Welcome to the Episode 339, part of the continuing series called “Behind the Scenes of the NetApp Tech ONTAP Podcast.”
This week, Sayan Saha (email@example.com) joins us to discuss the latest updates to NetApp’s Astra Control product – NetApp’s application-aware data protection and mobility offering for stateful Kubernetes applications.
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The following transcript was generated using YouTube’s subtitle service (with lots of post-process manual editing). As it is AI generated, YMMV.
Episode 339: NetApp Astra Control Updates – August 2022 – Transcription
Justin: I’m here in the basement of my house and with me today I have Sayan Saha with me, so Sayan what do you do here at NetApp and how do I reach you?
Sayan: Hey Justin it’s great to talk to you after a while. I take care of NetApp’s Astra portfolio, which is NetApp’s storage and data services for Kubernetes centric apps. Astra is our Kubernetes data and storage services it has a pretty vast portfolio. I’m the Senior Director of Product Management here, been here for a couple of years. It’s been a great ride so far, thanks Justin again for having me here for the podcast.
Justin: Yeah no problem, any time. So, you know, you’re here to talk about Astra Control and the latest updates but before we get into that I would like for you to give me an overview of what is Astra Control.
Sayan: You know, the way I talk about Astra Control when customers partners and others ask me about is Astra Control provides an advanced set of data services that you need for your enterprise-grade Kubernetes workloads that are stateful in nature. When I say stateful, that means these applications actually have data and state that that matter. What we have seen with customers is, you know, a lot of people get started with Kubernetes very quickly with stateless apps, API servers and things like that, and even stateful applications where they start providing persistent storage to their workloads using a CSI interface. That’s all nailed out right now that’s pretty well ironed and stable, however when it comes to actually protecting their applications and providing advanced data services like backup recovery, disaster recovery, cloning, migration… that’s where there’s a gap, and with Astra Control we are filling that gap. Here at NetApp, where we provide I’ll say a rich set of data services on top of, you know, persistent storage for Kubernetes – which is, these days, our bread and butter. Everybody does that, but having the capability to basically have your workload disaster tolerant, you know, recoverable after a disaster – whether it’s in a local data center or in the cloud – is something that we are solving here at NetApp with customer feedback, and it’s been a very exciting journey helping customers, you know, basically do what they want to do with Kubernetes… such a powerful platform, really flexible and running their business critical apps on it which have data needing protection, needing to be mobile, needing to be portable, so in short, Astra Control is our, you know, data services portfolio for Kubernetes. It does have two incarnations – two variants, I’d say. One is a fully managed variant we call Control Service. This is a service operated by NetApp. Our customers can just add their Kubernetes clusters and we discover the apps and they can manage those apps and protect them. Their apps can consume the service. For other customers who have the need for running a self-managed software because of security or privacy regions or data residency regions we have a variant called Astra Control Center, which is just like any other traditional software stack that you use. It’s a Kubernetes application itself – you take it in, you run it, we provide releases, you update it, etc. So we have it in both forms available and we have customers that want both. It’s a very rich portfolio that way. If you just want to use a service and not worry or bother yourself with how to actually maintain and patch software and upgrade software that is not core to your business, then use Astra Control Service. If you have a reason to actually manage the software yourself for privacy or security or data residency agents, use the Astra Control Center variant. So that’s it. It was not a short explanation of what Astra Control Center it is, but hopefully that that clears it up for folks who are hearing about it for the first time.
Justin: Yeah it sounds like it’s mainly for backup and disaster recovery and even like moving workload data across different areas whether it’s on-prem or cloud, right?
Sayan: Yes that is correct. It provides what I call or what we call is, you know, application aware data protection – application aware data mobility, you know, and in Kubernetes, being application are very key because you could protect just the data volumes associated with your application but that’s not going to provide protection for the entire application. Similarly, if you just move the data volumes around from one cluster to another cluster, or across to public cloud regions, it’s not going to make the application actually portable. You have to move all of the components that make up a Kubernetes application. That includes standard Kubernetes resources like secrets config maps, replica sets, stateful sets, etc. along with custom resources and CRDs which are cluster scope resources. So Kubernetes applications can be pretty complex that way. They have a lot of things that you need to move along or you need to operate on and it’s not just the data volumes that you protect or manage. That’s the way to look at Astra Control and what it does for Kubernetes applications.
