NetApp Intros Flash Pool, Virtual Storage Appliances With New Storage OS

NetApp on Wednesday unveiled a new flexible technology for tying Flash storage to spinning disk, a way to scale storage to up to 20 petabytes and beyond in a single volume, and a virtual storage appliance based on its entry-level storage system.

The new technologies, unveiled as part of NetApp's new Data Ontap 8.1.1 storage operating system, represent a significant advance over the previous version, especially in the addition of clustered storage technology from its 2003 acquisition of clustered scalable NAS developer Spinnaker, said Jay Kidd, senior vice president of Product Strategy and Development for the company's Storage Solutions Group.

"In the past, we brought Ethernet storage ... to the mainstream," Kidd said. "Now we're doing the same with clustering. We're bringing it from the crazy world of high-performance computing to the world of commercial storage."

[Related: Scale-Out Storage Provides Performance Edge As Capacity Increases ]

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NetApp's Data Ontap 8.1.1 has three primary new features which NetApp and its solution provider partners said are important differentiators for the company in the storage market.

The first is Flash Pool, a new way to tie Flash-based SSD storage to spinning disk in such a way that data moves automatically and in real time between them depending on how quickly it is needed.

The second is Infinite Volumes, a way to treat up to 20 petabytes of data as a single volume in order to ease management of large data stores instead of dealing with that data in multiple smaller volumes.

The third primary new feature of Data Ontap 8.1.1 is Data Ontap Edge, a virtualized version of the FAS2220 entry-level storage appliance NetApp unveiled early this month.

Flash Pool makes it possible for SSDs to be used as read and write cache devices for high-capacity SATA hard drives in NetApp storage systems, Kidd said.

"If you add 1 [percent] to 2 percent of SATA hard drive capacity as SSDs, you get the same performance as an equivalent number of SAS hard drives," he said. "So you end up with a lot more capacity with the SATA disks, and performance where and when needed."

Kidd said that Flash Pool will work with any NetApp storage system that supports Data Ontap 8.1.1, including all currently shipping models.

NEXT: Taking Advantage Of Flash Pool

The real beauty of Flash Pool lies in the fact that NetApp's SSD caches work as fast for write operations as they do for read operations, said Timothy Abbott, general manager of the Irvine headquarters office of Irvine-based Trace3.

NetApp's previous Flash Cache technology was already one of the fastest implementations of SSD technology because it stored data in 4-KB blocks instead of 1-GB blocks, which rival EMC uses for its EMC FAST (Fully Automated Storage Tiering) technology, Abbott said.

That kind of granularity is important to storage efficiency, Abbott said.

"When you do storage tiering in 1-GB chunks, maybe only 10 percent of the capacity in those chunks is data being accessed, but you are still moving 1 GB of data," he said. "That's a big hit in performance. NetApp moves data in 4-KB chunks, which is much more efficient."

Flash Pool takes that one step farther by performing write operations to SSD cache devices at the same speed as read operations are done not only by using the smaller blocks but also by reading all data into the SSD and then moving what is not immediately required to spinning disk, Abbott said.

"With EMC FAST, the storage device looks at historical access to data and later migrates it to faster or slower storage based on historical data. NetApp, on the other hand, writes data as fast as it can to SSDs, and then moves it from there to spinning disk. NetApp does this in real time, not based on historical use," he said.

Flash Pool offers the ability to increase storage efficiency by using fewer disks, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider.

Other vendors migrate data between SSD and hard drive tiers on more of a manual basis, or based on specific schedules, Woodall said. However, he said, customers need to realize that it is not the right solution for every workload.

"Flash Pools are good," he said, but notes that it's "not a panacea. You must balance the technology against the cost. It will be right for some workloads. But it gives NetApp the parity it did not have before when adding Flash to storage arrays."

NEXT: Flash Pool's Flexible For Future Workloads

Dave Hitz, executive vice president and co-founder of NetApp, said that Flash Pool is a technology that provides a path for customers to adopt Flash storage as customers are ready for it.

"Today storage is mainly disk with a little Flash," Hitz said. "As we move to the future, when storage becomes primarily Flash-based, how do we navigate the change? With Flash Pool, we have a long-term migration model. You want 2 percent of your storage Flash, you can do it. Five percent Flash? You can do it."

