NetApp® ONTAP® FlexGroup volumes were introduced in ONTAP 9.1 to provide a scale-out NAS solution that could extend beyond the limitations of the NetApp FlexVol® volume. This is done by combining multiple FlexVol volumes into a single namespace and having ONTAP balance incoming data automatically, with real-time updates of capacity and file counts to maintain a capacity balance across all constituent volumes.
FlexGroup volumes offer the following benefits over FlexVol volumes:
- >100TB in a single namespace (~20PB tested)
- >2 billion files in a single namespace (~400 billion tested)
- Better performance for high-ingest, high–file–count workloads
- Ability to leverage multiple nodes in a cluster to automatically balance workloads
- Nondisruptive expansion when a volume reaches file count or capacity limits
All of these benefits come with the same simple management interface that a FlexVol provides. Need a new NAS volume? Click a button, fill out a few fields, and you’re done!
With each new ONTAP release, FlexGroup volumes get closer to feature parity with FlexVol volumes.
ONTAP 9.6 addressed being able to use large files with FlexGroup volumes by delivering the elastic sizing feature. ONTAP 9.7 ups the ante to increase the use cases for FlexGroup volumes even more.
As of ONTAP 9.7, FlexGroup volumes are at roughly 85% feature parity with FlexVol volumes. So there’s an excellent chance that your workload is ready for FlexGroup volumes today.
Here are four key changes to FlexGroup volumes in the latest release that make them even more useful than before.
1. New load balance changes to “auto-sense” workload types
ONTAP 9.7 introduced some changes to how FlexGroup volumes balance workloads to better handle scenarios where larger, sequential writes are performed. Before ONTAP 9.7, ONTAP treated every workload the same, regardless of file sizes or number of operations. As a result, large file workloads might cause unbalanced FlexGroup volumes.
Because NAS servers don’t know how large a file will get when it arrives on the storage system, ONTAP can’t balance workloads based on file size. Instead, ONTAP 9.7 keeps track of the workload type and adjusts the ingest balance mechanisms to write large files more evenly across the volume.
2. Ability to nondisruptively convert FlexVol volumes to FlexGroup volumes
One major roadblock for people moving to FlexGroup volumes was inertia of their data – how can we move large amounts of data from one volume type to another without taking downtime? Because there was no easy answer to that question, many people chose to remain on their FlexVol configurations, even though a FlexGroup volume would greatly improve their NAS experience.
In ONTAP 9.7, FlexVol volumes can now be converted to FlexGroup volume type in place. There’s no need to copy or move data, no painful cutovers, and less than a minute of downtime!
3. Home directory support completion: Support for NFSv4.x and pNFS
FlexGroup volume architecture made a lot of sense for workloads such as home directories, due to the ability to spread the volumes across nodes, as well as being able to grow the volumes to massive capacities. But one key thing was missing for some environments: a way to leverage NFSv4.x for the robust security and locking capabilities it offers. Additionally, parallel NFS (pNFS) allows clients to redirect their read and write network connections automatically to the local node where a file lives to help reduce cluster network load. ONTAP 9.7 delivers those capabilities.
4. Support for NetApp FlexClone volumes
ONTAP 9.7 brings support for FlexClone® volumes to FlexGroup volumes. Instant, snapshot-backed clones that take up no space in your storage environment have been game changers for software development and database environments with FlexVol volumes for years. Being able to clone a volume to perform backup verifications, modify database tables without affecting production workloads, or spin off a new cloned volume before you commit dev changes are some of the value that you get out of FlexClone volumes. Having a high–performing scale-out NAS container with the ability to use FlexClone makes FlexGroup volumes even more enticing.
The best part is that trying out a FlexGroup volume won’t cost you a thing. Set one up today and test it out to see if it’s right for your NAS workloads.
Don’t take NetApp’s word for it, though. Listen to a FlexGroup customer’s thoughts on how they deploy NetApp FlexGroup volumes and how the only thing they’d change is not having used them sooner.
For more information about NetApp FlexGroup volumes and all the new ONTAP 9.7 functionality, check out TR-4571: NetApp FlexGroup Volumes Best Practice and Implementation Guide.