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Advance your skills with Azure training and certification

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Whether you’re an individual collecting Digital Badges or a partner working towards Microsoft partner requirements, Fast Lane are here to help address the nationwide skills shortage on Azure.

It is a recently publicised fact that the number 1 cloud challenge for organisations is NOT security, but the lack of resource and expertise. With technology transforming just about every industry today, it’s not hard to see how lighting up these new technologies and capabilities is presenting challenges for both individuals and businesses to acquire the required skills which have evolved in the Cloud era.

In light of this, Microsoft have committed to train up 500,000 people in the UK to be cloud technology experts, and have launched their Azure Skills Initiative to help achieve this goal.

As part of the incentive, free online Azure training has been made available to help professionals develop core Azure skills with deep technical content, which is accessible anytime and anywhere via the Open edX platform, to jump start students onto their chosen Azure learning path and help individuals, partners, and customers realize their full potential.

In addition to the free online learning, Microsoft are also offering a promotion for students working towards Azure certification entitling candidates to purchase selected Azure exam vouchers, along with a free practice test and exam retake (if required), at heavily discounted rates. This is allowing individuals to reinvent themselves and prove to the world they’re ready to take on new roles that didn’t exist as recently as 5 years ago.

Recognising this huge investment from Microsoft, and as a Silver Learning Partner in the UK, Fast Lane share the responsibility to address this skills shortage and have stepped up to the challenge by creating our own Azure Expert Program, which builds upon the Microsoft Azure Skills Initiative and is ideal for individuals who are just starting their Microsoft Azure certification journey, working towards the industry recognised MCSA and MCSE certifications.

Through a combination of online learning and instructor led workshops, Fast Lane will help individuals acquire professional recognition for their expertise covering the full breadth of architecting, developing, and administering Azure solutions. The flexible package including all materials, practice tests and exam vouchers offers great value for money, representing a saving of over £1,000 against the individual components.

Students will gain in-depth and practical Azure knowledge, such as learning how to transform applications to the cloud and make them highly accessible, scalable and efficient, along with a detailed understanding of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Learners will gain the skills to transfer part or a complete infrastructure with Azure to the cloud, whilst providing users with a high-performance environment, even at peak times.

The Azure Expert program also offers flexibility, with the option to adapt the package to suit individual learning styles, instructor led classroom or virtual training workshops could be replaced with Microsoft MOC On Demand training, allowing students the option to start immediately and learn at their own pace and 24/7 with 90 days access per title to a blend of high-quality video, reading, live hands-on labs and knowledge checks.

In addition, individuals with existing Cloud skills are also catered for. Recognising that customers may be dealing with multiple Cloud scenarios, Fast Lane are pleased to offer the Microsoft Azure for AWS Experts (40390) course, which is perfect for professionals to cross train, having been developed to relate IaaS technologies used in Amazon Web Services (AWS) to those used in Microsoft Azure. This is also available as a MOC On Demand self-paced e-learning offering, or by attending a 3 day instructor led course, delivered either in a physical classroom environment or live online.

So while we all acknowledge that huge skills gaps exist for both individuals and businesses to acquire the required skills that have evolved in the Cloud era … what are you going to do about it?

Please contact Fast Lane today, we will be pleased to advise and discuss with you the various options available to help provide the knowledge to fill in the gaps!

Phone: 0845 470 1000
Fax: 0845 470 1001



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Microsoft Azure – a cloud computing service

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Microsoft Azure is a new cloud computing service for building, deploying, and managing applications and services through a network of Microsoft data centers.

Microsoft Azure offers a range of services including:


Storage Services provides access for storing and accessing data on the cloud. Table service lets programmes store organized text in collections. Blob service allows programmes to store text and data as blobs that can be accessed by a URL; pathQueue service lets programmes communicate by message using queues.

Data management

Azure Search provides text search and structured filters using REST or SDK APIs.StorSimple manages storage tasks between on-premises devices and cloud storage.SQL Database, formerly known as SQL Azure Database, works to create, scale and extend applications into the cloud using Microsoft SQL Server technology. It also integrates with Active Directory and Microsoft System Center and Hadoop.

Image result for microsoft azure


Azure Automation, provides a way for users to control the manual, long-running, error-prone, and frequently repeated tasks that are commonly performed in a cloud and enterprise environment. This saves time and increases the reliability of regular tasks and even schedules them to be automatically performed at regular times. You can use processes using runbooks or automate configuration management using Desired State Configuration


Event Hubs, which provide event and telemetry ingress to the cloud at massive scale, with low latency and high reliability. Queues, which allow one way communication.  An application would send the message to the service queue, and a receiver would read from the queue. Topics, which provide one-way communication using a subscriber pattern. Relays, which provide multiple direction communication. Unlike queues and topics, a relay doesn’t store in-flight messages in its own memory. Instead, it just passes them on to the destination

For more information visit our Azure Skills initiative page here -application.