Justin: So earlier you mentioned it being application aware and I’m curious how it does it know which application is which and how does it manage it?
Sayan: Astra Control is intelligent where, you know, basically it can go and discover all of your Kubernetes namespaces that are in a cluster automatically after that, you know, the customer can choose which one they want to manage as an application and then Astra would absorb that input and basically provide customers, you know, a menu of all the options that they have for this application whether it’s backing it up, whether it’s taking a snapshot, whether it’s cloning, etc. Astra also you know, is intelligent enough when it sees custom resources or CRs as they’re known inside your namespaces, it can follow and figure out what are the cluster scope resources or the CRDs that are associated with your CRs and also protect those so it does that by, you know, by implementing logic, which is making sure that, you know, all the things all the Kubernetes resources that you have in a namespace are accounted for along with things that could be referencing to that could be referenced to as a clusterscope resources in in addition to it, you know, if you want to if the user wants to arbitrarily define an app they can always use the concept of labels in Kubernetes, by which they can actually apply a label to a set of resources within a namespace and say this is my app 1, as opposed to another set of labels inside a namespace which they call this is my app 2, and Astra will manage them both and you’ll be able to take a snapshot or backup of both, you know, separately in a distinct way. So yeah, I mean that’s kind of the whole of how app master deals with an application it actually takes care or accounts for every resource that’s in a namespace follows back pointers to CRDs that are cluster-scoped and allows you to label things within a namespace that you want to define as an app.
Justin: So I would imagine that the only time you can take snapshots is when the underlying storage is NetApp storage it doesn’t really interact with other provisioners of storage because we don’t have those APIs. Is that accurate or does it actually interact with other providers?
Sayan: Astra started with interacting only with NetApp storage but that was a while back. We got a lot of feedback from customers is they love what Astra has to offer but they want the same data management that Astra provides for third party storage so Astra now does support you know, cloud native cloud storage providers including Azure Disks, Google persistent disk and EVS, and in future it will also support third-party on-prem storage which is the plan so Astra’s goodness is not only limited to NetApp storage, though if you use NetApp storage you will get super-fast snapshots and other, you know, SnapMirror capabilities that that you cannot use for those other storage providers. But Astra that way is all-encompassing. It is supporting storage providers from third-party vendors that are non-NetApp so that’s something that we added based on customer requests and it has been well received now.
Justin: You kind of let the cat out of the bag here – you talked about SnapMirror and that’s kind of like the big release for this update, right. So that’s like the big feature that we we’ve added, so talk to me a little bit about that – like, what was the driver for getting SnapMirror into Astra Control? Why was it so important?
Sayan: Yeah so that’s a great question. Ever since we have launched Astra, you know, this the single most important request or the single most highest priority request that we have heard from our customers is “when will Astra support SnapMirror as the replication technology for doing disaster recovery?” In other words, you know, customers who were used to using NetApp SnapMirror technology, they love it. They love how fast and efficient it is. They want to use it for Kubernetes and in this latest update we did just that – we delivered on that request. Astra now integrates with SnapMirror so that, you know, one can basically do disaster recovery with very low RPO and RTO across datacenters and the cloud it’s a very intuitive user interface to set it up and support it so it’s something that we are really proud about to deliver to the market. The other thing with, you know, SnapMirror is in addition to what we did for you, know, so we already supported backup and restore using an intermediary object storage media so this is in addition to that, so applications that have the need to have really low RPO/RTO can use SnapMirror but other applications which doesn’t have that need can continue to use an existing backup and restore using intermediate object storage so SnapMirror is additive. But it’s a very exciting addition for us.
Justin: So with the SnapMirror addition, I would imagine you’d have to have the ability to talk to multiple storage systems, right? For both the replication establishment as well as updating… does it support things like fan out and cascading of SnapMirror? Is it something just that’s just like, you know, source to destination currently?
