Parisi: Alright, excellent. And I noticed you have a picture of yourself in your zoom here. It’s you doing a sick rail grind. You still do this?

Artie Noel: Yeah. That was actually last year, just before insight. Okay. I got by the insight people, because they were like, don’t get hurt.

Justin Parisi: I never get hurt. And then you show up with a broken leg.

Artie Noel: Broken leg. Yeah, yeah, it was fun. But yeah, actually, I skate pretty frequently. And if you see my LinkedIn profile, you’ll actually see a little bit about that on there.

Justin Parisi: Awesome. Are the shoes Etnies? What are those?

Artie Noel: They are. Those are actually, Ryan Sheckler’s signature model Etnies.

Justin Parisi: I got some skate knowledge. I don’t really skate.

Artie Noel: You do! And that’s actually, the box I’m on, is actually painted up to be an S shoe box.

Justin Parisi: Oh, there you go. Yeah, I’m only knowledgeable of the culture. I don’t actually skate because that would be a disaster.

Artie Noel: That’s what my wife says every time she comes outside and sees me.

Justin Parisi: All right. Excellent. So like I said, we’re here to talk about SnapCenter. And I think I’ve got a challenge for you.

So I want you to do your best to tie SnapCenter to skating. Let’s see if you can do that.

Artie Noel: Okay.

Justin Parisi: It’s a little twist. If you can’t, that’s fine.

Artie Noel: No, I absolutely can. It’s kind of funny that you mentioned that because, it’s actually what I tried to do last year at one of the Insight presentations I did.

Justin Parisi: So when you said try, did you fail?

Artie Noel: Actually, it was a joint presentation. So, the guys were not skateboarders. And therefore, every time I would make a skating reference, they would look at me like crickets.

Justin Parisi: Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true. Especially when you start dealing with, the international crowd, because they’re not as up on the skating.

I mean, there are a lot of international skaters. I mean, you see it in the X Games, but, you know, it falls flat with the international crowd, usually. Like I told an Easter egg joke, like an Easter egg hunt joke to one of our colleagues from Amsterdam and he was like, what? I’m like, Oh, you don’t, you don’t understand that reference.

I see that now.

Artie Noel: Yeah. So, one of the ways that I do that is, It is our secret sauce. It is our cheat code, right? SnapCenter is NetApp’s cheat code to be able to do some really sick and cool stuff within storage. We can leverage that to create these application consistent backup points or recovery points.

I like to say recovery points more than backup because real backup people can go, but you don’t have this. And I’m like, yeah, whatever. But, our Snapshots provide a really interesting capability in the fact that they are instantaneous recovery points. And I liken them to like the Tony Hawk of snapshots. Everybody wants to be like ONTAP snapshots, but nobody has all the same capability as an ONTAP snapshot. So how am I doing so far?

Justin Parisi: Pretty good. Pretty good. So would you say everyone else’s snapshots are like the Sean Whites, like they’re good at other things like snowboarding, but not great at skateboarding.

Artie Noel: Right. I would say that that’s probably a fair assessment.

Justin Parisi: Yeah, there you go. See, I can do this, too. All right, continue.

Artie Noel: So, you’ve done a couple of different SnapCenter focused, podcasts before, and the one that you did with the SnapCenter product team last month was actually really good.

They mentioned all the cool new stuff that we’re doing with SnapCenter 5. And even got into the fact that the development cycle and refresh capability around SnapCenter is going to be increasing and picking up as they continue to deliver more features. But one of the things that was just kind of barely touched on, while SnapCenter does this great capability of providing instant recovery points, in my opinion, one of the really cool things it does, is it provides workflows to orchestrate and automate cloning.

And when I say that, I mean from both a virtual machine and a database perspective. Now, it has a significant amount of value in the database space. It does so in a couple of different ways. One, it leverages our built in FlexClone capability in the ONTAP controller. To create a space or a capacity efficient clone of your database and automatically service it all the way up into your database management system, whether it be SQL Server or Oracle or SAP HANA or, pick one of your other databases, whether it be MySQL or NoSQL or Postgres or what have you. I tend to talk mostly from the Microsoft SQL perspective because that’s one of my areas of focus. But it is important to note that most of these things that SnapCenter can do can be applied across all of these different database technologies. Within the cloning capability, that tends to have a lot of value and drive a lot of conversation with the folks that leverage ONTAP in their day to day lives, and the reason for that is because in the event that they have the need to have multiple data copies of the same database, they can leverage these clones and present them to any number of, say SQL servers and leverage them in different ways. So if you have a need to create a different development environment or a different testing environment, whether that be quality assurance testing, user acceptance testing, or doing all of these at the same time without impacting your production database, you can do so leveraging the SnapCenter orchestration capability.

