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NetApp Cloud Backup

Cloud Backup and FlexGroup Integration: Petabyte Backup Solved

Due to the sheer volume of data that enterprises find themselves hosting—frequently scaling into the petabytes—finding the right backup solution is often an uphill task. NetApp just made that job easier by extending cloud backup support to FlexGroup volumes.

In this blog we will explore how the new Cloud Backup integration with FlexGroup volumes can help address the challenges of petabyte back up.

Continue on to read more or use these links to jump down:

What Is FlexGroup?

NetApp ONTAP storage solution has different configuration constructs that help accommodate large-scale data sets. ONTAP FlexVol volumes are virtualized storage volumes that keep data sliced and distributed across all disks in a specific NetApp ONTAP aggregate. This is helpful when the amount of data is in the terabyte scale. However, FlexVol volumes are limited to single hosts and single aggregates and are not designed for petabyte-scale data sets. That is where FlexGroup volumes come into the picture.

FlexGroup volumes were introduced in NetApp ONTAP storage systems to address the requirements of catering to large data estates. FlexGroup volumes offer a single massive namespace spread across multiple FlexVol volumes, aggregates, and nodes that can store petabytes of data.

Some of the features of FlexGroup volumes include:

  • The ability to store hundreds of billions of files in a single namespace
  • Tested for 20+ PB of data
  • No capacity or file count constraints other than hardware or volume limits of ONTAP
  • Balances the distribution of load and space among all members dynamically
  • Minimal maintenance and management overhead
  • Offers non-disruptive scale-up and scale-out
  • Up to 6x performance for high ingest workloads

FlexGroup volumes are best suited for large-scale data sets, and ONTAP’s built-in storage efficiency features—thin provisioning, compression, deduplication, and compaction—help consolidate the data to an optimal storage footprint. Beginning with version 9.1, all ONTAP systems support FlexGroup volumes.

Why Petabyte Backup Can Be a Challenge

As a result of rapid digital transformation, many organizations now have to deal with the challenge of exponential data growth scaling to many petabytes. According to the IDC Worldwide IDC Global DataSphere Forecast, 2022–2026, this data growth is expected to double in the next five years compared to what it is today. Storing and managing this data requires careful planning and configuration of your storage systems. Protecting the data with a reliable backup solution is another crucial aspect of managing a vast data estate as data loss can often bring enterprises to a standstill.

Though FlexGroup volumes address the problem of petabyte-scale data storage, customers still need to find viable backup solutions to protect this data. This is essential to ensure point-in-time recovery in the event of a data loss, corruption, malware attacks, etc. But when the size of the data is that large, it becomes much more complex to protect. For example, recovery time and the capability of backup software to span billions of files and a large number of volumes can be considerable challenges to creating effective backups.

Compounding the problem is that traditional backup solutions are typically built to support terabytes of data. Their underlying data protection mechanisms do not scale to support the kind of petabyte-scale data that we are talking about. In its forecast (linked above), IDC had called this out: “Petabyte-scale deployments are becoming commonplace. Traditional backup methodologies can no longer cope with such data volumes.”

NetApp Cloud Backup helps address the petabyte backup challenge through its new integration with FlexGroup volumes.

BlueXP and FlexGroup Integration: Petabyte Backup Solved

The Cloud Backup capability is the object-based backup solution from NetApp for ONTAP systems. Via BlueXP, you can choose any workloads, both cloud and on-premises, and quickly back them up to the object storage of your choice on AWS, Azure, Google Cloud or on-prem with StorageGRID® appliances. It can also work completely offline isolated networks integrating with NetApp StorageGRID for dark site deployments.

With the release of ONTAP 9.12.1 in November 2022, Cloud Backup supports backing up data from FlexGroup volumes. With this integration, customers can now easily protect petabyte-scale data stored in FlexGroup volumes. This eliminates all hassles of scanning file systems, mounting numerous directories in parallel, or stressing your storage system when the backup process is running.

Let’s look at some of the advantages that this integration brings to the table for backing up of extremely large data sets stored in FlexGroup volumes:

  • Faster block- level and incremental updates: Cloud Backup is much faster because it operates at the block level and backup syncs are incremental forever. In a FlexGroup volume, a single namespace could be made up of multiple members, but Cloud Backup identifies and backs up only the changed blocks.
  • Storage efficient: Cloud Backup preserves all the storage efficiencies of ONTAP achieved via compression and deduplication, which optimizes the size of the backup copy. This ensures the object storage capacity, and its associated costs are as minimal as possible.
  • Direct backups: Since Cloud Backup backs data up directly from the source to the destination and doesn’t require a media gateway, it operates much faster and more securely.

    As the backup operates at block level, as opposed to the file level, FlexGroup volume backup windows can be reduced from months or weeks to a few hours or minutes. Cloud Backup ensures valid point-in-time recovery of PBs of data this way.

  • Security: Cloud Backup copies are encrypted end to end, both in flight and at rest. No matter what the scale of the data, it will be secure in the destination storage.
  • Scale: Creating backup copies of FlexGroup volume data with Cloud Backup can achieve limitless scale in data storage as well as data protection. You are no longer restricted by the backup solution's ability to handle large size data sets, as you would be with traditional backup methods.
  • Ease of management: PB-scale data can be backed up with just four clicks using the BlueXP console. As BlueXP is SaaS-based and easily integrates with NetApp ONTAP systems, you can reduce the backup infrastructure requirements and reduce stress on your production systems.

As you can see, Cloud Backup does all the heavy lifting of taking backups of PBs of data seamlessly without impacting your storage infrastructure.

Which Use Cases Benefit from PB-Scale Backup Support?

The biggest trend that we see in industry today is exponential data growth and the challenges associated with it. And this is just the beginning. In coming years, data estates could grow from petabytes to exabytes and zettabytes.

Some of the high data growth industries are Electronic Design Automation (EDA), oil, gas and seismic, manufacturing, financials, machine learning/AI development, healthcare, automotive, and media and entertainment to name just a few. EDA for example could generate petabytes of data, usually unstructured and often smaller files. Media and entertainment industry is facing challenges in storing large video and audio files, especially archives. Companies in the healthcare vertical need secure ways to keep patient records for many years, which adds up to snowball data estate size over the years.

The integration between FlexGroup volumes and Cloud Backup offers the optimal solution for storing and protecting data at this scale for such use cases. While FlexGroup volumes offer the scalability for storing large scale data sets, BlueXP makes it easier to do backup and point in time recovery of the data without operational overhead.


Exponential data growth is a byproduct of businesses depending on data more and more to conduct their operations. Data protection is one of the major challenges associated with petabyte-scale data sets. Extending Cloud Backup's capabilities to FlexGroup volumes helps address this problem.

Cloud Backup is designed for ONTAP. At the petabyte scale, there’s simply no other solution that can protect your data estate the way NetApp can.

To find out more about how BlueXP can protect your ONTAP data, check out these customer success stories using the backup and recovery capability.New call-to-action

Semion Mazor, Product Evangelist

Product Evangelist