The second new feature of Data Ontap 8.1.1 is Infinite Volumes, which allows data to scale to up to 20 petabytes in a single volume.

"Think of social media, or giant data content," Hitz said. "The data keeps coming in. Customers need a place to put it."

Trace3's Abbott said users have trouble handling large data stores and eventually have to do what he called the "storage shuffle" to overcome smaller storage volumes limited by their software. "They need to add a lot of overhead to shuffle data around because of limited storage volume sizes," he said. "With Infinite Volume, the storage acts more like a cloud and expands on demand."

While NetApp's Infinite Volumes are not really "infinite," they will seem that way to customers who will not be able to fill 20-petabyte volumes, Abbott said. "And as NetApp upgrades its operating system going forward, it will keep ahead of the curve by expanding that limit," he said.

The Cluster-mode technology from NetApp's Spinnaker acquisition provides the scalability behind Infinite Volumes to meet new workload requirements of customers and their solution providers, said Luke Norris, CEO and founder of PeakColo, a Denver-based provider of white label cloud services to channel partners.

"NetApp provides scalable storage in NFS, CIFS and iSCSI environments as well as secure multi-tenant capabilities," Norris said. "That enables us to deliver a virtual SAN to each customer, segmented from each other with their own authentication and ability to tie virtual servers to each customer on a virtual SAN. It's absolutely invaluable."

NEXT: Virtual NetApp Storage Appliances With Ontap Edge

The third part of NetApp's new offering, Data Ontap Edge, is a virtual version of the company's entry-level FAS2220 storage system aimed at helping businesses with multiple small branch offices bring the storage from those offices into a centralized data protection scheme.

Data Ontap Edge runs on the VMware vSphere platform and complements NetApp's FAS and V-series storage systems, NetApp's Kidd said.

The virtual storage appliance based on Data Ontap Edge serves NFS, CIFS and iSCSI data to physical and virtual servers running in a branch office, Kidd said.

"They can mirror or vault the data from those offices to a business' central location," he said. "It's for companies with many branch offices who want to centralize control of the data while providing good performance and low latency for local users."

Protecting the data in multiple branch offices is a major challenge, Hitz said. "Those companies will buy lower-end units from us for local offices," he said. "But for many of these branches, there is not a lot of data, and they may not need a physical device."

Kidd said most local offices have less than 5 TBs of data, which can be stored on two hard drives, making a dedicated storage appliance an inefficient way to protect it. "Sharing those drives with the other applications in the office via virtualization is more efficient," he said.

Trace3's Abbott said that putting an FAS2220 in a branch office might cost $8,000, making Data Ontap Edge a powerful alternative for many installations not only in branch offices but also home offices.

Furthermore, Abbott said, NetApp has already proven the technology in the market through a deal under which Fujitsu has been offering virtualized NetApp appliances in Asia through its Ontap-V offering. "We've been watching Ontap-V closely, and wondering when it would come to the U.S.," he said.

Trace3 has developed what Abbott called a "data center in a box" for remote offices, an offering that will be able to take advantage of Data Ontap Edge, he said.

"Customers can use Ontap Edge to create snapshots for disaster recovery," he said. "It uses all NetApp's management features. And, startups can take advantage of NetApp technology without having to invest so heavily in hardware."

NEXT: Taking Advantage Of Data Ontap Edge In The Channel

Woodall at Integrated Archive Systems called Data Ontap Edge a smart product from NetApp.

"A real common mistake in small offices, regardless of which vendor's technology is used, is that backups tend to be an afterthought," he said. "With Edge, customers get virtualized infrastructure with backup already built in. That's smart. You don't want people to put in an infrastructure, and then they are still worrying about whether their backup tapes have been changed. They shouldn't have to deal with those issues, and they won't."

PeakColo's Norris said NetApp is showing the way for vendors to adopt virtualized storage appliances with its Data Ontap Edge, especially in cloud environments.

"Edge provides snapshots that can go to the cloud for disaster recovery," he said. "We're looking forward to seeing other vendors move to divorce the software from the hardware, which is increasingly commoditized."

Abbott at Trace3 said that, taken together, NetApp's new Flash Pool, Infinite Volumes and Data Ontap Edge will be big drivers for customers looking to adopt both private and public clouds. "We will definitely adopt all of these technologies in our cloud business," he said.