Creating these FlexClones, presenting them out to your SQL servers and actually having them surfaced and attached into the database management system and ready for your end customers to start doing activity with. That creates a lot of value in those environments because it simplifies the process, it reduces their overall need for the amount of storage that they’re consuming. And it gives them the ability to, oops, we had a problem, we need to roll that back and do it again. Or, if they get to a point where they do some level of development that they really, that is ready to be checked in, they can split that clone off and promote that back into their production copy.

So, just a lot of value that SnapCenter delivers from that capability.

Justin Parisi: Okay, so tie that into a skating reference, like give me a reference that would be comparable to, you know, something that would be awesome in the skating world that’s equivalent to being able to create a space efficient clone, you know, because space efficient clones are great when you need to do extra copies of things because, the name says, you’re not heating up more space, right?

So, what would a skating reference be there?

Artie Noel: I liken it to basically doing a backside nose blunt slide down, a 14 step rail set, right? It’s, it’s something that looks really cool when you do it.

It’s gonna get you a big bang when people see it in a video. Everybody’s going to look at it and go, wow, that was really cool. Cause that looks really hard. And at the end of the day, it’s kind of simple i n how you do it. Now, Brandon, I’m not doing that. I’m almost 50 and if I fall down a stair set, I’m going to break something and not be of value to anybody.

It’s one of those things that again, I kind of always go back to the Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game. It’s a way that we can take stuff that you already have and keep building on it like a new combo move. I don’t know. I’m reaching.

Justin Parisi: I know. It’s tough.

It’s a tough task. So maybe we’ll just kill it here and we’ll stop trying that.

Artie Noel: Well, so another way to think of it is, again, let’s, let’s think of it from that back 360 kickflip or backside nose bullet slide or something like that. It’s super, you know, taking a, being able to clone a database is a super technical task, right?

SnapCenter kind of takes that super technical task. That super technical trick of doing this big kickflip into a rail move and then out of a rail move, it makes it look really, really simple. It’s something super hard, but it makes it look simple and easy and very seamless. That’s where SnapCenter would come in and make that technical trick look really cool and easy and go, wow, I can do that. I want you to go out and pick up your own skateboard and try it yourself.

Justin Parisi: You cover the database cloning use case there. What other sort of goodness can you get at a SnapCenter outside of the obvious backup and recovery things?

Artie Noel: So in database environments, there’s typically a need to do a database refresh.

You’ll have to do stuff where you’ve got to do a, do a bulk import of data into a tape. And it piggybacks onto the backup and recovery capability, but when database owners have to do these database refresh activities, they typically take them a very long time, like hours to do. One of the primary reasons for that is, In order to protect the database, they have to do a backup on the front side of that bulk load.

Then they have to do their bulk load activity. And then after they complete that, they typically take another backup, so they have a recovery point of the newly refreshed database. With SnapCenter and leveraging ONTAP based snapshots, you can do that, you can really shorten that database refresh timeline from several hours down to, down to at least minutes for the backup piece on the front side and the back side.

So there’s a lot of value in that environment. It allows those application owners, those database owners, to reduce their overall maintenance cycles, which allows them to put the database back into production a lot faster, and it has the ability to help accelerate them back to, or accelerate their business and their business processes.

Justin Parisi: So, dev and test is a use case that we see a lot with our FlexClones. Naturally, SnapCenter can orchestrate all that, because really, that’s all SnapCenter is, an orchestrator, and I don’t want to say that’s all it is, because that’s great, it does a lot of things for us, and you can build it into your workflows as part of your mission that you have, whether it’s testing a restore testing, a database, validation code check-ins, that sort of thing.

’cause it’s important to have that peace of mind when you’re making major changes. On a Friday, let’s say you wanna check in a new copy of the database and you don’t wanna deal with it for the weekend. Well, something breaks over the weekend, rather than spending the entire weekend trying to fix it, you just revert back and it takes like, what couple minutes, right?

Artie Noel: Yeah, depending on where you’re pulling that back up from, whether you’re doing it on primary or secondary. It is definitely an incredibly fast process and it can take something that would have normally taken several hours from tape down to a few minutes based on from back in the array.

