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Learn about BlueXP tiering

Contributors netapp-tonacki netapp-bcammett

NetApp's BlueXP tiering service extends your data center to the cloud by automatically tiering inactive data from on-premises ONTAP clusters to object storage. This frees valuable space on the cluster for more workloads, without making changes to the application layer. BlueXP tiering can reduce costs in your data center and enables you to switch from a CAPEX model to an OPEX model.

The BlueXP tiering service leverages the capabilities of FabricPool. FabricPool is a NetApp Data Fabric technology that enables automated tiering of data to low-cost object storage. Active (hot) data remains on the local tier (on-premises ONTAP aggregates), while inactive (cold) data is moved to the cloud tier — all while preserving ONTAP data efficiencies.

Originally supported on AFF, FAS, and ONTAP Select systems with all-SSD aggregates, starting with ONTAP 9.8 you can tier data from aggregates consisting of HDDs in addition to high-performance SSDs. See the considerations and requirements for using FabricPool for details.

BlueXP tiering can be configured for single-node clusters, HA-configured clusters, clusters in Tiering Mirror configurations, and MetroCluster configurations using FabricPool Mirror. BlueXP tiering licenses are shared among all of your clusters.


BlueXP tiering offers automation, monitoring, reports, and a common management interface:

  • Automation makes it easier to set up and manage data tiering from on-prem ONTAP clusters to the cloud

  • You can choose the default cloud provider storage class/access tier, or use lifecycle management to assign a more cost-effective tier to older tiered data

  • You can create connections to additional object stores that can be used for other aggregates in your cluster

  • Using the UI you can drag object stores to an aggregate for tiering and for FabricPool mirroring

  • A single pane of glass removes the need to independently manage FabricPool across several clusters

  • Reports show the amount of active and inactive data on each cluster

  • A tiering health status helps you identify and correct issues as they occur

  • If you have Cloud Volumes ONTAP systems, you'll find them in the Clusters page so you get a full view of data tiering in your hybrid cloud infrastructure

For more details about the value that BlueXP tiering provides, check out the BlueXP tiering page on the BlueXP website.

Tip Cloud Volumes ONTAP systems are read-only from BlueXP tiering. You set up tiering for Cloud Volumes ONTAP systems from the working environment in BlueXP.

Supported object storage providers

You can tier inactive data from an on-premises ONTAP system to the following object storage providers:

  • Amazon S3

  • Microsoft Azure Blob

  • Google Cloud Storage

  • NetApp StorageGRID

  • S3-compatible object storage (for example, MinIO)

BlueXP tiering licenses can also be shared with your clusters that are tiering data to IBM Cloud Object Storage. The FabricPool configuration must be set up using System Manager or the ONTAP CLI, but licensing for this type of configuration is completed using BlueXP tiering.

Note You can tier data from NAS volumes to the public cloud or to private clouds, like StorageGRID. When tiering data that is accessed by SAN protocols, NetApp recommends using private clouds due to connectivity considerations.

Object storage tiers

ONTAP clusters can tier inactive data to a single object store, or to multiple object stores. When you set up data tiering, you have the choice to add a new bucket/container or to select an existing bucket/container, along with a storage class or access tier.

BlueXP tiering uses the cloud provider default storage class/access tier for your inactive data. However, you can apply a lifecycle rule so that the data automatically transitions from the default storage class to another storage class after a certain number of days. This can help keep your costs down by moving very cold data to less expensive storage.

Note You can't select lifecycle rules for data tiered to StorageGRID or S3-compatible storage.

Pricing and licenses

Pay for BlueXP tiering through a pay-as-you-go subscription, an annual subscription, a bring-your-own BlueXP tiering license, or a combination. A 30-day free trial is available for your first cluster if you don't have a license.

There are no charges when tiering data to StorageGRID. Neither a BYOL license or PAYGO registration is required.

Since BlueXP tiering preserves the storage efficiencies of the source volume, you pay the cloud provider object storage costs for the tiered data after ONTAP efficiencies (for the smaller amount of data after deduplication and compression have been applied).

30-day free trial

If you don't have a BlueXP tiering license, a 30-day free trial of BlueXP tiering starts when you set up tiering to your first cluster. After the 30-day free trial ends, you'll need to pay for BlueXP tiering through a pay-as-you-go subscription, annual subscription, a BYOL license, or a combination.

If your free trial ends and you haven't subscribed or added a license, then ONTAP no longer tiers cold data to object storage. All previously tiered data remains accessible; meaning you can retrieve and use this data. When retrieved, this data is moved back to the performance tier from the cloud.

Pay-as-you-go subscription

BlueXP tiering offers consumption-based licensing in a pay-as-you-go model. After subscribing through your cloud provider's marketplace, you pay per GB for data that's tiered—​there's no up-front payment. You are billed by your cloud provider through your monthly bill.

You should subscribe even if you have a free trial or if you bring your own license (BYOL):

  • Subscribing ensures that there's no disruption of service after your free trial ends.

    When the trial ends, you'll be charged hourly according to the amount of data that you tier.

  • If you tier more data than allowed by your BYOL license, then data tiering continues through your pay-as-you-go subscription.

    For example, if you have a 10 TB license, all capacity beyond the 10 TB is charged through the pay-as-you-go subscription.

You won't be charged from your pay-as-you-go subscription during your free trial or if you haven't exceeded your BlueXP tiering BYOL license.

Annual contract

BlueXP tiering offers an annual contract when tiering inactive data to Amazon S3 or Azure. It's available in 1-, 2-, or 3-year terms.

