NetApp has one all-flash array with mainstream FlashRay on the way

Carol Sliwa

NetApp Inc. offers all-flash array options with its EF-Series and FAS storage systems, but its upcoming FlashRay product could make it a more serious player in the solid-state marketplace.

The Sunnyvale, California-based company started from scratch on the scale-out FlashRay design to tailor the product for ultra-fast flash storage. NetApp said the multi-protocol array will use a new internally developed operating system and include enterprise storage efficiency features such as inline deduplication and compression. FlashRay is currently in beta testing and scheduled for general release this year.

"NetApp is still flushing out their flash story," said Henry Baltazar, a senior analyst at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Forrester Inc. "A lot is riding on whatever happens with FlashRay. I don't think their impressive stuff happens until FlashRay comes out."

In the meantime, NetApp has customers deploying its EF-Series and its FAS arrays in all-SSD configurations, according to Rip Wilson, senior product marketing manager for all-flash arrays at NetApp. The EF-Series is based on technology that NetApp acquired from LSI in 2011.

"We believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to flash," said Wilson via an email. "Enterprises need different features -- performance, efficiency, reliability, flexibility and choice -- to maximize the true value of flash. Every workload is different."

The EF540 ships with enterprise-grade single-level cell (SLC) solid-state drives (SSDs) and the EF550 features enterprise multilevel cell (eMLC) flash drives. SLC drives carry the highest endurance, but eMLC drives are less expensive.

Many competitors have been moving to even cheaper multilevel cell (MLC) flash drives. FlashRay is expected to use MLC flash.

NetApp's EF550 stands out with its double-digit throughput and microsecond latency figures as well as its networking support for 16 Gbps Fibre Channel, 10 Gb Ethernet, 40 Gb InfiniBand and 6 Gbps SAS. The product also offers plentiful RAID options, including NetApp's proprietary Dynamic Disk Pools (DDP).

Wilson said DDP evenly distributes data, dual parity and spare capacity across the array's entire pool of drives to simplify setup and maximize utilization because there are no RAID sets to configure and no idle hot spare drives. NetApp also claims DDP is able to maintain consistent performance by eliminating hot spots, minimizing the performance impact of a drive failure and returning the system to optimal condition more quickly than traditional RAID.

From a storage feature standpoint, the EF-Series offers capabilities such as thin provisioning, snapshots and replication, and unlike many vendors, NetApp doesn't charge an extra fee for them. But, the product lacks support for inline deduplication, compression, and quality of service.

The EF550 supports SSDs of up to 1.6 TB while the EF540 supports 800 GB. The EF550 scales to 192 TB.

List price for the EF540 starts at $175,000 for 9.6 TB raw capacity, the EF550 starts at $85.000 for 2.4 TB. NetApp claims its price per GB is $18.25 and price per IOPS is $0.63 for both systems, based on 9.6 TB with 12 800 GB SSDs.

There is performance degradation of 10 percent to 50 percent during controller failure for the EF550. Data is accessible during controller failure.

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