case you missed it, the big storage vendor news during the holiday
was NetApp's acquisition
of all-flash array maker SolidFire for $870 million.
move brings to a conclusion several years of vacillation and false
starts in NetApp's stance towards flash storage and gives the company
a solid all-flash
presence in the market.
is something it has arguably lacked. The history of NetApp's
relationship to flash is one that could be described as cool or
cautious. Or alternatively, it could be described as confused and
look more at that below, but what the Solidfire deal gives NetApp is
a well-regarded set of all-flash storage arrays.
started out with all-flash targeted
service providers and
is Fibre Channel and iSCSI block storage. With cloud in mind, it
provided automation and
the ability for administrators to assign storage volumes with
different characteristics to different customers.
recently, Solidfire added advanced storage features such as
and other data protection features to
appeal more to the enterprise market.
all-flash arrays are
SF2405, SF4805 and SF9605, that
all offer 50,000
1U node with raw capacities of 2.4TB, 4.8TB and 9.6TB, respectively.
The SF9010 also has 9.6TB raw capacity but with eight-core CPUs
offers 75,000 IOPS per node.
data reduction - data
effective capacity is upped by between 3x and 9x.
NetApp has gained a solid offering of all-flash arrays that are
suited to cloud provider and enterprise all-flash use cases.
journey to this point has been interesting to say the least. Was
NetApp just cautious, and hence a bit late to the all-flash market?
Or has there been a history of confusion of
reacting slowly to the market?
back to the turn of the decade and NetApp was in
a similar position to the other major storage vendors with regard to
flash. In 2009 it offered a flash read cache with its FAS arrays and
in 2010 offered flash drives with them too. In 2011 it offered them
with its E-Series arrays as
was the early days, but soon things got hotter in the all-flash
market. In April 2012
announced it would buy Israeli all-flash startup Xtremio and
in August that year IBM announced it would buy solid state pioneer
Texas Memory Systems.
was when it started to look like a big six storage player needed to
have all-flash arrays in its portfolio and to get that they had to
buy one or build one or
retro-fit spinning disk storage controllers for solid state and
be clear about the performance limitations.
late 2012 the elephant in the room for NetApp was, what would be its
next move with regard to all-flash?
Dublin in November
Jay Kidd told me NetApp
had no plans to get into all-flash. He said the market wasn't that
big and that there were better places to put flash, such as at the
server, with PCIe flash. All
of which was in keeping with the NetApp attitude to flash hitherto.
the deafening sound of back-pedalling, rowing back or whatever you
want to call it. Within a couple of weeks the NetApp
interview with my US counterpart in
which he went a
way to reversing the previous stance, saying it would be a milestone
year for all-flash and that NetApp could buy or build an all-flash
in early 2013, NetApp brought out its first all-flash array, albeit
an E-Series box - designed for spinning disk - with flash drives
at the same time
was unveiled -
a dedicated flash environment based on NetApp's Data Ontap operating
system. Finally, it looked like NetApp would be building its flash
future on in-house developed intellectual property.
the end of 2014 the
big six array makers had mostly decided on an approach to all-flash.
The year before, EMC and IBM had got products they had acquired onto
the market and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) had built an all-flash
module for its VSP arrays. Meanwhile, HP had brought all-flash to the
market in its 3PAR arrays while Dell and Fujitsu were quite clear
their approach would be to retrofit flash to spinning disk
architectures, and that
flash was their preferred approach.
this time NetApp
offered FAS filers as all-flash and had the E-Series too, but only
single-node selected customer beta array had
emerged from the FlashRay venture with its Mar OS. Still, as we went
through 2015 it looked like NetApp had settled on a three-way flash
strategy - flash in FAS and E-Series plus FlashRay.
things didn't look good for FlashRay. By early 2015 its founder Brian
Pawlowski had left NetApp and still there was no product on general
release. Bear in mind this was now two years after IBM and EMC had
brought all-flash, ground-up designed products to market.
forward to December 2015 and NetApp announces its purchase of
and the scrapping of FlashRay.
NetApp has a good offering of performance all-flash arrays that it
can offer alongside the less-costly all-flash FAS and E-Series as
well as the hybrid options those bring.
late than never, I suppose. But what NetApp
over flash? What
to invest in and ultimate axing
can only suppose there was a background set of attitudes - and
potentially conflicting ones - towards
flash storage that hamstrung NetApp.
on, NetApp made it clear that all-flash was not really on the agenda
for the company, with cache and server flash the preferred
approaches. As we saw, by late 2012 NetApp execs downplayed flash but
were clearly under pressure not to write off their potential
involvement with it.
as the market hotted up NetApp was pulled along and FlashRay was
conceived. But why so late? Why such apparent lack of commitment? Was
there a background resistance to flash internally? Even in late 2014
we can still see some NetApp execs
flash just isn't that big a deal.
it was a miscalculation over the likely timescale over which flash
will be important to the world of storage. Perhaps there are or
different voices that
the nature and extent to which NetApp should be involved with flash
the background reasons,
at least now NetApp has a clear strategy with regard to flash, albeit
two years later than its main competitors.