NetApp Targets EMC, HP, Startups With New $25K All-Flash Storage Line

NetApp is taking the gloves off against its traditional and startup flash storage competitors with the introduction of a new family of all-flash storage arrays that share the same software as its flagship FAS line but features a $25,000 starting price.

The new All Flash FAS 8000 series of storage arrays is also being touted by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based NetApp as a channel-friendly array that integrates seamlessly with NetApp's Clustered Data Ontap operating system to provide fast, nondisruptive movement of workloads from disk-based systems to high-performance flash storage.

It is also the first all-flash storage array to be available in a software-only version for use in Amazon Web Services cloud environments.

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[Related: NetApp Ousts Georgens, Names Kurian New CEO]

The introduction of the AFF8000 series follows closely after NetApp replaced its CEO with George Kurian, a long-term NetApp veteran closely tied to the company's options. The former CEO, Tom Georgens, left after a lackluster fourth fiscal quarter financial report tied in large part to slow adoption of Clustered Data Ontap by customers.

The new AFF8000 family stems from the realization by NetApp that the company had issues with its all-flash array strategy, said Lee Caswell, vice president of product and solutions marketing for the vendor.

NetApp's strategy was OK when it first started putting a little bit of flash storage in its big storage arrays, but not when the company first introduced its all-flash FAS storage appliances, Caswell told CRN.

"When we went to all-flash arrays, our pricing was out of whack," he said. "We needed more competitive warranties. We needed to show solutions. And we needed the arrays to be as easy to install as NetApp's first NAS products in the 1980s were."

The AFF8000 is proof that NetApp recognizes it needed to become more competitive in the all-flash storage market, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and NetApp channel partner.

"Competitors like to cite the economics of their solution when competing with NetApp," Woodall told CRN. "So the AFF8000 includes all the software. It will support flat maintenance for up to seven years versus the typical three to five years, so there's no penalty for staying on the platform for longer times. And flash performance is so good that customers want to stay on one platform for as long as possible."

The AFF8000 family is NetApp's answer to changes in the flash storage environment, where large storage vendors like IBM, EMC and Hewlett-Packard are scrambling to compete against startups like Mountain View, Calif.-based Pure Storage, Caswell said.

Caswell said NetApp, with its WAFL (Write Anywhere File Layout) file system, is, along with HP's 3PAR solution, the only legacy vendor with a file system that works well in all-flash environments.

"WAFL wasn't written for all-flash," he said. "But we've been spraying writes everywhere across a storage infrastructure since the beginning, which makes WAFL perfect as a wear leveler for flash storage."

The AFF8000 is also unique in that NetApp is making a software-only version available for use in Amazon Web Services cloud environments, Caswell said.

"NetApp has been talking about its Data Fabric vision, which is the idea that data needs to move easily from flash to disk to clouds, for some time," he said. "We're aligning our focus on the value of the software."

While the moniker "AFF" is short for all-flash FAS, which is a line of flash arrays NetApp designed based on its flagship FAS storage line, the AFF8000 is actually a separate line with its own brand, bezel and SKUs, and one aimed specifically at the channel, Caswell said.

"We've simplified our line with the AFF8000," he said. "We've brought the price down, and increased the warranty to seven years. And while in the past the FAS line could be configured for SAN or NAS, the AFF does the configuration automatically. It's great for channel partners."

However, Caswell said, the AFF is still based on NetApp's Clustered Data Ontap storage operating system. This allows it to seamlessly integrate into a FAS cluster to provide seamless migration of workloads to an all-flash architecture via NetApp's DataMotion data migration software, he said.

"Customers and partners can move data from hybrid arrays to all-flash arrays while an application is running," he said. "Live migration is usually pretty tricky. But now customers can easily try an application on flash storage with a few strokes of the keyboard."

The ability to use DataMotion to migrate data to an AFF8000 system is a key feature, Woodall said.

"This lets customers move workloads around as needed," he said. "The AFF8000 uses the same ecosystem tools, including the work NetApp did with OpenStack. This makes it less of a point solution. It's really part of a much bigger solution."

The fact that the AFF8000, like other NetApp solutions, runs multiple storage protocols simplifies customer choice when it comes to all-flash storage arrays, Woodall said.

"If you are an Oracle shop and have been running Oracle on NFS for years, great," he said. "But if you want to move that to flash, you used to need to adopt iSCSI or Fibre Channel to migrate the data. That requires a lot of change. But customers don't want the complexity. With AFF, just plug it into a NetApp cluster, add the needed flash resources to a virtual machine, and then move the data from disk to flash while the application is running."

The ability to quickly migrate data to an all-flash configuration is a big deal because it is now table stakes when talking storage, said Chris Saso, executive vice president of technology at Dasher Technologies, a Campbell, Calif.-based solution provider and NetApp channel partner.

"Many vendors have the ability to make data migration simple," Saso told CRN. "In the old days, data migration could cost 5 percent to 10 percent of the cost of the array. Now it's a part of the array software management suite."

There are technically four models in the new AFF8000 family, all of which have a maximum raw capacity of up to 4.6 petabytes in an all-NAS configuration or 1.5 petabytes an all-SAN configuration. The primary difference is the amount of memory available and the maximum number of 10-Gbit Ethernet ports and PCIe slots available.

The AFF8000 can be ordered starting this week. Starting street price is $25,000, which includes dual controllers, 5 TBs of raw capacity, and the same premium software included with all NetApp arrays, Caswell said.

NetApp has also prepared FlexPod converged infrastructure reference architectures with the AFF8000. However, channel partners will have to wait for Cisco to finish its CVD (Cisco Validated Design) for the AFF8000 before they can put together such FlexPod solutions, Caswell said.

[Related: NetApp Ousts Georgens, Names Kurian New CEO]