C2C partner NetApp will be appearing at upcoming 2gather events in Sunnyvale, New York City, and Zurich in February of 2023, and also in Paris in March. Each event will feature a presentation focusing on a specific use case for Cloud Volumes, NetApp’s proprietary solution for data storage on Google Cloud. The events will offer unique opportunities to learn about the product and discuss its capabilities with peers onsite, but for those whose interest is already piqued who want to learn more about it, we sat down with Brian Wink, NetApp’s Director of Google Cloud Architects, to talk the basics of Cloud Volumes and what it can do for your business’s data.
First, give us a little background on you, your role at NetApp, and what you do there.
My name is Brian Wink. I’m currently the Director of our Google Cloud solution architects, which means anyone in the field that’s talking tech, designing systems, doing any of that type of work, those guys roll to me. I’ve been in data storage since 1997. I was employee number 302 with NetApp. I worked here for 13 years. I left for a decade, and I was doing another cloud-backed storage company, so always storage, but that was an entree into cloud and distribution, and then when NetApp really wanted to build our cloud business, a friend of mine said, “Hey you should look at this, consider coming back,” and I did, and I’m having a great time, a lot of fun.
At our upcoming events in Sunnyvale, New York, and Zurich, representatives from NetApp will discuss specific use cases for NetApp’s Cloud Volumes. What is Cloud Volumes, and how does it work on Google Cloud?
Cloud Volumes is simply a container that’s running in the cloud, and its job is to hold bits. NetApp is very famous for NAS, which stands for network-attached storage, and in that there’s two real ways to do storage. There’s what’s called file, and what’s called block. In order to store a file, you speak a protocol. Your workstation is saying to a network-attached device, “Here’s a file, it contains some bits, please store it for me.” When I want it back, I’m going to ask for that file by name. I now get to decide what’s the best way for me and my software, my hardware, and my environment to actually store it so that I can make sure it’s going to be there when you ask for it, you’re going to get it in the amount of time you want, and if god forbid some disaster happens, I can either mathematically recalculate it, or go fetch it from a secondary or third copy somewhere else.
NetApp’s been doing that for thirty years on prem. Now we’re taking that thirty-year legacy and saying, “How do I present that to you in the cloud?” We have two ways of doing that. We can say, “Listen, I’ll give you the keys to the kingdom, you can run it as a software, you can turn all the knobs and dials.” This is what’s called our Cloud Volumes on tap, CVO (we love acronyms). You get to run our software in all of its glory. The other one is called Cloud Volume service, CVS. This is where NetApp and our SRE team is running it. We’re operationalizing it for you, we’re making sure it has the right security, we’re making sure all the settings are correct, and we’re offering it to you as a service, so it’s a quick and go. You say, “Hey, I want a volume, I want a container to store some files,” and in about three clicks, you get it.
A lot of companies who are running cloud volumes are using it in conjunction with Google Cloud VMWare. How does VMware fit into that picture?
Here’s the thing: Storage isn’t always the sexiest thing in the world, but if you think about it, everything we do is either producing or consuming data, and so you have to have good quick access to data. VMware is just an application. It’s going to produce or consume data. There are two key ways that VMs do that. One is called guest mode. You have your VMware, which looks like a machine to the operating system running on top of it, Linux or Windows, and then whatever you’re doing with that operating system, you’re mounting a volume. It looks just like any other volume that you would have if this wasn’t VMware. There’s nothing overly special that we have to do for that from a protocol or communications standpoint. It’s still very important to make sure that that data is quick and accessible and in the right region and durable and reconstructable, but we’re presenting it as a guest.
The other way is to say, “How do we present it as a data store?” This is where we’re saying that VMware is using the operating system where it’s getting its actual brain from. It’s living on us. That’s called data store mode. We do both. VMware is a really critical use case for us. I think the big advantage there is we do have a tremendous amount of customers in a traditional sense that are running VMware on top of NetApp and on prem, and when those guys want to migrate to the cloud, because we’re also in the cloud, it is the true definition of a lift and shift. I’m going to take it from here and I’m going to run it from there, end of learning curve.