Fast Lane have a number of training offerings and packages to help support developers and IT professionals on their journey to the cloud! We have FREE on-line Azure training to help develop core skills at your own pace, anytime, anywhere.

We also have a number of Microsoft On Demand Azure courses starting at £449 :

Fast Lane is also offering FREE exam vouchers with the above courses. Then we also have our Azure Expert Program designed for prospective cloud experts, that concludes with the globally recognized MCSE: Cloud Platform & Infrastructure certification within just a few weeks. When you become a certified Microsoft Azure Solutions Specialist, you will gain professional recognition for your expertise covering the full breadth of architecting, developing, and administering Azure solutions. The Azure Expert Package includes

  • 5 Microsoft e-learning titles
  • 3 Azure hands-on workshops
  • 3 original DMOC course kits
  • 3 x practice tests
  • 3 exam vouchers

Price: £4495 – A saving over over £1000!

For more information follow this url –

Should you require any information on training from Fast Lane, please contact us on :

Phone: 0845 470 1000
Fax: 0845 470 1001



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NetApp FlexGroup: Thirst Quenching

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

The thirst for Data and how we quench it?

I heard that NetApp was creating a new distributed file system that could evolve how NAS works, out of curiosity I started to look into it. I was curious before with Infinite Volumes and did we really need them. But this evolutionary step is exciting.

Now that ONTAP 9.1 is available, I thought it was about time I looked into FlexGroups in more detail.

There’s an excellent official Technical Report, TR-4557 – NetApp FlexGroup Technical Overview.

Data is growing.

When I started in the storage industry a 4GB disk was absolutely massive and the storage systems I worked on at the time could utilise 45 x 4GB drives, but that was just ridiculous, who on earth would need that much storage. The concept of 1TB of storage was just a wish list dream concept. So it’s no great secret to see that over the years our thirst for storage has grown. 1TB was a pipe dream, then 100TB became the pipe dream and then 1PB became a pipe dream, and well now we are pipe dreaming of Exabyte’s.

So file systems are getting bigger along with the size of the datasets. To give an example, my first digital camera …. A single photo would take up less than 1MB of space now a reasonable camera a single photo can 10MB or more. So our evolving data is getting thirsty for data space. So NetApp have looked at this closely and taken a visionary approach and designed FlexGroups to address this now and the future.

NetApp FlexGroup.

FlexGroup has been designed to solve multiple issues for large-scale NAS workloads.

  1. Capacity – Scales up to 20 petabytes
  2. High file counts – Up to 400 billion files
  3. Performance – parallelized operations in NAS workloads, across CPUs, nodes, aggregates and constituent FlexVols
  4. Simplicity of deployment – Simple to use GUI in System Manager; avoid having to use junction paths to get larger than 100TB capacity
  5. Load balancing – Use all of your storage resources for a dataset
  6. Resiliency – Fix metadata errors in real time without taking downtime

So if you have a heavy NAS workload and you want to be able to through all your available resources at it then quench your thirst with a FlexGroup.

How does a FlexGroup work?

FlexGroup essentially takes the concept of a FlexVol and simply enhances it by joining multiple FlexVol member constituents into a single namespace that acts like a single FlexVol to clients and storage administrators.


To a NAS client, it would look like this:


Files are written to individual FlexVol constituents across the FlexGroup. Files are not striped. The amount of concurrency you would see in a FlexGroup would depend on the number of constituents you used. Right now, the maximum number of constituents for a FlexGroup is 200. Since the max volume size is 100TB and the max file count for each volume is 2 billion, that’s where we get our “20PB, 400 billion files” number. Keep in mind that those limits are simply the tested limits – theoretically, the limits are able to go much higher.

So unlike a standalone volume, with FlexGroup ONTAP will which of the constituent members will be the best location to store that write, this is working to keep the FlexGroup balanced without a performance penalty.

So how do I win?

When NAS operations can be allocated across multiple FlexVols, we don’t run into the issue of serialization in the system. Instead, we start spreading the workload across multiple file systems (FlexVols) joined together (the FlexGroup). And unlike Infinite Volumes, there is no concept of a single FlexVol to handle metadata operations – every member volume in a FlexGroup is eligible to process metadata operations.

