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NetApp launches first all-flash array and new operating system

NetApp dips its toe in the all-flash array market with adapted E-Series, announces a ‘new’ OS and revamps high-end FAS6200 arrays with flash options rather than default

NetApp has announced its first all-flash array, a new storage operating system (OS) and a refresh of its enterprise-level FAS6200 unified storage arrays.

NetApp’s first all-flash array will be the EF540, which is the (formerly Engenio) E5424 array, with either 9.6TB or 19.2TB of eMLC SSD in 12 or 24 drive slots.

E-series arrays were not built for the speed of flash SSD because controller hardware and backplanes were designed to match the throughput and I/O requirements of spinning disk. So, how will the EF540 measure up against arrays designed around flash?

Lawrence James, UK products, alliances and solutions manager for NetApp, said the EF540 would deliver 300,000 IOPS and would suit customers looking for extra performance for dedicated workloads.

“It’s not an array built from the ground up for flash. But, it is built on 20 years of experience and isn’t some one-year-old device built with venture capital funding that might not be around in a year. It fits in the mid-range and has been tested in real-world environments for the likes of Oracle, Sybase, SAP, Lustre and HPFS for structured data,” he said.

“I don’t know what anyone would want one million IOPS for anyway, as the bottleneck would only move to the server or the network,” he added.

The EF540 is NetApp’s first foray into a hot all-flash market, driven by the large and random I/O needs of server and desktop virtualisation. The past year has seen big suppliers such as EMC and IBM acquire all-flash array makers, and a number of start-ups, such as Violin and Whiptail, achieve prominence.

FlashRay: A new operating system?           

Meanwhile, NetApp also announced the new FlashRay flash optimised operating system, which it said will deliver: low latency; high IOPS; premium features such as data deduplication, compression, snapshots and replication; object data management; and scale-out clustering capability.

NetApp’s James was sparing with facts about the new OS, but said: “Flash is rapidly ramping up in use and we need to be a visionary in the marketplace. This will be a scale-out operating system that has flash-optimised capabilities.”

James said FlashRay is being developed from the ground up by an R&D team led by former NetApp CTO Brian Pawlowksi, but that it will talk to the existing NetApp OS Data Ontap and that it will inherit features from it too.

Data Ontap is NetApp’s existing operating system used in its FAS unified storage arrays. It gained clustered NAS capability last year, which allowed the operation of a parallel file system with billions of files and up to petabytes of capacity. It is currently at version 8.1.2, with 8.2 expect by this summer.

Is FlashRay just Data Ontap with a new name? “I couldn’t possibly say,” said James.

A beta version of FlashRay will be available in mid-2013, and the product will be generally available in 2014.

FAS6200s to offer flash options

Finally, NetApp has discontinued the existing FAS6210, 6240 and 6280 enterprise-level unified storage arrays.

The new products – FAS6220, 6250 and 6290 – will retain most of the same specs, with maximum capacities that range from 3.6PB to 4.3PB, but with more RAM in the controllers for the 6220 (doubled) and 6240 (50% increase) and increased numbers of Fibre Channel and SAS ports for the 6290.

The main change in what is effectively a product refresh is that where NetApp’s Flash Cache SSD was previously bundled with FAS6200 arrays it is now optional. That move is to allow customers to specify server-side flash instead, or none at all, presumably.

NetApp’s James said: “It’s a diverse market with many options available and we wanted to give the customer the choice and not force them down one particular flash route.”

The new FAS6200s will also be cheaper to buy than previously, in a “move to value pricing in alignment with the rest of the industry”, said James.

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