New to NetApp? Where should I go now?

Hanging around on NetApp communities, I came across that post from a freshly NetApp certified person wondering about where to go next, and how to gain experience with NetApp storage. Long story short (since this was not exactly what Fabian was looking for), I started to think about good learning tricks and how my personal experience would be worth sharing.

So, you finally found your dream job, or maybe an internship, and for some unknown reason, you will have to work with NetApp stuffs for a while, and you want to do it right…

As you might guess, there is no golden path that leads to universal knowledge and there is quite some work ahead of you if you want to know everything about NetApp (FYI, nobody does!). The right way to do It depends on your approach to technology and learning.

A good starting point is usually to find opportunities to shadow professionals during installation and configuration of systems. There are several ways to do that if you’re working for NetApp or a partner, but if you are a customer it can be more challenging. Training, of course is also a great way to learn, but if you can’t afford it, you will need to find some other way.

Personally, I’ve always had a problem « learning ». I mean, learning as an activity of its own. I always needed real projects to work on, and was lucky enough when Santa delivered some 20+ blade servers and two NetApp filers and said « You’re the guy that is going to set that up because no one else knows NetApp »… I didn’t know NetApp either, and I had great fun doing this.

If you are like me, and can’t get motivated on purely academic work, it is not always easy but you can certainly find some activity that will keep you busy without wasting your time.

If not NetApp, I’m a virtualization guy, so I spent a couple of days setting up a VMware / NetApp lab on my laptop with VMware Fusion/Workstation and the NetApp simulator (See here). Maybe that’s something you would enjoy doing, and that’s very good practice : install the whole stack (Active Directory, VMware ESX, vCenter, VSC, etc…) then familiarize yourself with things like System Manager, VMware’s VAAI for NFS, iSCSI connectivity, OnCommand management suite, …

You’re more a Microsoft guy ? Go for the full Microsoft stack with Hyper-V, System Center, Clustered Data ONTAP and SMB3 integration with copy offload, NetApp monitoring from SCOM, …

By the way, if you don’t know yet the NetApp Simulator, it is time to head to the download section of the support site and install it, this is a huge learning resource by itself. It’s worth mentioning that this simulator is a fully functional ONTAP system (cDOT or 7-mode), with the exception of a couple of things, you can actually use it like you would use a real system.

If you need to work on existing environment because you can’t setup a lab, look at the configuration of OnCommand Unified Manager / Ops Manager. Configure alerts, make sure everyone is healthy and you get an email when storage gets low or latency goes high for example.

Here are some key products/fetures you need to focus on :

  • Data ONTAP, of course (7-mode or cDOT, depending on your environment) : snapshot management, data replication (SnapMirror, SnapVault), accessing configuration files or logs, configuring autosupport, SNMP, using System Manager,…
  • Clustered Data ONTAP is there, it is not the next-gen storage OS for NetApp, it is happening NOW! So even if you only have 7-mode systems, stay ahead and learn all about cDOT features en benefits over 7-mode
  • OnCommand Unified Manager is the management/monitoring suite,  every NetApp FAS system should be monitored by OCUM and usually is. Learn how to use it, configure alerts, authentication, performance advisor, …

Another great way to learn is to get involved with troubleshooting : talk with your peers when they open cases with NetApp, you start by asking stupid questions and you learn by the answer… if the guy you’re talking to has enough patience!

Working on documentation is also a great way to learn a lot of things : even the obvious topics requires some work to simplify and explain to whoever is going to read you. I’ve had fun working on a screencast to explain SnapMirror between 7-mode and cDOT systems (here).

Learning by documenting is great for multiple reasons:

  1. There is never enough, you’ll always find something to document
  2. It requires you to dig as deep as you can to explain what you’re working on to whomever is reading it,
  3. Anyone can do it, it is not about how technical you are, the topic may be simple, it is about how good you understand it, and if you can explain it, there are chances you can climb the knowledge ladder one more step.
  4. It is a great occasion to get reviewed by your peers

Nothing ground breaking here, but since I had a couple of feedback after my post, I thought it could interest other folks beginning with NetApp or trying to find more entertaining tasks for interns than making coffee or copies!

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