And the other really cool thing, and I’m glad you mentioned it, is that every action that you can do not only is there a full orchestration UI that you can use with the SnapCenter user interface, but we also provide all of that capability through REST API, so you can actually completely and totally automate it, hand it off to something like an Ansible Tower and have it run 100 percent hands off, hands free.

So everything that you can do within the SnapCenter UI, you can do through the REST API as well. And that’s a really cool aspect and really cool capability.

Justin Parisi: Another piece of that is being able to take those backups or restores or dev test environments and I guess not take it out of the hands of the administrators, but take that responsibility off their plate. So basically allowing those users to do that themselves. So tell me a little bit more about that aspect of it.

Artie Noel: One of the really cool things that SnapCenter does is it leverages a full role based access control. RBAC is something that gets thrown around a lot these days. But, it has the ability to allow you to delegate different activities off to different teams. So It gives your storage team the ability to empower the application owner and say, here, you can safely manage your own backup, recovery, and cloning capabilities without us being worried that it’s going to impact the storage environment.

You can make changes as you need to. You can create clones on your schedule versus on when we’re going to need to do it. It has that built in capability to basically empower the application and database owner. One of the other really neat things it does, is it ties into our replication technology, so SnapMirror, SnapVault, and allows for the snapshots to be shipped off to secondary arrays. And that’s been really helpful for customers in disaster recovery, when they’ve been deploying out disaster recovery solutions. But something we’ve seen lately is the need to drive higher utilization across all of their environments or across the entire estate. Well, with SnapCenter, you can actually use those secondary copies to perform some of that cloning capability.

You can run your dev/test environments off of a secondary controller while focusing 100 percent of the compute capabilities of your production array for your production workloads. You can offload things like database verification activities to secondary storage as well as secondary SQL server.

So you can stand up a SQL server that doesn’t have any production databases on it and actually use it to do verification or use it to do development and test against the same FlexClone copy of your production database on a secondary array. Oh, and did I mention that SnapCenter is a free capability?

It’s a free piece of software. It basically leverages the underlying ONTAP licensing structure that’s already in play that you’ve already paid for. So it’s just a free software download that you go out to the support site, pull it down, stand up in your environment, and you can start working with it today.

Justin Parisi: In the SnapCenter 5.0 podcast, we talked about deployment methods and my understanding is there’s not currently a cloud resident as a service portion of that, but you can install this in the cloud if you need to through VMs, is that pretty accurate?

Artie Noel: Oh, that’s 100 percent accurate. And actually that’s really the way we are the direction we’ve been heading with it because it provides a more seamless experience for the SnapCenter customer across whichever environment they’re using it in. So, it always looks the same regardless of where you’re deploying it. If you’re deploying it on premise, it looks the same as it does when you deploy it in your cloud based service against your CVO or FSxN or even your ANF instance.

An ANF would be your Azure NetApp Files instance, so. Right there in the cloud, boundary of your choice. And stand up basically a small VM, install the software, connect it into your storage controller, and then deploy the plug into your application server.

Justin Parisi: Right. And that’s another important aspect of that because when you’re dealing with the cloud in storage you either have your self managed, which is like your CVOs, your Cloud Volumes ONTAP, or your Amazon FSxNs, right? So basically, you set it up, you manage the command line, all that stuff.

Or you have your as a service models, like your Azure NetApp Files, your Cloud Volumes ONTAP, your Google, whatever they’re calling that these days, right? So, having something that can play in both worlds is crucial, I think, for storage administrators.

Artie Noel: It is, and it all comes back down to that core ONTAP capability. We can leverage our snapshots and use that to populate those cloud based datasets through SnapMirror technology. It makes it a very easy process for our customers to do. If they’re used to using it on premises, it operates very similarly when they go to move it up to the cloud.

And providing that seamless experience of using the same software to manage it across multiple environments is definitely a big benefit.

Justin Parisi: So, if I wanted to try to kick the tires on this, and I didn’t want to install it in my environment, is there a way I can do that without having to pay for it? I mean, it’s free anyway, but without paying for it in terms of resource costs, especially in the cloud, because, once you start spinning things up in the cloud, it gets expensive.

Artie Noel: Yes, it does, really quick. Yeah, there’s actually several different avenues. So if you’re an existing NetApp customer and you have a support account login you can leverage our Lab on Demand environment. Now it’s my understanding that they have created a version of that for folks that haven’t become NetApp customers yet.