Security is also not the sexiest topic in the world, but it’s still a topic everybody has to think about. What sets Cloud Volumes’ security capabilities apart from everyone else’s?
There are multiple layers of security. First of all, there’s “How do I allow people into what they should see and keep them out from what they shouldn’t see.” That’s access control. We’re going to plug into all the major access control providers. AD is a big deal in Google these days. We’re going to make sure that all the permissions and properties––can you see it, can you view it, can you edit it, can you execute it––all that stuff is there. What’s important is, how are we actually storing that? Maybe I’m protecting everybody from coming in the front door, but what if I’ve got a back door or side door that people would just run through? This is where we do a couple of things. How are we storing the data? We’re not storing it in terms of files, we’re breaking it up and chunking it up and compressing it and deduplicating it and obfuscating it effectively in our format, but then when we actually lay it down to some kind of media that Google is hosting, we’re encrypting that as well.
Everything’s encrypted both at rest and in flight, and this is part of the security model. We maintain that security posture from the moment we see the bits. We’ve been certified by every possible organization known to man. We’ve got plenty of federal customers that I’m sure somebody would come and kill me if I told you about. We’ve passed all those audits, and we’re applying that all the way to cloud. One thing we implemented for a large financial within the last year was what’s called CMAK: customer-managed encryption keys. They can have a separate repository just for the keys, so we don’t even see the key, and we’re querying that repository to get it. We support things like that as well.
You just gave me a great one, but outside of security, what are some other ways that Cloud Volumes could be used for a FinServ organization?
A lot of the FinServs are really big, and so you get a couple different things. They’re going to run some of their key apps on it, they’re going to do data mining and things like that, because we can now. We can expose it to their AI and ML engine of choice, whatever that might be. The other thing that we’ve seen them do a lot, and the example I use––I’m trying not to accidentally tell you the customer name––what they wanted to do is create their own internal marketplace, so their IT organization evaluated the product, and then they put it on their marketplace. Now anybody inside their organization who needs storage, they go to the portal and say, “I need storage. I need this much. It needs to be this fast.” Boom. It gets lit up, and they don’t have to go through that evaluation every single time, because they’ve already done it.
Some of the other things that they value are our high availability options and the various things we offer there, again pulling on that thirty-year legacy. I bring that up often because it is very important. So many cloud companies just started last year, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve worked for startups before in the past, and I like that, but when you’re dealing with storage, there’s something to be said to say, “Listen, I know what I’m doing. We haven’t always been perfect, but we’ve had thirty years to figure out how to get to perfect, and we’re leveraging that every single day with our customers.”
We’re a community of cloud users. NetApp is coming from this legacy history, but recently moved into the cloud space. What’s the value for you of getting in front of a room full of people who are all coming from cloud, not just to talk about Cloud Volumes, but to have an actual peer-to-peer conversation?
It kind of goes back to what I said at the beginning: storage isn’t the most sexy thing. A lot of times it’s not thought of first, or even until the very end. Somebody goes out and designs a wonderful application that solves world peace, but if they haven’t considered how to properly use the storage, they could be compromised on any one of many things. It could be security like we’ve already talked about, it could be pricing, it could be performance, it could be efficiency. It’s like saying, “Hey I want to build the house, and then at the very end I want to pour the foundation.” No. You have to lay the foundation first, and know that the ground is compacted and you’ve got your sewer connections and all the various things that you need, and now you can build a really great house on top of it.
How do I approach the problem? How do we allow you to identify what your data is, how you’re going to use it, to use it efficiently. I’ve had customers come to me and they’ve made decisions up front that don’t let us do certain things with the data, like maybe they want to encrypt their data in their application layer. They can do that, but maybe they’re making that decision because they want security of data at rest. If the application doesn’t encrypt it up front that allows us to do certain things with it. We can compress it, dedupe it, encrypt it, add that layer of efficiency to it, but also allow us to back it up and move it around efficiently. It’s all about that efficiency up front.
If you’d like to take part in a larger, in-person discussion about Cloud Volumes and its many capabilities, come to one of these upcoming 2Gather events: