ONTAP 9.6RC1 is here!

Spring has barely sprung and already we’re seeing the latest ONTAP release!


ONTAP 9.6 has been announced and it’s chock full of goodness.

For the short overview podcast, check this link out:

For the longer overview, go here:

This time, the prevailing themes are simplicity, security, data protection and storage efficiency. We’ll have a few podcasts centered around some of the new features, as well. They will be available to download in a few weeks, but for now, let’s discuss what’s in it.

What’s new?

Generally speaking, new stuff in ONTAP comes in the following forms:

  • New features
  • Enhanced features

With the 6 month cadence, features are often phased in, with new features being released with stability as the top priority. Feature parity comes in chunks in later releases. Bug fixes are a part of every ONTAP release.

In ONTAP 9.6, there’s actually a new change that doesn’t really fall into the three categories above. Instead, it’s a departure from how ONTAP handled support for releases.

Long Term vs. Short Term

Around ONTAP 9.0, ONTAP adopted the 6 month cadence for releases. A decision was made to make odd numbered/Fall releases “long term” support releases (LTS) and even numbered/Spring releases “short term” support releases (STS). Short term releases would get a shorter runway of official software support than long term releases.

There was an unintended consequence, however – fewer people wanted to use short term releases, even though the short term releases had the same rigorous quality testing and stability as long term releases. “Short term” had negative connotations, and customers didn’t want to face the prospect of being forced to upgrade sooner, even if that upgrade cycle was years after the release.

So, ONTAP 9.6 scraps the short term release. All new ONTAP releases will be considered long term support releases and will have:

  • 3 years full support (technical support, root cause analysis, SW and documentation available online, frequent service updates in year 1)
  • 2 years limited support (technical support, root cause analysis, SW and documentation available online, no service updates)
  • 3 years of self-service support (documentation available online, no technical support from NetApp, no service updates)

New Features

ONTAP 9.6 focuses on upping the game on simplicity in order to help consumers of ONTAP – new and old – provision storage and move in and out of the cloud much easier.

Most of the stuff in ONTAP 9.6 centers around feature enhancements, but there is one main new feature that I think merits discussion…


I cover REST APIs in another blog post, but essentially, ONTAP is adding support for a standard interface that can query or make changes to an ONTAP cluster via normal HTTP GET and PUT requests.


This allows storage administrators to more easily automate routine tasks without needing to use a proprietary model like ZAPI or ONTAP-specific PowerShell cmdlets. REST APIs also offer a performance improvement over ZAPI calls.

Aggregate level encryption

Another new feature in ONTAP 9.6 centers around the ability to encrypt data at rest at the aggregate level. Previously, you could either encrypt data at rest using drive-enabled hardare encryption on NetApp Storage Encryption (NSE) systems or software-based volume level encryption.

With NSE drives, you can encrypt an entire HA pair, but that means everything on that HA pair is encrypted. That provides less flexibility in management and limits your options with regards to which drives you can use in a system. NSE also means a common key for all volumes on the cluster, and thus no separation for tenants on different SVMs.

NetApp Volume Encryption (NVE) gives more granularity in controlling secure data access, but because each volume has its own encryption key, you lose some simplicity (having to generate a key for every new volume) and storage efficiency (unique keys for each volume means aggregate level deduplication doesn’t work with NVE).


Aggregate level encryption provides simplicity by way of setting an encryption once when the aggregate is created and all volumes in the aggregate sharing the same encryption key, and it allows common blocks across all volumes in the aggregate to be deduplicated.

Feature Enhancements – Simplicity and Productivity

This is where most of the ONTAP 9.6 update does its magic – feature enhancements. One of the prevailing enhancements in ONTAP 9.6 is the focus on simplicity and productivity.

System Manager Enhancements – System Manager is getting a bit of an overhaul. For starters, it’s no longer called OnCommand – instead, it has been re-branded as ONTAP System Manager.

ONTAP System Manager also features:

  • Redesigned page views and simpler workflows optimized for use by IT generalists
  • Visualizations of network topology and storage hardware
  • Intelligent capacity reporting of on-premises and cloud usage at a glance
  • Preview “view” version only in ONTAP 9.6 – feedback welcomed, write to: voc@netapp.com

The preview version can be viewed by clicking on “Try the new experience” in the top left corner:


There are also some improvements added with the new System Manager view.

For capacity, you see combined capacity and efficiency views as soon as you open ONTAP System Manager.

For example:


Performance views in System Manager are getting an update as well. Previously, if you wanted to see system performance in System Manager, you only were given a real-time view of performance that did not capture historical data.

