Remote Office/Branch Office (ROBO) is a common deployment model for many large organizations to meet the goals of better customer service and business agility through distributed data management. A hub-and-spoke distributed architecture sets ROBO apart from the centralized traditional IT model. Remote/Branch Offices are on the edge of the network and are linked, often across large distances through WANs. They generally have higher latencies and present other management and operational challenges as well.

 

A common myth about ROBO environments is that they can provide the same service levels as a centralized deployment and at lower costs. However, factors such as deployment and data management complexities can make it harder to achieve acceptable service levels or reduce costs.

 

Examples of ROBO environments include

  • A large retail furniture chain with many locations has a centralized data center. It needs to back up inventory and sales data from each location for better management and business continuity.
  • Remote branches for a large consumer bank store and run their end of day financials locally and send results back to the bank’s headquarters for analysis.
  • A healthcare company needs to store patient records from all branches at a single location for regulatory purposes but needs to keep local data for fast access.

Challenges with ROBO Deployments?

Some of the challenges associated with ROBO environments are

  • Cost – Duplication of infrastructure makes it very expensive to maintain more than just a few ROBO locations.
  • Time – Periodic data transfer can become a problem when large data sets have lengthy transfer times affecting actual production, and failures compound the problem.
  • Scalability – Manually having to provision resources due to lack of automation can make applications difficult to scale as number of branches or locations increases.
  • Data Management – Maintenance response issues are always a concern, for example, on a network or a power outage. IT staff are often not at hand, and it can take days before data is restored to make the branch fully functional and hence there are both time and cost implications.

ONTAP Select is an Enterprise-Grade ROBO Solution

Traditional solutions lack enterprise data management capabilities or have a one-off solution that may not fit all situations and don’t scale well. But what if you could bring the enterprise capabilities of a high-end, proven data management platform to the branch?

 

NetApp’s ONTAP Select offers a very compelling software-defined storage solution. ONTAP Select brings the world’s no. 1 Storage OS and the same enterprise-grade capabilities -data protection, application integration, and NAS/SAN storage, as traditional NetApp hardware appliances in a software package.

 

ONTAP Select provides cloud-like deployment agility and flexible capacity licensing. ONTAP Select could be provisioned on commodity hardware, for example, as a single form-factor appliance with DAS or through ready-to-deploy partners such as Vector Data.

 

Some of the benefits of ONTAP Select in a ROBO environment are:

  • Lower costs and efficient utilization of resources: ONTAP Select works with a variety of commodity hardware and storage, and allows mixing of heterogeneous compute and storage, leading to better utilization. A customer could even provision existing infrastructure. An initial low capacity license, and a pay-as-you grow approach enables a lower TCO. De-dupe, compression and compaction ensure that storage efficiencies, both for local storage, and during data transfers to the main data center. A remote branch can be strategically located at a site that has lower power, cooling, or space costs. Industry-standard OS, and hypervisors eliminate need for expensive licensing costs, or IT skills.
  • Deployment agility and ability to scale on demand: ONTAP Select is software, and thus can be set-up quickly, without having to provision expensive appliances or storage arrays or go through long purchase cycles. The ONTAP Deploy orchestration interface enables ONTAP Select to be deployed and managed centrally using a consistent interface.  Automation and the ability to script using REST APIs provide customization to fit any environment. Storage needs can be balanced using capacity pools, and additional VMs can be spun-up for more compute, or storage can be added on-demand as branch needs increase, leading to better scalability.
  • Security: Allows better security through a hub and spoke approach. Common compliance rules could be applied, and important software fixes could be made available to all branches. Critical data from each branch can be moved to a central secure repository, and aggregated data can then be backed-up to another site for disaster recovery.
  • Data Protection and Disaster recovery: The rich suite of features like fast and space-efficient FlexClones and backup and recovery features like SnapVault, SnapRestore, and SnapMirror improve production cycles and recovery workflows. These features ensure business continuity through availability from other sites in case of failures.
  • Locality and logical separation: Enables pushing applications like analytics to the edge, avoiding latencies arising from network, and distributing load back to the branch office. It also leads to better consolidation of application workloads such that applications suited to that location can be run locally. For example, country-specific encryption policies could be applied.

ROBO Deployment Scenarios

ONTAP Deploy runs in the main data center and is used for ONTAP Select cluster orchestration. The main data center could be used as a central repository to store the organization’s data.

The figure above shows a central data center and each branch showing a different deployment option for ONTAP Select.

Conclusion

When considering a Remote Office/Branch Office solution for distributed data management needs, an organization can look into NetApp’s software-defined solution. ONTAP Select provides tremendous value in terms of cost efficiency, business agility and scalability, and most importantly security. It provides the best mix of enterprise capabilities, data protection and centralized management to keep all sites running smoothly.

Arvind Jagannath

Arvind Jagannath works on ONTAP Select, the first Software-defined Storage offering from NetApp and helps with technical product management and marketing efforts. His current focus is on understanding customer needs, looking into the market, and helping convert these into requirements. He holds an MBA from University of Chicago Booth school of Business and a BS degree in Computer Science from India.