NetApp announced the other day a new all nand flash solid-state devices (SSD) storage system called the EF540 that is available now. The EF540 has something’s new and cool, along with some things familiar, tried, true and proven.
What is new is that the EF540 is an all nand flash multi-level cell (MLC) SSD storage system. What is old is that the EF540 is based on the NetApp E-Series (read more here and here) and SANtricity software with hundreds of thousands installed systems. As a refresher, the E-Series are the storage system technologies and solutions obtained via the Engenio acquisition from LSI in 2011.
The EF540 expands the NetApp SSD flash portfolio which includes products such as FlashCache (read cache aka PAM) for controllers in ONTAP based storage systems. Other NetApp items in the NetApp flash portfolio include FlashPool SSD drives for persistent read and write storage in ONTAP based systems. Complimenting FlashCache and FlashPool is the server-side PCIe caching card and software FlashAccel. NetApp is claiming to have revenue shipped 36PB of flash complimenting over 3 Exabytes (EB) of storage while continuing to ship a large amount of SAS and SATA HDD’s.
NetApp also previewed its future FlashRay storage system that should appear in beta later in 2013 and general availability in 2014.
In addition to SSD and flash related announcements, NetApp also announced enhancements to its ONTAP FAS/V6200 series including the FAS/V6220, FAS/V6250 and FAS/V6290.
EMC and NetApp (along with other vendors) continue to sell large numbers of HDD’s as well as large amounts of SSD. Both EMC and NetApp are taking similar approaches of leveraging PCIe flash cards as cache adding software functionality to compliment underlying storage systems. The benefit is that the cache approach is less disruptive for many environments while allowing improved return on investment (ROI) of existing assets.
The best IO is the one that you do not have to do, however the next best are those that have the least cost or affect which is where SSD comes into play. SSD is like real estate in that location matters in terms of providing benefit, as well as how much space or capacity is needed.
What does this all mean'
The NetApp EF540 based on the E-Series storage system architecture is like one of its primary competitors (e.g. EMC VNX also available as an all-flash model). The similarity is that both have been competitors, as well as have been around for over a decade with hundreds of thousands of installed systems. The similarities are also that both continue to evolve their code base leveraging new hardware and software functionality. These improvements have resulted in improved performance, availability, capacity, energy effectiveness and cost reduction.
From a performance perspective, there are plenty of public workloads and benchmarks including Microsoft ESRP and SPC among others to confirm its performance. Watch for NetApp to release EF540 SPC results given their history of doing so with other E-Series based systems. With those or other results, compare and contrast to other solutions looking not just at IOPS or MB/sec (bandwidth), also latency, functionality and cost.
What does the EF540 compete with'
The EF540 competes with all flash-based SSD solutions (Violin, Solidfire, Purestorage, Whiptail, Kaminario, IBM/TMS, up-coming EMC Project “X” (aka XtremeIO)) among others. Some of those systems use general-purpose servers combined SSD drives, PCIe cards along with management software where others leverage customized platforms with software. To a lesser extent, competition will also be mixed mode SSD and HDD solutions along with some PCIe target SSD cards for some situations.
What to watch and look for:
It will be interesting to view and contrast public price performance results using SPC or Microsoft ESRP among others to see how the EF540 compares. In addition, it will be interesting to compare other storage based, as well as SSD systems beyond the number of IOPS. What will be interesting is to keep an eye on latency, as well as bandwidth, feature functionality and associated costs.
Given that the NetApp E-Series are OEM or sold by third parties, let’s see if something looking similar or identical to the EF540 appear at any of those or new partners. This includes traditional general purpose and little-data environments, along with cloud, managed service provider, high performance compute and high productivity compute (HPC), super computer (SC), big data and big bandwidth among others.
The EF540 could also appear as a storage or IO accelerator for large-scale out, clustered, grid and object storage systems for meta data, indices, key value stores among other uses either direct attached to servers, or via shared iSCSI, SAS, FC and InfiniBand (IBA) SCSI Remote Protocol (SRP).
Keep an eye on how the startups that have been primarily Just a Bunch Of SSD (JBOS) in a box start talking about adding new features and functionality such as snapshots, replication or price reductions. Also, keep an eye and ear open to what EMC does with project “X” along with NetApp FlashRay among other improvements.
For NetApp customers, prospects, partners, E-Series OEMs and their customers with the need for IO consolidation, or performance optimization for big-data, little-data and related applications the EF540 opens up new opportunities and should be good news. For EMC competitors, they now have new competition which also signals an expanding market with new opportunities in adjacent areas for growth. This also further signals the need for diverse ssd portfolios and product options to meet different customer application needs, along with increased functionality vs. lowest cost for high capacity fast nand SSD storage.
Disclosure: NetApp, Engenio (when LSI), EMC and TMS (now IBM) have been clients of StorageIO.