In the new view, we store up to a year of perf data in System Manager for historical views that can help narrow down hard-to-pinpoint performance issues in your ONTAP cluster.


ONTAP System Manager has also streamlined how protocols are managed. ONTAP is one of the only storage systems in the industry that can support SAN and NAS protocols, but managing them in previous System Manager iterations required more clicks.

In the new System Manager view, we have a single splash page:


There’s also a network diagram in the dashboard that gives a breakdown of available ports, LIFs and SVMs.


Expect more to come for System Manager enhancements in future ONTAP releases!

Simplicity doesn’t just mean “make System Manager better,” however. There are a number of other feature enhancements that improve ONTAP simplicity, as well as overall productivity.

FabricPool simplicity – Automatic inactive data reporting and new tiering policy

In ONTAP 9.4, a feature enhancement was added where you could have ONTAP analyze your cold data and report back how much space savings you’d get from enabling FabricPool. In ONTAP 9.6, this functionality is now on by default.


Additionally, a new tiering policy has been added called “all,” which will allow storage administrators to easily tier all data from a volume instantly, without having to wait for the cold data policy to kick in. This comes with some usage guidelines:

  • Use “all” policy only when importing already cold data
    • Or data that will be read sequentially only
  • Don’t use the “all” policy with random read or random read/write workloads
    • Random reads from the cloud tier are slow, and
    • Write updates (overwrites) fragment object storage and increase physical storage consumpition
  • User data is never inserted into the performance tier
    • Reads always come from the cloud tier
  • Storage efficiency savings result from inline data reduction operations only
    • Automatic background deduplication and background scans are not available
  • Backup and DR processes read data from cloud tier

Other FabricPool enhancements include:

  • A FabricPool aggregate can store twice as much data
    • 1:20 performance-to-cloud tier ratio limit removed
  • Subscription licenses are replacing perpetual license for cloud tiering
    • 1- and 3-year license terms offered
    • Term-based licenses provide more customer flexibility and enable OPEX accounting
    • Perpetual license option will be removed from June quote tool
  • SVM-DR support
  • Volume move support without needing to re-tier

FlexGroup simplicity – Rename, shrink, elastic sizing

FlexGroup volumes also got some simplicity enhancements. Starting in ONTAP 9.6, you can rename a FlexGroup without having to re-create it and shrink a FlexGroup volume at the FlexGroup level.

Additionally, elastic sizing provides a way for file writes to complete when a member volume fills up by borrowing space from other member volumes without admin intervention.


For more information, see Sneak Peek! Elastic Sizing for FlexGroup Volumes in ONTAP 9.6.

Feature Enhancements – Data Protection and Security

In addition to simplicity and productivity, ONTAP 9.6 also brings some enhancements to data protection and security.

In-flight encryption support

Both SnapMirror (synchronous and asynchronous) and FlexCache now support TLS 1.2 encryption for communication in-flight. This can help prevent man-in-the-middle attacks and protect data contents from being viewed while being transferred.

Per-tenant/SVM key management

Previously in ONTAP, only one key manager could be used for a cluster. This was not ideal for admins who wanted to host multiple tenants on the same cluster, but provide different key management options to each. In ONTAP 9.6, each SVM can have its own unique key management system (off-box only).


SnapMirror Sync – Additional enhancements

SnapMirror Sync was re-introduced in ONTAP 9.5 and supported only NFSv3 and SAN protocols.  In ONTAP 9.6, support for SMB 2/3.x and NFSv4.x has been added.

Also added:

  • Quota enforcement
  • fpolicy support
  • Synchronous to asynchronous SnapMirror cascades (“cascade” is multiple SnapMirrors of the same volume chained together)
    • Synchronous replication from primary to secondary for DR
    • Asynchronous replication from secondary to tertiary for backup/DR

FlexCache Enhancements

FlexCache was also re-introduced in ONTAP 9.5 and offers a way for storage admins to create site-local caches of volumes to accelerate workloads at remote sites or within the same cluster.


In addition to the aforementioned in-flight encryption, the feature was expanded to add:

  • Qtree and quota enforcement support
  • 100 cache volumes per node
  • Cloud Volumes ONTAP support

MetroCluster over IP Enhancements

MetroCluster over IP allows ONTAP clusters to stretch over a distance of 700km via standard ethernet networks. ONTAP 9.6 adds support for entry level platforms like the A220 and FAS2750, as well as support for shared inter-site links.

One thought on “ONTAP 9.6RC1 is here!

  1. Pingback: Updated FlexGroup Technical Reports now available for ONTAP 9.6! | Why Is The Internet Broken?

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