Sayan: Right now it’s source to destination but it does support across on-prem data centers. We support it as well as across the cloud and on-premises using CVO in the cloud and ONTAP in on-premises, so it’s not a new technology for NetApp. But bringing that under the Kubernetes offering – Astra offering – is new, as we get more requests from customers and enhancements we will consider adding other capabilities to SnapMirror as desired. We think based on the initial responses we’ve got from customers they’re very excited to try it and give us feedback so it’s already, you know, being beta tested even before it’s released. It has been beta tested by a group of customers, so it’s very exciting that we have this and this is very unique. Not a lot of competition can do this today and we think this is going to be a killer feature for us.
Justin: I mentioned earlier about snapshots and third-party storage, now SnapMirror is a different story. That’s going to be pretty much proprietary to ONTAP, but do we support anything like SnapMirror to S3 where it goes to non-NetApp storage or is that something that’s on the roadmap?
Sayan: So SnapMirror going into non-NetApp storage is definitely on the roadmap. We do offer a way to do backup/restore using intermediary object storage which provides you with the same set of capabilities that you want. They may not be as low RPO/RTO compared to SnapMirror, but the non-network storage provider supported by Astra will support the same set of functionality using the intermediary object storage and a lot of customers actually are okay with not having that higher RPO/RTO because their custom application simply doesn’t need it. Yeah, so I think between SnapMirror and object storage intermediate registered for replication I think we have got a lot of applications covered.
Justin: So as far as the SnapMirror piece goes, you know, in backups in general for Kubernetes storage I would imagine that this is kind of a new it’s kind of new territory because, you know, containers and that sort of thing were more ephemeral back in the day when they first came out now we’re looking at more datasets that need to be protected and that sort of thing. So what sort of evolutions do you see coming in the future and you know, what sort of workloads fit into that, you know, evolution, where we had to go from not worrying about the data to actually caring.
Sayan: So, when Kubernetes was first conceived or what was it first came into light it was you know, in general, it was being used for stateless applications. By stateless I mean applications that have some config data but not more than that and Kubernetes thrived. But Kubernetes is such a flexible and powerful platform that enterprises, you know, discovered it and said “we want to run our apps on this platform” because that’s kind of how our, you know, the entire modern application modernization track is going to be. So as this happened, you know, people started, you know, running workloads that including AI/ML databases and datastores, you know, NoSQL datastores on Kubernetes and these kind of apps are very data-heavy or data-centric as more and more of these applications started coming into Kubernetes, the need for having some sort of solution that that makes them highly available disaster-tolerant, you know, started brewing and the Kubernetes community did a great job defining and the CSI interface for consuming storage in a very normalized fashion. But when it came to data services, beyond that, you know, the community is still working on some of the things that enterprises need. So other vendors are playing in this space and filling out this gap, because when you have a lot of application data in a platform, you want to sleep at night well thinking that it’s safe and if something happens you have a backup that you can restore from or you can recover if there’s a huge disaster and that’s why a solution like Astra is very relevant now as more and more data-centric applications move to Kubernetes.
Justin: Yeah and speaking of the sleep at night and feeling secure with your data the SnapMirror piece itself is actually pretty secure, you know. For one thing, you’re not transmitting all the data every time right it’s just parts of the data that changed and it’s done so with a proprietary technology that’s going to be pretty hard to kind of translate what’s coming across the wire. Even so, you’ve got TLS 1.2 encryption to protect that anyway, so now you’ve kind of got this, you know, security through obfuscation and then security through encryption. So you’ve got a pretty good peace of mind when you’re dealing with replicating these datasets across the wire.
Sayan: That is correct and customers and enterprises want that right, so that’s why SnapMirror integration has been our number one requested feature from day one that we launched the project and now that it’s real. You know, we are really excited to bring this to the market and it’s truly one of its kind. Our competitors who have similar solutions are not there yet with this kind of integration so we are very happy about it and we think it’s going to provide say for Kubernetes a new level of disaster tolerance and business continuity that people haven’t seen before in this space.
Justin: Yeah and aside from the disaster recovery piece, I mean SnapMirror also offers the ability to give you, you know, the chance to localize datasets so if you want to have a local copy of data at another location you can do a replication over there and you have that there. Now it can be read only if you want, so you leave the SnapMirror intact so nobody can touch that data. You can also use it for migrations, right? You want to go from one cloud to another, SnapMirror is going to be able to do that for you as well.
