NetApp upgrades high, low and all-flash FAS array systems

Along with new 'extreme' high-end and entry-level FAS arrays, NetApp adds all-flash FAS array systems -- but still no FlashRay.

NetApp today completed a refresh of its FAS array product line with a new high-end FAS8080 EX array, an entry-level FAS2500 series and all-flash versions of its FAS8000 systems.

NetApp has refreshed its entire FAS array line since February, when it launched the first three FAS8000 models to replace its midrange FAS3200 and enterprise FAS6200 series. The FAS2500 replaces the FAS2200 on the low end.

The FAS8080 EX sits atop NetApp's FAS8000 line. A FAS8080 EX includes a maximum of 1,440 drives and 5.76 PB of spinning disk capacity, 256 GB of DRAM, 32 GB of NVRAM, 36 TB of flash acceleration (Flash Cache and Flash Pool), 24 PCIe flash slots, and 16 on-board ports in a 12U high-availability (HA) pair.

NetApp's Clustered Data Ontap operating system supports 24 network-attached storage (NAS) nodes (12 HA pairs) and eight storage area network (SAN) nodes (four HA pairs) in the FAS8000 series. A FAS8080 EX NAS cluster scales to 69 PB of raw capacity, and a SAN cluster scales to 23 PB raw.

Mark Welke, NetApp's senior director of product marketing, said the EX stands for "extreme," and the FAS8080 EX is built for business-critical applications and multi-petabyte cloud infrastructures. It is the first FAS array to use Intel's Ivy Bridge processor and has more memory and capacity than the rest of the FAS8000 series.

By comparison, another high-end FAS8000 array -- the 8060 -- has a maximum of 1,220 drives and 4.8 PB capacity, 128 GB of memory, 18 TB of combined flash, 16 GB of NVRAM, eight PCIe expansion slots and eight on-board ports.

NetApp is also overhauling its entry-level arrays with the FAS2500 line. The FAS2554 is the capacity model of the line with a maximum of 144 drives and 576 TB. The FAS2552 also has 144 drives, but only 518 TB, and the FAS2520 holds 82 drives and 336 TB.

All three FAS2500 models include 36 TB of memory, 4 GB of NVRAM, and 4 TB of Flash Pool capacity. The FAS2554 and 2552 have eight on-board ports. The FAS2520 has no on-board ports. The FAS2554 and 2552 scale to eight NAS or SAN nodes (four HA pairs) and the FAS2520 scales to four nodes (two HA pairs).

More all-flash, but not FlashRay

The all-flash FAS lineup consists of any of the FAS8000 series fully loaded with solid-state drives (SSDs). They support up to 5 PB of SSDs, ranging from 200 GB to 1.6 TB eMLC drives.

The all-flash FAS name is more of a marketing device than a new technology, because all NetApp arrays can be purchased either with all flash, all spinning disks, or as hybrids with both. NetApp also has EF550 and 540 all-flash systems and sells all its FAS arrays as hybrids with SSDs, Flash Cache or Flash Pool storage. NetApp is also planning to launch a FlashRay all-flash platform designed specifically for flash later this year.

Like other vendors who sell all-flash and hybrid arrays, NetApp faces a challenge making it clear to customers whether they need flash, how much they need, and which platform is best. NetApp's position is that the EF flash is for customers who need pure performance and don't require storage management features, such as data deduplication and compression, while the FAS all-flash arrays are for customers using Data Ontap, and the FlashRay will include the latest flash technologies.

"FlashRay will be pure all-flash, never a hybrid like FAS," Welke said. "We see a need for both of these. FlashRay will take advantage of technologies that haven't even been introduced yet. We're looking beyond commercial MLC drives to TLC [triple level cell flash] and phase-change memory for FlashRay. To manage those capabilities, we're taking everything we've learned in Ontap and everything we know about where flash is going, and built a new architecture with FlashRay. The EF array will exist as a pure performance engine with FlashRay on the opposite end with a lot of new data management capabilities; FAS will be in the middle."

Welke said NetApp has sold 93 PB of flash in its arrays, including 18 PB last quarter.

According to numbers released by research firm Gartner last week, NetApp ranked fifth among all-flash array vendors in 2013 with $71 million in revenue for 10.6% market share. NetApp was eighth among all enterprise SSD vendors with $277 million, which includes its Flash Cache product.

Matthew Leeds, VP of operations for NetApp customer Gracenote, said he has been using Flash Cache for around three years and has 1 TB of Flash Cache on the FAS8060 HA pair he bought this year.

"We looked at SSDs for storage as opposed to cache, but don't have a need for [them] yet," Leeds said. "Long term, the industry will continue moving towards SSDs in place of spinning disk, but we're fine with spinning disk for now. There are pros and cons for SSDs. They have much better latency and access times. Clearly, you get performance gains. The pros of spinning disks are that they're a known technology and their life is not measured in the number of writes you can make to them."

Gracenote, an Emeryville, California-based digital media company, provides metadata to identify content on music and video CDs. Leeds said he is more likely to add SSDs on the servers that run database queries that Gracenote uses to identify metadata and supply information about the digital files. Leeds uses NetApp for SAN and NAS to store the data on the back end, with more than 1 PB on the FAS8060 SAN alone.

"We accumulate metadata as new content is released," Leeds said. "The files can be quite large." He said he allocates Flash Cache for specific data sets.

"Flash cache dramatically improves performance -- as long as it's set up correctly," he said. "It depends on the workload. It's highly productive for some workloads, but there are better ways to handle other workloads."

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