ONTAP 9.7 – the GUI upgrade we’ve been waiting for

ONTAP 9.7 – the GUI upgrade we’ve been waiting for

Configuration management, Infrastructure as Code, Ansible, Powershell and Python – there are countless sexy trends in infrastructure management all pushing admins from ever having to even see a GUI again.

These are powerful technologies with real advantages at scale, and Tego has experience implementing all of them. That said, whether we’re working with an SMB with a single individual responsible for the entire infrastructure stack, enterprise scale organizations with segmentation of duties and headcount to support technology specialization, or the most bleeding edge of environments where infrastructure updates are pushed out with CFM pipelines on a regular basis, I have yet to run into an environment where the GUI is never used.

Another industry fact is that the age of the IT specialist is coming to an end. IT is being asked to deliver more performance, more scale and scalability, and more metrics, and to please add simplicity and cut costs where possible too. This means where it may historically have been possible to have someone solely responsible for storage and an expert in that storage’s maintenance and operation, most IT professionals now need to be able to understand and interface with the entire IT stack.

It’s with these trends in mind that NetApp has revamped their user interface, ONTAP System Manager, with their new ONTAP 9.7 release. I’ve been working with NetApp long enough to have seen about 10 different iterations of System Manager, and this is legitimately the first one that has truly impressed and excited me. NetApp has rebuilt the GUI from the ground up with the intention to make information as easily discoverable and digestible as possible, and to do so in such a way that you don’t need a PHD in NetApp to answer your question, take your action, and move on.

Let’s take as an example a simple question a storage admin might be tasked with answering routinely – which of my volumes are busy? What does their current level of activity look like from a latency, IOPs and Throughput perspective? Depending on which version of ONTAP you’re upgrading from, to answer these questions you may need to drop down into the CLI and run an obscure and not well documented command and then watch data streaming to the console and try and pick out which are busiest manually, on the fly, as the CLI continuously updates. I don’t care how much of a code-ninja you are; nobody wants to do that.

The Volume Names have been obscured to protect the Innocent

NetApp recognized this shortfall and a few years ago, rolled performance monitoring into the GUI. Here’s an example from back when this feature was very new to System Manager:

Was 2017 really this long ago?

So it’s an improvement – you can now see the performance data without having to dive into the CLI. From the dashboard you can see cluster wide performance data. You can even see the top 5 clients. But you can’t figure out which volumes are the busiest, or what they’re doing in terms of IOPs, latency, or throughput. To begin to answer that question, you need to go to SVMs and pick the SVM I’m interested in. From there I can see SVM level performance data, or I can click through on each individual volume and see what it’s doing.

There are some real limitations here – I need to know that to find the volumes, I need to look under SVMs. I need to know which SVM I care about. Even with that knowledge, which as someone new to NetApp I may or may not have, I’m still held back by the fact that the performance data is only available live streaming – I can’t see what the volume was doing a few moments ago when I was looking at the other volume to compare the two, much less 45 minutes ago when my DB team said they noticed that performance was crashing and started pointing the finger at storage. And I’m still not able to see what multiple volumes are doing at once, or sort them by IOPs, or really even cleanly compare two volumes.

Let’s compare all that to performance monitoring in 9.7:

So Much Better

So I started this recording at the login screen in part because I want you to see how quickly it loads but also because I want it to be clear that that performance data is persistent. We don’t load into a blank dashboard and wait for the info to populate – it started recording performance data the moment the upgrade to 9.7 completed and it will retain all that data on box for a year. Right off the bat from a performance monitoring perspective this is a huge win. “Real-time” data is nice but I really want to be able to look at what was going on historically and now we’ve got that.

Also, notice the workflow. I no longer have to know as a NetApp specialist that “Volumes” are under SVMs. (As a side note, there’s no longer even an “SVM’s” link – the link now says “Storage VMs” which costs 7 extra characters and makes the term so much more meaningful to a NetApp novice.) Now instead I can just click “Volumes” under “Storage” and quickly get a list of all the volumes, not scoping them needlessly to SVM.

Much more importantly for our purposes here, we now also have included right there in the GUI info about the IOPs, Throughput and Latency of each of these volumes, and we can sort by any of those metrics! Finally, instead of having to dive into a CLI, or bounce back around from volume to volume, waiting for real time performance data to populate, and try and manually hunt for the busiest volume, or just go to an external tool, we can quickly and intuitively get this critical info within moments of logging in.

Take this ethos – we need to make information easy to find, we need to make it easy to understand, we need to make it easy to manipulate – and apply it to the entire GUI and you can start to appreciate why ONTAP 9.7’s interface overhaul is the first time I think NetApp has really delivered something special – it’s going to make the product much more approachable for the ever-growing class of IT generalists increasingly responsible for IT environments.

NetApp, the NetApp logo, Network Appliance, and the Network Appliance logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of NetApp, Inc. in the United States, other countries, or both.

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About the author
Dylan Nickels is a full stack systems engineer who focuses on automation and IT infrastructure across datacenters and the cloud. When not behind the keyboard, he's trying to calm down his dog or breaking his bones in increasingly foolish ways.

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