Thursday, March 16, 2017

Everything I need to know about NetApp’s All-Flash Storage Portfolio I learned from watching College Football

Okay, silly title. I got the idea when Andy Grimes referred to NetApp’s all-flash storage portfolio as a “Triple Option”. To me, when I hear triple option, I think of the famous Wishbone triple option offense popular in college football in the 1970s and 1980s. And that got me to thinking of how NetApp’s flash portfolio had similarities to the old Wishbone offense.

The Wishbone triple-option is basically three running plays in one. The first option is the fullback dive play. This is an up the middle run with no lead blocker. It is up to the fullback to use his strength and power to make yardage. The second option is the quarterback running the ball. While most quarterbacks are not great runners, the real threat of the quarterback in running offenses is the play action pass, where a running play is faked, but the quarterback instead passes the ball. In today’s college football, while the Wishbone may have faded, option football remains popular, and many of the most exciting players are “dual-threat” quarterbacks who can both run well and pass well. But, back to the Wishbone. The third option is the halfback, an agile, quick running back who often depends more on his ability to cut, make moves, and change direction to make the play successful.

In considering this analogy, I wanted to find the right pictures or videos of Wishbone football to make the comparisons to NetApp’s flash portfolio, but found the older pictures and videos from the 1980s to not be that great. So I decided to take the three basic concepts: The powerful fullback, the dual-threat quarterback, and the agile halfback and look at more recent examples. I just happen to use examples from my alma mater, Auburn University, because I knew of a few plays that visually represent the comparisons I am about to make.

So first up is the fullback. The fullback is all about power. It is not about finesse. The fullback position is not glamorous. The fullback had to have the strength to face the defense head-on. To me, the obvious comparison in the NetApp flash portfolio is the EF-Series. The EF is all about performance: Low latency, high bandwidth, without extra bells and whistles which can slow other platforms down.

While I don’t have a good fullback example, I have a similar powerful running back demonstrating the comparison I am trying to make. Here we see Rudi Johnson on a power play break eight tackles and dragging defenders 70 yards to a touchdown from the 2000 Auburn-Wyoming game.

Rudi Johnson great 70 yard TD against Wyoming 2000

The next comparison is to the dual-threat quarterback. The dual-threat quarterback can run or pass with equal effectiveness. In NetApp’s flash portfolio, the obvious comparison is the All-Flash FAS (AFF), the only multi-protocol (SAN and NAS) all-flash storage array from a leading vendor. The multi-protocol capability of AFF (Fibre Channel, iSCSI, and FCoE SAN; NFS and SMB NAS) allows storage consolidation, and truly brings the all-flash data center to reality.

The play which best demonstrates the dual-threat quarterback’s potential is the run-pass option (RPO), where a quarterback rolls out and can either keep the ball and run with it, or pass it to a receiver if the receiver is open. Here we see Nick Marshall on an RPO play which tied the 2013 Iron Bowl with 33 seconds left in the game. The reason the play worked is Nick Marshall, a gifted runner, had already run for 99 yards including a touchdown.

2013 Iron Bowl: Marshall to Coates

That brings us to the halfback, also known as the tailback, or just the running back. For the sake of this discussion, and keeping with the original Wishbone concept, I will use the term halfback. The handful of teams who still run a variation of the Wishbone (Georgia Tech, Navy, Army, Air Force, and a few others), tend to use smaller, more agile athletes as halfbacks. These running backs usually get the ball on the outside, and leverage their agility to make the defenders miss. When I think of agility in flash storage, I think of SolidFire. Agility is a key feature of SolidFire. It scales with agility, provisions with agility, adapts with agility, and is the best storage for agile infrastructures like private clouds, especially private clouds using OpenStack. The best recent example I have seen of a running back leveraging agility to make a play is this run by Kerryon Johnson against Arkansas State.

Watch Kerryon Johnson's incredible touchdown against Arkansas State

So enough fun for now. But if you have a dedicated application needing performance acceleration, such as a performance critical database, NetApp’s EF-Series might be your tackle-breaking fullback powering through spaghetti code and getting the job completed despite the challenge. If you are looking to move to an all-flash data center and need consolidated flash storage to accelerate iSCSI MS-SQL databases and NFS VMware datastores on the same infrastructure, AFF is your dual-threat quarterback. And if you are looking to deploy a private cloud with the agility to grow with your workload, SolidFire is your agile halfback.

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