That way, a client can access a persistent mount point that shows gobs of available space without having to traverse different file systems like you’d have to do with FlexVols.

It’s been tribal knowledge for a while now to create multiple FlexVols in large NAS environments to parallelize operations, but we still had the issue of 100TB limits and the notion of file systems changing when you traversed volumes that were junctioned to other volumes. Plus, storage administrators would be looking at a ton of work trying to figure out how best to layout the data to get the best performance results.

Now, with NetApp FlexGroup, all of that architecture is done for you without needing to spend weeks architecting the layout.

So how is it faster?

In preliminary testing of a FlexGroup against a single FlexVol, we’ve seen up to 6x the performance. And that was with simple spinning SAS disk.

Adding more nodes and members can improve performance. Adding AFF into the mix can help latency.


In the first release of NetApp FlexGroup, we’ll have access to snapshot functionality. Essentially, this works the same as regular snapshots in ONTAP – it’s done at the FlexVol level and will capture a point in time of the filesystem and lock blocks into place with pointers. Because a FlexGroup is a collection of member FlexVols, we want to be sure snapshots are captured at the exact same time for filesystem consistency. As such, FlexGroup snapshots are coordinated by ONTAP to be taken at the same time.

How do you get NetApp FlexGroup?

NetApp FlexGroup is currently available in ONTAP 9.1RC1 for general availability.

  • NFSv3 and SMB 2.0/2.1 (RC2 for SMB support)
  • Snapshots
  • SnapMirror
  • Thin Provisioning
  • User and group quota reporting
  • Storage efficiencies (inline deduplication, compression, compaction; post-process deduplication)
  • OnCommand Performance Manager and System Manager support
  • All-flash FAS (incidentally, the *only* all-flash array that currently supports this scale)
  • Sharing SVMs with FlexVols
  • Constituent volume moves
  • 20 PB, 400 billion files

How can a FlexGroup be enhanced?

While FlexGroup as a feature is awesome on its own, there are also a number of ONTAP 9 features added that make a FlexGroup even more attractive.

The benefit that can be added with a FlexGroup right out of the box include:

  • 15 TB SSDs
  • Per-aggregate CPs
  • RAID-TEC – triple parity to add extra protection to your large data sets

So is that it ? not by a long shot, there are lots of rumours about other enhancements coming so keep your eyes open and get ready to quench your data thirst.


Pete Green
Fast Lane Lead NetApp Expert

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Securing your data beyond the physical realms using Storage Encryption

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

For most organisations having Raid protected storage is a given but what if your need complete piece of mind that your data is protected and “SECURE”

For some organisations Storage Encryption is not considered, and this can be for several reasons. It could simply be that there is a perception that the Encryption process will have an unwanted overhead, which may be deemed counterintuitive. It could be that there is just a lack of understanding as to what storage Encryption is and what it can give you.

So let’s take a look at what NetApp® offers.dsc_0122

NetApp® Storage Encryption (NSE) provides full-disk encryption and what’s more they do it without compromising storage efficiency or performance using self-encrypting drives supplied from some of the leading drive producers. NSE has the beauty of being a non-disruptive process that gives a comprehensive, cost effective, hardware-based level of security that has a very simplistic approach in its operation and usage. Although it is a simple solution to use it does not detract from its compliance with government and industry regulations. There is also no compromise on storage efficiency.

NetApp® uses full disk encryption (FDE) capable disks.  Data is not encrypted external to the disk drive itself – this is truly data at rest only.  Once in the controller or on the network, data is not encrypted. What makes this so good is that the encryption engine is built into the disk so all encryption takes place at close to line speed and therefore it does not give a performance penalty so whether your system uses encryption or not the performance will be the same. It is fair to say that encryption disks cost more then it will be a price point as to whether the cost is justified.

FDE disks have a requirement for a key to be generated and pushed down to the disk to enable encryption of data. FDE capable disks are available in a varying sizes from 600GB -1.2TB performance, 800GB and up SSDs, but there is the added advantage that if someone steals one drive or a complete set of drives without the key it is impossible to read the data.

So what exactly does NSE offer:

NSE supports the entire suite of storage efficiency technologies from NetApp. This includes array-based AntiVirus scanning, Deduplication, inline and post process compression. It also supports the SafeNet KeySecure encryption-key appliance, which strengthens and simplifies long-term key management. NSE complies with the OASIS KMIP standard and helps you comply with FISMA, HIPAA, PCI, Basel II, SB 1386 and E.U. Data protection Directive 95/46/EC regulations using FIPS 140-2 validated hardware


Pete Green
Fast Lane Lead NetApp Expert

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