NetApp announces all flash storage strategy

NetApp has had a long history with flash starting with Flash Cache (formerly PAM cards) to Flash Pools and even including flash on the host with Flash Accel. It's an exciting day for NetApp to complete the flash portfolio with all flash storage...

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NetApp has had a long history with flash starting with Flash Cache (formerly PAM cards) to Flash Pools and even including flash on the host with Flash Accel. It's an exciting day for NetApp to complete the flash portfolio with all flash storage array and provide insight into the future flash strategy with FlashRay.

The Importance of a Flash Portfolio

As an analyst covering the flash storage market, end-users always ask me the best product or implementation of flash and then they ask me what should they buy? There isn't a single right answer because it depends on your preferred deployment methodology and use case.
There are 3 main deployment methodologies for flash in the enterprise:

  1. Server-based. Lowest latency solution because the flash or SSD is closest from an I/O path perspective to the compute & application. This approach can be targeted specifically to a single application for acceleration with minimal investment.
  2. In the Network. Typically deployed as caching layer between the host and storage layers. Network caching is used for the applications when there is inadequate flash capacity at the server to achieve the required high cache hit rates.
  3. Within the Storage Array.
  4. Hybrid Array. Combining HDDs with SSDs in conjunction with intelligent data placement software or policies. In these solutions, SSDs can be leveraged as either persistent storage (written to the drive and can survive a power cycle) via automated tiering technology or as a cache layer within the array. In either case, a relatively small amount of NAND flash is used to accelerate and optimize the system's performance.

  5. All Flash Array. Purpose built enterprise-grade storage device utilizing only flash-based SSD as the media. These solutions contain no traditional HDDs, but leverage persistent flash storage in dedicated environments.

Since there isn't a "one size fits all" deployment in the market, it will become increasing important for larges storage providers to have a portfolio of solutions to capture substantial flash storage market share. It was important for NetApp to complete the flash storage portfolio with the EF540 & FlashRay to bolster it's position in the flash storage market.

Future Outlook: Bifurcation of the Flash Storage Market

Furthermore, IDC is observing a bifurcation of the flash storage market from exclusively performance based, but segmenting further into three distinct areas:

  • Absolute Performance. There is a need for extreme raw performance of throughput, IO, and latency. In this use case, performance is paramount, therefore anything affecting performance should not be included in the storage array data path such as virtualization, data efficiency, or enterprise features (i.e. snapshot, clones, replication).
  • Enterprise. Acceleration of applications is important and will provide consistent latency faster than traditional spinning disk, but enterprise feature sets such as snapshots, clones, site replication, and data efficiency must be included to ensure data protection.
  • Application Purpose Built. Solutions must be optimized and tuned specifically for one use case or application to receive maximum benefit that would not be gained in mixed application environment (beyond performance).
Tremendous attention has been paid to the performance aspect of the flash storage market which has fueled early growth, but IDC believes longer term, the larger market opportunity will be performance and enterprise features together. With the E540 and FlashRay, NetApp is positioning itself to meet end-user needs today and in the future.

Essential Guidance

Almost bigger than the product announcements themselves was NetApp's vision of the all flash storage market. For years NetApp has been delivering flash cached solutions and stepped into persistent flash storage with Flash pools in the FAS product line. Yet there was a lingering question on what NetApp had in store for an all flash array. This was further clouded by NetApp's CTO's comments in Computer Weekly in November 2012 which alluded to NetApp not getting into the all flash storage market. (Note: NetApp's CTO did post in the comments section of the article clarifying NetApp's position on the all flash storage market). I'm glad today NetApp publicly clarified it's all flash position with two new all flash storage arrays EF540 available today and showed their vision with FlashRay.

Building a new product from scratch in-house in a $1B+ company is a difficult task. I'm excited to see the 1st previews of FlashRay because it is an ambitious set of features to be delivered:


  • Performance. FlashRay is designed to provide high IOPS, high throughput with consistent sub 0.5ms latency. In addition, its scale-out architecture will help deliver the performance scaling.

  • Cost. Inline de-duplication & compression along with use of optimized data placement algorithms help FlashRay reduce the cost associated with flash media while maximizing the flash life.

  • Service. FlashRay will have enterprise grade availability, reliability and flexibility features (e.g. snapshot, cloning, replication, multi-protocol access, etc). In addition, automated orchestration and quality-of-service (QoS) capabilities would help enablement of service centric IT organization

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Now that NetApp has shown the market their complete flash storage vision, flash portfolio, and plans for FlashRay there is only one last thing to do… execute. The all flash storage market is moving fast and end-users are chomping at the bit for products to meet their performance and service needs at an attractive cost point. Visions are great for understanding the company's future direction (and should be done to show market leadership), but nothing beats delivering an actual production ready product (on-time). As my old coach used to say, "it doesn't matter how you start the game, it's the score at the end that matters."

In our IDC annual storage predictions tele-briefing, we foresaw in 2013 two major launches of an all flash or hybrid storage arrays from large storage OEM's. NetApp has delivered on the 1st major release of a new all flash storage array. Who do you think will be next?

Posted by Dan Iacono, IDC Research Director

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