NetApp and EMC: Startup and First Impressions

      6 Comments on NetApp and EMC: Startup and First Impressions

In the last post, I talked about a project I am involved in right now to deploy NetApp storage alongside EMC for SAN and NAS.  Today, I’m going to talk about my first impressions of the NetApp during deployment and initial configuration.

First Impressions

I’m going to be pretty blunt — I have been working with EMC hardware and software for a while now, and I’m generally happy with the usability of their GUIs.  Over that time, I’ve used several major revisions of Navisphere Manager and Celerra Manager, and even more minor revisions, and I’ve never actually found a UI bug.  To be clear, EMC, IBM, NetApp, HDS, and every other vendor have bugs in their software, and they all do what they can to find and fix them quickly, but I just haven’t personally seen one in the EMC UIs despite using every feature offered by those systems. (I have come across bugs in the firmware)

Contrast that with the first day using the new NetApp, running the latest 7.3.1.1L1 code, where we discovered a UI problem in the first 10 minutes.  When attempting to add disks to an aggregate in FilerView, we could not select FC disk to add.  We could, however, add SATA disk to the FC aggregate.  The only way to get around the issue was to use the CLI via SSH.  As I mentioned in my previous post, our NetApp is actually an IBM nSeries, and IBM claims they perform additional QC before their customers get new NetApp code.

Shortly after that, we found a second UI issue in FilerView.  When creating a new Initiator group, FilerView populates the initiator list with the WWNs that have logged in to it.  Auto-populating is nice but the problem is that FilerView was incorrectly parsing the WWN of the server HBAs and populating the list with NodeWWNs rather than PortWWNs.  We spent several hours trying to figure out why the ESX servers didn’t see any LUNs before we realized that the WWNs in the Initiator group were incorrect.  Editing the 2nd digit on each one fixed the problem.

I find it interesting that these issues, which seemed easy to discover, made it through the QC process of two organizations.  ONTap 7.3.2RC1 is available now, but I don’t know if these issues were addressed.

Manageability

As far as FilerView goes, it is generally easy to use once you know how NetApp systems are provisioned.  The biggest drawback in an HA-Filer setup is the fact you have to open FilerView separately for each Filer and configure each one as a separate storage system.  Two HA-Filer pairs? Four FilerView windows.  If you include the initial launch page that comes up before you get to the actual FilerView window, you double the number of browser windows open to manage your systems.  NetApp likes to mention that they have unified management for NAS and SAN where EMC has two separate platforms, each with their own management tools. EMC treats the two storage processors (SPs) in a Clariion in a much more unified manner, and provisioning is done against the entire Clariion, not per SP.  Further, Navisphere can manage many Clariions in the same UI.  Celerra Manager acts similarly for EMC NAS.  Six of one, half a dozen of the other some say, except that I find that I generally provision NAS storage and SAN storage at different times, and I’d rather have all of the controllers/filers in the same window than NAS and SAN in the same window.  Just my preference.

I should mention, NetApp recently released System Manager 1.0 as a free download.  This new admin tool does present all of the controllers in one view and may end up being a much better tool than FilerView.  For now, it’s missing too many features to be used 100% of the time and it’s Windows only since it’s based on MMC.  Which brings me to my other problem with managing the NetApp.  Neither FilerView nor System Manager can actually do everything you might need to do, and that means you end up in the CLI, FREQUENTLY.  I’m comfortable with CLIs and they are extremely powerful for troubleshooting problems, and especially for scripting batch changes, but I don’t like to be forced into the CLI for general administration.  GUI based management helps prevent possibly crippling typos and can make visualizing your environment easier.  During deployment, we kept going back and forth between FilerView and CLI to configure different things.  Further, since we were using MultiStore (vFilers) for CIFS shares and disaster recovery, we were stuck in the CLI almost entirely because System Manager can’t even see vFilers, and FilerView can only create them and attach volumes.

Had I not been managing Celerra and Clariion for so long, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the above problems.  After several years of configuring CIFS, NFS, iSCSI, Virtual DataMovers, IP Interfaces, Snapshots, Replication, and DR Failover, etc. on Celerra, as well as literally thousands of LUNs for hundreds of servers on Clariion, I don’t recall EVER being forced to use the CLI.  CelerraCLI and NaviCLI are very powerful, and I have written many scripts leveraging them, and I’ll use CLI when troubleshooting an issue.  But for every single feature I’ve ever used on the Celerra or Clarrion, I was able to completely configure from start to finish using the GUI.  Installing a Celerra from scratch even uses a GUI based installation wizard.  Comparing Clariion Storage Groups with NetApp Initiator groups and LUN maps isn’t even fair.  For MS Exchange, I mapped about 50 LUNs to the ESX cluster, which took about 30 minutes in FilerView.  On the Clariion, the same operation is done by just editing the Storage Group and checking each LUN, taking only a couple minutes for the entire process.

