Don’t Let NetApp Pull the Cloud Over Your Eyes with NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP

In this first blog of a four-part series, we compare the product components and architectures of NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP and Nasuni cloud file storage.

November 5, 2020

NetApp, like most large infrastructure vendors, is trying to stay relevant in the cloud era. They are acquiring cloud companies to offer new cloud services, but in the file storage category, the challenge they face is that their technologies were not designed for the cloud. So, when they “lift-and-shift” their software and hardware into the cloud, many of the advantages the cloud offers – lower cost, simpler IT administration, unlimited capacity on-demand – are not realized.

This is the case with NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP, one of the NetApp products that is often compared to Nasuni cloud file storage. In this four-part blog series, we’ll look at the differences between these competitive solutions and explain why Nasuni’s cloud-native platform is the better alternative for shifting department, project, and other high-capacity enterprise file shares to the cloud. This first blog compares the product components and architectures. Part 2 will compare costs. Part 3 will compare IT administration requirements. And Part 4 will conclude with a comparison of constraints and limitations.

NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP and Nasuni Architectural Differences

NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP, like Nasuni, is available for Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud.  It is essentially a virtualized instance of the NetApp ONTAP operating system and WAFL file system that runs on public cloud disk storage such as Azure Disk Storage or Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) instead of NetApp on-premises hardware such as NetApp Fabric Attached Storage (FAS) or All Flash FAS (AFF), for which ONTAP and WAFL were originally built.

However, to truly compare NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP to all the capabilities of Nasuni’s unified platform, many different NetApp products and options are required:

  • A primary instance of NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP is needed to provide primary file storage in the cloud.
  • A secondary instance of NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP is needed in another cloud region or on-premises to provide for disaster recovery in case the primary instance isn’t reachable or available. NetApp SnapMirror is typically used to replicate data between the primary and secondary instances.
  • NetApp FabricPool tiering to object storage is required to reduce costs. While Nasuni’s cloud-native architecture leverages low-cost cloud object storage to store the authoritative copies of all files and metadata, NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP uses more expensive cloud disk storage. In an attempt to keep costs down, FabricPool stores active data on a performance tier while inactive data is “tiered off” to an object storage capacity tier. This legacy tiering approach splits data across two types of storage, so there is no single authoritative source.
  • NetApp Cloud Backup Service is required for long-term data protection, since Nasuni’s unlimited snapshots are not possible with NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP.
  • NetApp Global File Cache (formerly Talon) is required to provide local file access and synchronization at on-premises locations.
  • Multiple Windows Servers are required to provide the control services (Core instance) and cache storage (Edge instance) for NetApp Global File Cache.
  • NetApp Cloud Manager is required to set up and use Cloud Volumes ONTAP and configure and monitor NetApp Global File Cache.

This table summarizes the differences between Nasuni, which is built for the cloud, and NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP, which requires multiple technologies originally built for on-premises hardware.

  Nasuni Cloud File Storage NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP
File System
Data Model
Cache from Cloud Tier to Cloud
Primary Storage
Object Storage VM Disk Storage
Public Cloud Storage Support
AWS, Azure, Google Cloud AWS, Azure, Google Cloud
Private Cloud Storage Support
Dell EMC ECS, IBM Cloud Object Storage, Hitachi HCP, NetApp StorageGRID, Pure Storage FlashBlade N/A
Single, Authoritative Source of Data
Yes – all files, metadata, and inodes stored in cloud object storage No – FabricPool splits file data between disk storage performance tier and object storage capacity tier, with NetApp WAFL metadata always staying on the performance tier
Built-In NetApp Cloud Backup Service – separate tool
Disaster Recovery
Built-In – leverages object storage geo-replication NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP – separate secondary instance
Configuration, Management, and Provisioning
Built-In NetApp Cloud Manager – separate tool
File Synchronization and Caching
Built-In NetApp Global File Cache (Talon) – separate tool
Multi-Site Orchestration & Control
Built-In – scalable, elastic, multi-region cloud service NetApp Global File Cache Core Instance – Windows server
Edge Caching
Nasuni Edge Appliance – hardened Linux VM NetApp Global File Cache Edge Instance – Windows Server
Global File Lock
Built-In – scalable, elastic, multi-region cloud service NetApp Global File Cache – Windows server


As this comparison shows, NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP is best suited for “bursty” workloads that require the instant capacity of the cloud and that can be paid for on an hourly basis. It is also well-suited for enterprise web apps; Oracle, SAP, and custom applications; and relational database use cases where the high cost and complexity of NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP is easier to justify.

For high-capacity enterprise, department, and project file shares that need to be accessed in multiple cloud regions or on-premises locations, Nasuni is clearly the best choice. Nasuni’s unified, cloud-native platform offers a modern, all-inclusive solution for modernizing Windows File Server and NAS workloads. Part 2 of this 4-part series shows why Nasuni is 1/2 to 1/3 the cost of NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP. Part 3 explains why Nasuni is significantly easier to administer than NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP. And part 4 will cover how Nasuni, as a cloud-native solution, takes full advantage of cloud scalability and elasticity compared to NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP.

Don’t just take it from me. Ken Clipperton, Lead Analyst for Storage at analyst firm DCIG, hosted a webinar on November 12th, where he compared Nasuni cloud file storage and NetApp’s cloud storage products, including NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP. Check out the on-demand recording.

Click here to learn more about the Nasuni advantage over NetApp!

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