Sayan: That is correct, yes. So yes it brings in a host of other features that so far Kubernetes users haven’t been offered so, indeed, yeah, and I think it’s very important that they know it’s available now because I mean they’re used to working in this space where there’s just like there’s no mobility there’s no backup. Now you have these options, right, and all of that is brought by Astra in an application-centric manner so you do this application by application as opposed to just a data volume so that makes it even more powerful.
Justin: So when you say it’s application-centric and you mentioned it’s not just a data volume. Is it smart enough to grab datasets within a single volume? Or is it got to be the whole volume?
Sayan: The current integration is basically if you look at a Kubernetes application you know, it can have one or more persistent volumes, you know, and each of those volumes could have SnapMirror sessions going to the other one and the way, you know, Astra makes sure that they are, you know, they are snapshotted together and they’re replicated together providing application consistent snapshots and replication. So all of that is orchestrated by Astra as opposed to the user needing to do that.
Justin: Yeah and the good news is we have things like Trident to provision volumes in those in the spaces, right? So you can automatically provision volumes and not have to worry so much about doing it yourself.
Sayan: So tying your Trident into that is going to be important yeah and it’s all of this is actually Trident plays a major role in all of this. Trident is used for plumbing tried and turnable’s dynamic persistent volume allocation from storage classes and Astra basically provides the end-to-end user experience where you can actually take an application and say I want this to be replicated you know, including all of its data to the other cluster and if there’s a DR, you know, I want that application to be restored including all the data volumes and the Kubernetes objects that make up the application. So that the application is instantly operable after a disaster, so you don’t have to go and say, “oh I recovered all the data but where is where are my secrets, oh what were my conflict maps, but where are my stateful sets?” All of that is tied together nicely so that you have it ready.
Justin: Yeah, and when you’re dealing with a large Kubernetes deployment you don’t want to really worry about all this moving parts so if you have something that can orchestrate all that for you it’s going to make your life a lot easier and it’s going to reduce the amount of mistakes you make when you’re doing something as important as disaster recovery and backup.
Sayan: That is true and that’s why the whole application aspect of this tied with SnapMirror and, you know, the replication and the fast and efficient replication mechanisms they all come very nicely together to work together and help Kubernetes applications achieve the business continuity that was missing so far.
Justin: All right, so we we’ve talked a lot about the SnapMirror aspect and I don’t want to make it seem like that’s the only thing that’s in the new update, so let’s talk more about what else is available in this update. So what else is new?
Sayan: There’s a lot of interesting updates here but the most important update outside of SnapMirror is another feature that answer feature but it’s a it’s more than just a feature that our customers have been asking for is AWS support. So we now support Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service, or EKS, which means that if you are running your Kubernetes workloads on EKS, you can protect them with Astra as long as your storage provider is either EBS – again speaking to a third party storage support – or FSx NetApp ONTAP. So out of the gate, we are going we are supporting both FSx NetApp for ONTAP and CVS. So EBS and FSx ONTAP are popular storage providers for continuous workloads as long as your containerized applications are using those we can protect them and you can easily move them so all of the Astra features that are available for other public cloud and on-premises are now available for AWS EKS users.
Justin: Are there other Kubernetes orchestrators that are available in addition to that already or, you know, or is this is that still to come in later releases?
Sayan: So we already support if you run, you know, something like OpenShift or Rancher in AWS and wanted Astra to provide data services for applications running on those clusters. We kind of already supported that through our Astra Control Center variant of the product which is self-managed, but EKS is Amazon’s fully managed Kubernetes service that is now integrated tightly with our Astra Control Service, which is our fully managed offering providing very seamless usage and a really enhanced user experience. But you just click buttons and set things up and then you know, once it’s up, you know, things are discovered and you can go with that. This was not the case before – we did not support EKS with EBS and FSx and on-prem ONTAP before that, so this is truly a new addition – which again a lot of our customers have ever asked for.
Justin: And what about things like AKS or GKE or do we support those with Astra Control Center as well or is that on the roadmap?
Sayan: Yeah AKS and GKE are supported already. So Astra Control Service – which is our fully managed version – supports them. We launched Astra Control Service with GKE and we added support for AKS in Azure the storage providers that we support for those include Google persistent disk and CVS in Google Cloud and Azure NetApp Files and Azure disk in Azure, so the AWS is a new addition to our already supported.