Now, all of the above commentary has to do with the management tools, UIs, and to some degree personal preferences, and does not have any bearing on the equipment or underlying functionality.  There are, of course, optional management tools like Operations Manager, Provisioning Manager, and Protection Manager available from NetApp, just as there is Control Center from EMC (which incidentally can monitor the NetApp) or Command Central from Symantec.  Depending on your overall needs, you may want to look at optional management tools; or, FilerView may be perfectly fine.

In the next post,  I’ll get into more specifics about how the Exchange 2007 CCR cluster turned out in this new environment, along with some notes on making CCR truly redundant.  I’ve also been working on the NAS side of the project, so I’ll also post about that some time soon.

6 thoughts on “NetApp and EMC: Startup and First Impressions

  1. Pingback: NetApp and EMC: ESX and Exchange 2007 CCR « The StorageSavvy Blog

  2. Ben Di Qual

    I agree filer view is average. System Manager is much better – particuarly for the EMC based people out there who want a GUI.

    You also did neglect to mention NetApp operations manager which has been out a fair while and performs all the features of system manager but with trend analysis and other features – this costs money of course.

    That said you have to remember the space that NetApp and Clariion have come from. NetApp came from a NAS serving NFS – Most of it’s users were Linux/Unix based and did not want a GUI – that is why it is based on freeBSD

    On the other hand clariion was used more by windows based staff where GUI was the norm.

    I actually like the command line for NetApp over navisphere and (oh my god it is terrible) Celerra Manager, especially when you want to do bulk LUN/volume creations – takes a fraction of the time

    1. storagesavvy

      Systems Manager is miles ahead of FilerView as a user-interface, but it’s even less feature-rich than FilerView, forcing you to go to the CLI, or back to FilerView, to perform many tasks. That is really the only thing I didn’t like about Systems Manager. As you said, Operations Manager is an additional cost, as is Provisioning Manager, and Protection Manager (all components of DataFabric Manager), and that is why I left it out. I did have DFM with Ops, Provisioning, and Protection Manager running in the environment and found the reporting quite useful but the management features sorely lacking, again forcing me back to FilerView, Systems Manager, or the CLI.
      I’m sure NetApp coming from a Linux/UNIX/NFS background is the reason it’s management tools are the way they are, and for many people that is great. For others, it is not so great. I’m merely pointing out the difference, and my personal opinion on that difference.
      The CLI for ONTap is fast but misses some really key things that UNIX admins (and myself) would like to see. Being able to edit a file would be a big benefit for example. The ability to pipe output to MORE or GREP would also be nice when dealing with lots of output. For all it’s faults, NaviCLI allows you to use any CLI tools that your workstation provides, and CelerraCLI runs on EMC Linux which has VI, MORE, GREP, CRON, etc.

  3. Sebastian Kayser

    Just taking my first steps on the NetApp CLI and – coming from a *nix background – tried to pipe&grep the extensive output of “wafl_susp -w” … only to find out that piping doesn’t seem to work on the NetApp CLI. Just like you mentioned in your comment. Neither does command autocompletion … seriously??! Or am I missing some hidden command or special syntax.

    1. storagesavvy

      Actually, you discovered correctly… There is no equivalent command to pipe or grep in the command line of ONTap. For grep functionality, you pretty much have to use an SSH tool like PuttySSH (for windows) or similar clients on other platforms to capture the output into a text file while it’s displaying on screen, then open that file on your desktop.

      Further, you can’t edit a config file directly either, you will need to use “rdfile” to display the current file, then edit it in another tool on your desktop, and use “wrfile” to write a new version of the file and paste the edited copy from your desktop.

      There are other, more advanced methods, you can use though. NetApp has a PowerShell tool for Windows savvy admins, or you can use Perl to script things and possibly leverage RSH to run remote commands against the filer. Hope that helps.

  4. niczar

    > I’m going to be pretty blunt — I have been working with EMC hardware and software for a while now, and I’m generally happy with the usability of their GUIs.

    What??? Navisphere is the worst piece of software I’ve laid my eyes on, and yes, I’ve seen Windows ME. Every time I have to work with it I end up banging my fist on my desk in frustration. It takes hours to do semi complex tasks that would take minutes on, say, Linux LVM.

    And don’t get me started on their drivers (installing binaries under /etc? what is that?), navicli (slow, inconsistent, hard to parse, feels like MS-DOS) and Power(less)link.

Comments are closed.