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NetApp Lays Out All-Flash Storage Array Strategy

NetApp unveiled FlashRay, its first storage architecture designed from the ground up for all-flash storage arrays, and officially introduced the EF540, which it has been quietly shipping to customers.

NetApp Tuesday laid out its strategy for developing all-flash storage solutions based on a new architecture named FlashRay, which is targeting the development of scale-out flash arrays designed for both file and block storage.

NetApp also disclosed details about a new all-flash array, the EF540, which it already has been shipping to early customers, and Tuesday officially made it available to customers and channel partners.

NetApp, a storage vendor not known for talking about future product developments, is using FlashRay to put its stake in the ground in the all-flash array market as a way to take the initiative away from startups yet to develop an enterprise-ready offering, said Mark Welke, senior director of product marketing for the company.

[Related: The 10 Coolest Flash Storage/SSDs Products Of 2012 ]

"The market today is flooded by a bunch of startups funded by venture capitalists," Welke said. "We believe we're the first with enterprise-class, all-flash arrays. For the very first time at NetApp, we're talking about the future. We tend to keep these things close."

NetApp FlashRay, which was previously code-named Project Mars, is a completely new architecture designed from the ground up for scalable all-flash arrays, said Mohit Bhatnagar, senior director of flash products for the vendor.

FlashRay is a purpose-built flash array architecture designed internally at NetApp as a solution with enterprise features and scalability, Bhatnagar said.

When all-flash storage arrays based on FlashRay begin to be available for beta-testing in mid-2013 and start shipping as planned early next year, they will include world-class file and volume management, a scale-out foundation, complete data management capabilities, and application integration features to allow them to be optimized for specific applications, he said.

FlashRay will not be NetApp's first foray into the all-flash array market, however.

Tom Georgens, NetApp president and CEO, said last week during the company's third fiscal quarter 2013 analyst call that NetApp has already shipped more than 100 all-flash arrays to a single customer.

Welke on Tuesday said that that array, the EF540, has actually been sold to other customers as well, and is now available for channel partners to take to customers.

NEXT: FlashRay Not NetApp's Only All-Flash Storage Play


Bhatnagar called the EF540 the industry's first enterprise-class all-flash storage array, with fully redundant components and the ability to do backups and disaster recovery in seconds.

The EF540 fits up to 19.2 TB of capacity into a 2U rack-mount space and provides more than 300,000 IOs per second (IOPS) with sub-millisecond latency when all enterprise capabilities are turned on, he said.

NetApp's EF540 is available through all of NetApp's channels, he said.

NetApp also has made flash storage a common addition to its other storage solutions, Welke said. "NetApp has sold over 36 petabytes of flash storage since 2009," he said. "Between 60 percent and 70 percent of all the company's disk-based arrays have some amount of flash storage included."

For NetApp, FlashRay represents the company's third major storage architecture, Welke said.

Its primary architecture, based on its Ontap storage operating system, includes flash as part of the solution but was not optimized to be the base of an all-flash array.

Its SANtricity operating system, which NetApp got with its 2011 acquisition of the Engenio line from LSI and which is the base on which the EF540 all-flash array is built, is optimized to work with dedicated workloads such as databases or online transaction processing, unlike FlashRay, which is designed for scale-out storage applications, Welke said.

The fact that NetApp is talking about FlashRay and the EF540 is a huge move for the vendor, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems (IAS), a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and NetApp partner.

There are already a lot of venture capital-funded startups in the flash storage market, but few of them will be around in another one to two years, Woodall said.

"None of the current stock of startups has a mature offering for storage management," he said. "Everyone's fast. They can really pump out the IOs. But they may or may not have snapshot replication or similar features. And few have an organic field support organization. So a lot will disappear or get acquired."

Like EMC, which last year acquired XtremIO, NetApp has the cash to purchase a flash array startup, Woodall said.

NEXT: NetApp Not Late To The All-Flash Storage Party


"So why didn't NetApp buy a developer instead of developing all flash storage in-house?" Woodall said. "They probably feel they have the time to develop their own technology. EMC bought XtremIO, but that company had no products when EMC bought it. It probably would have been better for EMC to have bought someone with products available."

It was important for NetApp to start talking about FlashRay even though actual solutions based on the architecture are still not yet available, Woodall said.

"EMC goes out talking about something a year out," he said. "With NetApp, we never know what they're doing in advance. FlashRay is core NetApp innovation from the ground up. I'm looking forward to this."

PUBLISHED FEB. 19, 2013

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