Justin: So are there even any engines that we don’t support now? I mean I feel like that’s all the major ones. Are there any that we’re missing?
Sayan: I think between Astra Control Service and Astra Control Center I would say we have support for all popular Kubernetes platforms. So this includes obviously AKS, GKE, EKS, VMware Tanzu, OpenShift by RedHat and Rancher. We obviously support community Kubernetes so upstream Kubernetes. I think we have got the most popular platforms covered.
Justin: All right, so, you know, you mentioned we mentioned Azure a little bit in the AKS piece. Is there anything that we’re doing new with Azure in the marketplace?
Sayan: Yeah, for the first time Astra Control Service is now available in the Azure Marketplace for procurement, so that’s something that we added in this update. So you can now buy an Astra Control directly from the marketplace. This was not possible before, so makes for a much more frictionless buying experience, so very excited about that. In addition to that, in this release I just want to mention that we have this concept of execution hooks in the product or the service which helps you to kind quiesce databases and things like that. We have had those hooks only for snapshotting so that you know, one can take application consistent snapshots, but now we enhance that framework to add that extensibility or hook capability for backup and restore operations. Right, so now we have more comprehensive though this allows you to basically go and, you know, specify custom actions in form of a script or something that you want to do when you try to take a backup of a database. So to add more to this, we did more than than just, you know, enhance the execution hooks to and expanded their usage to backup and restore actions. We actually launched an open source project which provides additional tooling for very popular cloud native applications so if you’re looking to protect applications like, you know, Cassandra, Elastic Search, MongoDB, MySQL, PostgreSQL, Redis and Kafka. We have actually launched an open source project which has custom actions that you would want to take in conjunction with Astra Control to protect them. This open source project is called Verda – spelled v-e-r-d-a – and we have launched it with all the applications I talked about. The protection policy for all of these applications is not a hook or a script it could be something else that you need to do and we’ll try to document all such steps and our plan is to kind of curate taste test and continue growing this Verda project so that we can get, you know, for lack of a better word, recipes for protecting popular cloud native applications as they show up because every application is different they need to do something else when it comes to a database or a data store it could be quiescing and unpacking or freezing and unfreezing but that’s not the case with something like Kafka or Jenkins so our approach is to kind of keep expanding this project and provide custom actions for popular cloud native applications so that customers can use that as a reference when they go and adopt one of these cloud native applications and we want to protect them.
Justin: Does this project integrate with things that people might be using today such as like Puppet or Ansible – that sort of thing – or is it its own standalone thing.
Sayan: It’s currently a standalone thing but what we have on the roadmap is to make it extremely easy from Astra Control to basically populate. Astra Control already has a framework for execution hooks that I talked about and it will make it extremely easy to choose your execution hooks or select your execution hooks or scripts from this repository of hooks so that you don’t have to kind of, you know, download a hook and upload etc. So we will make it very automated and seamless so customers can just say “oh, I want execution hooks for my adv never has it for the project you know, I can pick it up from here and I can apply it.” So that’s kind of what the plan is currently so we’ll see how it goes.
Justin: So I want to go back and touch a little bit about the Azure Marketplace because I don’t think you quite made everyone feel like how important and how big it is to get into the Azure Marketplace, because from what I understand, it’s hard to get into. It’s a very exclusive club, so how long would you say we’ve been working on that?
Sayan: Yeah, thanks Justin, for kind of giving me an opportunity to address that. Yes, so we have been working on it for the actual technical work you know, for months whatever to get all the APIs integrated but there’s a whole business phase before that where you kind of have to convince Microsoft on why we want to do this. What is in it for them, what is it for us. And that takes a long time, so being in the marketplace is valuable. It’s a lot more visibility – anybody who’s coming to the Azure Marketplace and looking for a Kubernetes application protection mobility solution, now will have another option. But it took a while to make it happen, but I think our engineering team, you know, they did a great job rising up to the occasion, getting all of the integration done, which includes building integration. A lot of work in the product went in that is not necessarily any core product feature but, you know, end-to-end workflows on how somebody will come to the Azure Marketplace and consume Astra from there and get set up with a subscription and get start getting charged. So there’s a lot of thought that went in into how those workflows would work out.
Justin: And it really just underscores the partnership that NetApp has with cloud providers like Azure, right? I mean it’s just huge.