Annual contracts are not currently supported when tiering to Google CLoud.

Bring your own license

Bring your own license by purchasing a BlueXP tiering license from NetApp (previously known as a "Cloud Tiering" license). You can purchase 1-, 2-, or 3-year term licenses and specify any amount of tiering capacity (starting at a minimum of 10 TiB). The BYOL BlueXP tiering license is a floating license that you can use across multiple on-premises ONTAP clusters. The total tiering capacity that you define in your BlueXP tiering license can be used by all of your on-prem clusters.

After you purchase a BlueXP tiering license, you'll need use the BlueXP digital wallet in BlueXP to add the license. See how to use a BlueXP tiering BYOL license.

As noted above, we recommend that you set up a pay-as-you-go subscription, even if you have purchased a BYOL license.

Note Starting August 2021 the old FabricPool license was replaced by the Cloud Tiering license. Read more about how the BlueXP tiering license is different than the FabricPool license.

How BlueXP tiering works

BlueXP tiering is a NetApp-managed service that uses FabricPool technology to automatically tier inactive (cold) data from your on-premises ONTAP clusters to object storage in your public cloud or private cloud. Connections to ONTAP take place from a Connector.

The following image shows the relationship between each component:

An architecture image that shows the BlueXP tiering service with a connection to the Connector in your cloud provider, the Connector with a connection to your ONTAP cluster, and a connection between the ONTAP cluster and object storage in your cloud provider. Active data resides in the ONTAP cluster, while inactive data resides in object storage.

At a high level, BlueXP tiering works like this:

  1. You discover your on-prem cluster from BlueXP.

  2. You set up tiering by providing details about your object storage, including the bucket/container, a storage class or access tier, and lifecycle rules for the tiered data.

  3. BlueXP configures ONTAP to use the object storage provider and discovers the amount of active and inactive data on the cluster.

  4. You choose the volumes to tier and the tiering policy to apply to those volumes.

  5. ONTAP starts tiering inactive data to the object store as soon as the data has reached the thresholds to be considered inactive (see Volume tiering policies).

  6. If you have applied a lifecycle rule to the tiered data (only available for some providers), older tiered data is assigned to a more cost-effective tier after a certain number of days.

Volume tiering policies

When you select the volumes that you want to tier, you choose a volume tiering policy to apply to each volume. A tiering policy determines when or whether the user data blocks of a volume are moved to the cloud.

You can also adjust the cooling period. This is the number of days that user data in a volume must remain inactive before it is considered "cold" and moved to object storage. For tiering policies that allow you to adjust the cooling period, the valid values are 2 to 183 days when using ONTAP 9.8 and later, and 2 to 63 days for earlier ONTAP versions; 2 to 63 is the recommended best practice.

No Policy (None)

Keeps the data on a volume in the performance tier, preventing it from being moved to the cloud tier.

Cold snapshots (Snapshot only)

ONTAP tiers cold Snapshot blocks in the volume that are not shared with the active file system to object storage. If read, cold data blocks on the cloud tier become hot and are moved to the performance tier.

Data is tiered only after an aggregate has reached 50% capacity and when the data has reached the cooling period. The default number of cooling days is 2, but you can adjust this number.

Note Re-heated data is written back to the performance tier only if there is space. If the performance tier capacity is more than 70% full, blocks continue to be accessed from the cloud tier.
Cold user data & snapshots (Auto)

ONTAP tiers all cold blocks in the volume (not including metadata) to object storage. The cold data includes not just Snapshot copies, but also cold user data from the active file system.

If read by random reads, cold data blocks on the cloud tier become hot and are moved to the performance tier. If read by sequential reads, such as those associated with index and antivirus scans, cold data blocks on the cloud tier stay cold and are not written to the performance tier. This policy is available starting with ONTAP 9.4.

Data is tiered only after an aggregate has reached 50% capacity and when the data has reached the cooling period. The default number of cooling days is 31, but you can adjust this number.

Note Re-heated data is written back to the performance tier only if there is space. If the performance tier capacity is more than 70% full, blocks continue to be accessed from the cloud tier.
All user data (All)

All data (not including metadata) is immediately marked as cold and tiered to object storage as soon as possible. There is no need to wait 48 hours for new blocks in a volume to become cold. Note that blocks located in the volume prior to the All policy being set require 48 hours to become cold.

If read, cold data blocks on the cloud tier stay cold and are not written back to the performance tier. This policy is available starting with ONTAP 9.6.

Take the following into consideration before you choose this tiering policy:

  • Tiering data immediately reduces storage efficiencies (inline only).

  • You should use this policy only if you are confident that cold data on the volume will not change.

  • Object storage is not transactional and will result in significant fragmentation if subjected to change.

  • Consider the impact of SnapMirror transfers before assigning the All tiering policy to source volumes in data protection relationships.

    Because data is tiered immediately, SnapMirror will read data from the cloud tier rather than the performance tier. This will result in slower SnapMirror operations—​possibly slowing other SnapMirror operations later in queue—even if they are using different tiering policies.

  • BlueXP backup and recovery is similarly affected by volumes set with a tiering policy. See tiering policy considerations with BlueXP backup and recovery.

All DP user data (Backup)

All data on a data protection volume (not including metadata) is immediately moved to the cloud tier. If read, cold data blocks on the cloud tier stay cold and are not written back to the performance tier (starting with ONTAP 9.4).

Note This policy is available for ONTAP 9.5 or earlier. It was replaced with the All tiering policy starting with ONTAP 9.6.