Cleondris: Unofficial Swiss NetApp skunkworks talks backup and ONTAP

Looking for a niche service perhaps too small for NetApp’s ONTAP engineering crew? Cleondris, a Switzerland-based NetApp skunkworks, might get involved. The firm, which has a big presence in add-on software for NetApp ONTAP storage systems, includes a 10-person engineering team and was first started in 2006 by comp sci PhD Dr Christian Plattner, who built software for enterprises.

Plattner became involved in the NetApp-VMware integration area in 2010 and Cleondris was registered as a global technical NetApp Alliance Partner in 2011.

Plattner told an IT Press Tour that Cleondris’ focus is purely on NetApp, mostly ONTAP, and it works on projects that are either too small and tactical for NetApp’s ONTAP engineering organization or need completing in a vastly shorter timeframe than the sometimes slow-reacting and political ONTAP engineering organization can manage, particularly for customer deals in the German-speaking regions of Europe.

Its main product is a Data Manager offering but its NetApp history started with an ONTAP backup facility in 2010, an ONTAP clustering product in 2012 – Cleondris supports 7-mode and 8-mode ONTAP by the way – followed by SnapDiff (2014), FPolicy (2016) and SnapMirror Cloud (2020) products.

 It has three product families: 

The Data Manager product pays most of Cleondris’s bills, while the HCC product, focused on Solidfire, is now obsolete and being discontinued. In the Data manager product, Plattner said, the restore options are wide-ranging and protection is snapshot-based, meaning there is no agent in each VM. Snapshot-based backup is good enough, he said.

Cleondris supports NetApp’s SnapMirror Cloud in Data Manager. It said this orchestrates and manages backup and recovery of data on ONTAP systems directly to Object storage (S3) using SnapMirror Cloud technology. Via ONTAP APIs integration, Cleondris backs up data from ONTAP using the native NetApp data mover directly to object stores – be it an S3 bucket in the public cloud or on-prem S3 like NetApp’s own StorageGRID. Cleondris provides a file catalog that scales to billions of files and allows for search and restoration of files and directories from S3 back to ONTAP. 

Plattner said that, by using SnapMirror Cloud, customers can replace tape backups and keep thousands of snapshots in S3. The archived data is always available and can be recovered quickly.

He told the briefing attendees that, in the early VMware-NetApp integration days, there was a relatively bare-bones link between the two environments and a large German bank, a NetApp customer, had a Helpdesk problem. It found that their Helpdesk VMware people could access the NetApp storage array management but didn’t know how to navigate through the options as they couldn’t understand the, to them, complicated software entities and relationships in NetApp’s ONTAP software world.

Likewise the ONTAP helpdeskers could access the VMware vSphere environment but, having little or no VMware knowledge, were effectively blind. The customer told NetApp to fix it or remove the ONTAP filers. Plattner said the Sunnyvale ONTAP engineers said it was a tactical local problem, not a strategic one for them to fix. The German NetApp team and partner then asked Plattner to fix this and fix it quickly.

Cleondris developed interface software so the help desk staff could operate in the ONTAP and VMware SW territory better, and rescued the deal.

Plattner’s use of FPolicy for ransomware exemplifies Cleondris’ expertise. FPolicy is an ONTAP feature that watches every IO. It lets a file be set as immutable and no one can then change its status. In 2015 Cleondris set up a copy policy and then set the copies immutable, and this was the basis of a ransomware protection element in the SnapGuard offering.

Eventually, late last year, six years later, NetApp developed its own ransomware protection features within ONTAP. Plattner claimed: “No one knows how it works.”

Cleondris is still reacting quickly to NetApp developments; it supported AWS FSx for ONTAP from day one. Plattner said Cloud Volumes ONTAP (CVO) is a NetApp-managed ONTAP-as-a-service offering. “AWS FSx for ONTAP is effectively the same code but managed by AWS.”

Plattner said Cleondris has always been profitable and has never raised any outside funding. He and the other Cleondris engineers will not develop software for other storage suppliers’ systems. Retaining the trust of NetApp’s sales people is paramount in its business model and the business thus does not help sell competitors’ products.

There you have it. View Cleondris as a niche external engineering skunkworks for NetApp systems and customers.