SolidFire Upends All-Flash Storage Pricing With Perpetual Software License, Separate Hardware Pricing

SolidFire's Cahill explains FlashForward Capacity licensing

NetApp's new SolidFire business Thursday unveiled a significant new way to price all-flash storage arrays that includes a perpetual license for the software and separately prices the hardware to give customers flexibility in how they want to deploy their storage.

The company also previewed some of the new capabilities of the next version of its flash storage operating system, and introduced a new all-flash storage appliance.

The new solutions were unveiled at the SolidFire Analyst Day event at the company's Boulder, Colo., headquarters.

[Related: NetApp Fourth Quarter '16: Down Year Over Year, But New Strategic Technologies Expected To Lead Growth Going Forward]

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They were the first new solutions from the company since NetApp closed its acquisition of SolidFire.

SolidFire's new FlashForward Capacity licensing program allows customers with large and fast-growing data stores to acquire the software and hardware separately, said Dave Cahill, SolidFire's senior director of product and strategy.

"It's the best of two worlds," Cahill told CRN. "It combines the support and simplicity of the appliance model with the flexibility of a software-only model."

Nearly all storage solutions are sold as an appliance, with customers purchasing a hardware appliance with integrated software and licenses to use that software, Cahill said.

However, when new capacity is required, or when the storage system is upgraded, customers typically need to purchase new storage arrays with new licenses, with no way to transfer the licenses to the new storage capacity, he said.

With FlashForward Capacity licensing, customers purchase the license to use specified amounts of capacity. Those licenses have a street price starting at $1 per GB for up to 299 TB, with the price dropping to 40 cents per GB at the highest tier.

Customers also purchase the storage hardware separately, Cahill said. "We've broken the bond between software and hardware," he said. "We sell the software and hardware as separate lines within the quote. This gives customers more flexibility, and changes the economics of storage purchasing."

FlashForward Capacity licensing allows customers to change how they acquire storage, Cahill said.

For instance, customers could purchase extra hardware and pre-position it in multiple locations so that as capacity requirements change, the hardware will be ready immediately after purchasing the new capacity licenses. Furthermore, he said, the licenses are portable, meaning they can be moved to different locations and hardware as required without additional cost.

Customers can also purchase licenses for more capacity up front than needed for current requirements to take advantage of the lower cost-per-GB pricing, and then add more hardware as needed.

The cost of additional licenses is determined by the total amount of storage capacity licensed, Cahill said. For instance, if a customer has licenses for 800 TB of capacity and requires an additional 500 TB, the cost per GB is based on the total 1.3 petabytes of capacity, not the incremental 500 TB.

While the price of the hardware is yet to be determined, Cahill said SolidFire plans to make it available at the company's cost. "We're not in the hardware business," he said. "Our value is in the software. Customers get the benefit of falling hardware costs and increased performance by purchasing the hardware as needed."

FlashForward Capacity licensing is an extension of SolidFire's Element X architecture. Element X, introduced at last year's SolidFire Analyst Day, lets certain hyper-scale data center customers add SolidFire's storage software to custom hardware to get all-flash storage capabilities.

With FlashForward Capacity licensing, SolidFire now has three ways for customers to purchase all-flash storage, Cahill said. Smaller customers with relatively stable capacity requirements will more likely purchase SolidFire appliances. Enterprises and service providers with fast-growing storage requirements will probably be more interested in FlashForward Capacity licensing. And large service or cloud providers with hyper-scale data centers will likely continue integrating Element X with their own custom hardware, he said.

FlashForward Capacity licensing is a new storage consumption model for customers who are getting used to Opex [operating expense], agility, simple scaling, and other topics driven by the cloud, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems (IAS), a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and partner of both NetApp and SolidFire.

"The key difference is that this is not selling storage at a flat-rate cost," Woodall told CRN. "Customers get the benefits of lower cost over time."

Woodall cited a couple of use cases for customers considering FlashForward Capacity licensing. For instance, a customer that knows it will be deploying multiple petabytes of capacity over the next year might find it less expensive to buy the extra capacity up front and then roll out the hardware as needed.

Also, because the licenses are portable, customers with declining clusters can move the newly freed-up licenses to new capacity located elsewhere in their IT infrastructure. Or customers who decommission a data center or a co-location facility can redeploy the licenses, he said.

SolidFire on Wednesday also introduced version 9 of is NetApp SolidFire Element Operating System, code-named Fluorine.

Fluorine, which is expected to be available in November, allows VMware Virtual Volumes, or VVols, to integrated with SolidFire's quality of service capabilities to provide granular control over storage performance on a per-virtual machine basis, said SolidFire CEO Dave Wright. Capacity and performance can be changed on-the-fly as needed, Wright told CRN.

Fluorine also increases the scalability of SolidFire storage in Fibre Channel environments by allowing users to scale a cluster to four storage nodes compared to the current limit of two nodes. As a result, performance in a Fibre Channel cluster can reach 2 million IOPS versus the 500,000 or so IOPS maximum of the past, Wright said.

Also new in Fluorine is expanded VLAN (virtual LAN) capabilities supporting improved flexibility in multitenant environments, and a new user interface, he said.

Finally, for customers looking for all-flash storage appliances, SolidFire introduced the SF19210 with capacity from 40 TB to 80 TB, 100,000 IOPS, and sub-millisecond latency. The SF19210 also includes SolidFire quality of service capability, in-line data reduction, and integration with VMware and OpenStack.