Sayan: Yes yeah that is true. I mean NetApp that way is in a unique position. It has great relationships and partnerships with all the three you know, major public clouds out there and working in that app we closely collaborate with, you know, all of them and it’s great to see this collaboration take fruit in various products within and across the breadth and the depth of the portfolio and this is not something this is not easy as you said before, right. It takes time – years – to work these partnerships to the point where you’re a trusted partner and worked with these public crowd giants or hyperscalars for years where they trust you and give, you know, some of this let’s say things that are not easy to get you know, you have to earn their trust and be a great partner to be able to get some of these. So indeed, you know, this is it’s pretty unique about here at NetApp where it has got such a great relationship with all three hyperscalars.
Justin: We’ve covered SnapMirror, we’ve covered the Azure Marketplace, we’ve covered Project Verda – so what else is there in the new update is there? Anything else that we need to know about?
Sayan: Yeah sure we talked about the AWS EKS integration so earlier on so yeah so that one too and I think yes there are there’s always other small things that we worked on made the UI much more usable. It has a dark mode now. There’s another interesting feature in the UI, where when you’re taking a backup, you know, it actually shows you the percent completion like how far you have backed up so you have a good idea how much of the backup has been done and how much is still remaining. The same applies to restore, so there’s a lot of those kind of things that have gone in which is like makes the user experience really good and we’re continuously kind of striving to make the user experience even better, you know, so I think our UX team did a great job polishing the interface and get getting it more intuitive and we get kudos from our customers all the time about, you know, how great the UI is and how intuitive it is and how they didn’t have to type 25 commands in a command line to get a DR session going across two name spaces, right. So that is something that is very unique to Astra. It’s extremely intuitive – you don’t have to be Kubernetes savvy to use it if you kind of know around Kubernetes a little bit, you’ll be able to use it. It abstracts out all those details that makes Kubernetes very sometimes scary but here with Astra you can, you know, obviously Astra has the expert API mode so you can, obviously, you know, code up all the workflows that you want to invoke before a disaster, after a disaster. You know, things like that, but for somebody who is not so Kubernetes savvy and has limited experience Astra is not difficult, you know, it’s extremely easy to use. It’s intuitive – you go to the console and things are laid out very nicely you can have a look at it and mostly you know, understand what the portal is showing etc. because we understand that overall you know, Kubernetes application data can be very daunting for people to grow.
Justin: Yeah, absolutely, and there’s a lot more they have to worry about than just trying to figure out how to navigate yet another portal. Sounds like we’ve covered pretty much everything there is, you know, outside the small things that, you know, maybe aren’t as important to cover, but if I wanted to find more information about the new Astra Control release where would I find that?
Sayan: Our portal is https://cloud.netapp.com/astra-control. From there, you know, you can you can actually sign up and start using Astra right away the free trial or you can read up on the blogs, you know. You can read up on the reference architectures and other materials that we have on it. You can look up customer references so there’s a lot of things that’s going on there so that’s your starting point from then on you know, obviously you can branch off into different parts but we always try to keep that fresh a lot of great blog content there we’re constantly making sure that, you know, every new feature that we introduce we put in demo videos, we put in blogs and a lot of those things.
Justin: Yeah and we’ll also have another podcast covering the Astra Control piece with you know, customer angle coming up in the coming weeks so stay tuned to that space here and we’ll add all these links to the blog as well. So is there anything else you want to add before we head out?
Sayan: So it was great speaking here Justin so as always you know, I think for folks who are listening to this podcast please give the latest update of Astra a try and check out our SnapMirror capabilities or AWS capabilities depending upon if you’re using Astra Control Service or Astra Control Center and give us feedback because we’d like to hear from them.
Justin: All right and the feedback portion is also in the portal as well?
Sayan: Yeah so if you’re using Astra Control Service you should be able to just go when you’re the free version you’ll be able to create support tickets or we have slack channels or Discord channels that you can use to give us feedback which we actually respond to pretty quickly so even though you may be just trying it out and not a paying customer, we take all of the feedback very seriously.
Justin: Well Sayan thanks so much for joining us today and talking to us all about the new Astra control updates again if we wanted to reach you how do we do that?
Sayan: My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org