And for that, you would need to contact or get in touch with your NetApp account team to get the link that would give you access, but if you’re already an existing customer and you just want to see what you might be missing out on, you can leverage your Lab on Demand.

If you are working or have very specific needs that you want to test through that may not be covered in one of those Lab on Demand versions of SnapCenter you can also work with NetApp directly. And we can help you build out a proof of concept of your specific need within our customer proof of concept labs and help you work through your specific scenarios and validate that they’re going to work the way you expect them to, before you deploy it in your own environment.

Justin Parisi: In the lab on demand, is that something I can access, even if I’m not a customer, if I’m a prospective customer, if I haven’t bought NetApp yet?

Artie Noel: You can and I believe it’s through the same link.

I’m not 100 percent sure on what the mechanics are of that, because I look like a NetApp customer when I log into it, so I know that the capability is there. Just go to labondemand.netapp.com and it will show you a series of labs that are available for you to engage with.

Justin Parisi: Okay. And what if I need help after I’ve purchased it? Like if I’m stuck getting it set up or I want to make sure I do it the best way possible, or I need help automating things using the interfaces there?

Artie Noel: I would always recommend that you work with either your partner of choice to help get it deployed, especially if you’re deploying it to integrate within your virtual environment. If you were going to deploy it within VMware and do application protection within virtual machines. So, I would either work with your partner choice, or you could leverage NetApp Professional Services to help you get jump started and get it up and running quick, fast, and in the best practice ways or leveraging all of our existing best practices right from the jump,

Justin Parisi: Should they just call you directly to do it for them?

Artie Noel: Oh, actually, yes. They can do that. People will yell at me because they’ll be like, oh, we should be selling PS for this, or we should be using PS for this. But I actually do get involved with a lot of the proof of concepts and whether they be customer proof of concept lab or whether they be on set onsite proof of concepts.

I work with a lot of our customers to help get it deployed. Get it configured and make sure that they’re able to get backups in their clone lifecycle. Established and working. And then I’m always available if they want to reach out to me and ask questions or follow up in any way, or figure out ways to automate different aspects of it.

Justin Parisi: Alright, Artie, sounds like you’ve dived in a little bit deeper into the SnapCenter world. So as far as finding more information about SnapCenter, where would we do that?

Artie Noel: My favorite place and the place I always go first is to the NetApp docs website. So that would be at docs.netapp.com.

You can either go scroll down in that list and there’ll be a SnapCenter link. Or you can go to docs. netapp.com/snapcenter and that should take you to the landing page. Once you hit that landing page, you will see different tiles. That will take you into the various plugins, whether it be your VMware plugin, your Microsoft SQL plugin, your Oracle plugin as well as how to implement it with disaster recovery, diving into things like high availability and other capabilities within the SnapCenter framework.

Justin Parisi: All right. Excellent. And again, if we want to contact you, there’s LinkedIn and Twitter or X or whatever. So what are those again?

Artie Noel: So for X it’s @ArtieONTAP. That’s A-R-T-I-E-O-N-T-A-P. On LinkedIn, you can just search for Artie Noel. I think I’m like the only one out there, and my email address is [email protected], and I tend to respond as soon as stuff comes in. I like talking to people and trying to help them figure out ways that they can take advantage of all the cool NetApp stuff that we offer.

Justin Parisi: Do you also hang out in the NetApp Discord or the Reddit forums?

Artie Noel: I actually do hang out in the NetApp Discord.

I’m not on the Reddit forums yet, but I do hang out in Discord from time to time. I actually have it installed on my work laptop, so it stays up and running. I do dive in between the VMware, SnapCenter, and the block protocols or SAN channels that they have within their discord.

Justin Parisi: Alright, well Artie, thanks so much for joining us today and telling us all about your experiences with SnapCenter.

Artie Noel: Thank you, Justin. Appreciate it.

Justin Parisi: Alright, that music tells me it’s time to go. If you’d like to get in touch with us, send us an email to [email protected] or send us a tweet @NetApp. As always, if you’d like to subscribe, find us on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play,iHeartRadio, SoundCloud, Stitcher, or via techontappodcast.com. If you liked the show today, leave us a review. On behalf of the entire TechONTAP podcast team, I’d like to thank Artie Noel for joining us today. As always, thanks for listening.

Podcast intro/outro: [Outro]

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