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Introduction

On June 23, 2015, NetApp announced an addition to its FAS family of storage systems. Aptly named the All Flash FAS (AFF), this system carries the same enterprise features as the rest of the FAS family, with the exception that the operating system has been optimized for flash.

This is a smart move on the part of NetApp on many levels:

  • Encourages customers to enable cluster mode, as this is a flash only implementation, and to integrate the AFF, the best way is to turn on cluster mode, and add the all-flash system as a member of the cluster.
  • The use of the FAS platform with its (write anywhere file system) WAFL file system and its famous and mature DataONTAP operating system brings all the enterprise features in a compact form factor.

Clustering All-Flash FAS

While there are certainly a polarized attitudes to the use of a full-blown storage operating system to drive an all flash system, one only needs to look at HP’s 3PAR all flash array, EMC’s VNX storage system configured with all flash, and other hybrid arrays to see that this approach is not unique, and does not seem to inhibit the performance of all flash storage systems.

Unlike pure block, non-scalable all flash systems, clustering the AFF into an existing NetApp cluster is simple, and predictable.

It also allows existing NetApp customers to introduce an all-flash array without concern for its interoperability with their already implemented NetApp environment.

Other third-party arrays would require new processes, and more integration to allow for optimal integration.

DataONTAP … on tap

Many of the available all flash storage systems do not yet have all the enterprise features expected by large enterprise. Most have some form of data reduction technologies – compression or deduplication. But most are not scalable, are missing the snapshotting and storage system level replication, and lack other features that are invariably table stakes for hybrid or traditional HDD storage systems.

During its research NetApp realized that its WAFL file system, the staple of all FAS array since NetApp was founded was actually well suited for flash because it builds in wear leveling! Existing HDD optimized storage system operating systems often engage in read-modify-write operations that can actually wear down flash faster than WAFL.

Application Integration

Application performance is one of the main reasons customers are looking to deploy all flash. NetApp has tested its AFF and NetApp claims that SPC-1 performance is superior to many other all-flash arrays. NetApp has integration with applications like Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle Database. NetApp now has a Workload Wizard tool that provides automated setup for Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server installations to simplify storage settings and host server connection setup.

Guidance

It is Neuralytix’s considered opinion that the AFF is one of NetApp’s smartest product introductions in the last 36 months.

The initial addressable market will be customers looking to take advantage of flash for their enterprise applications. NetApp has had a very long history with flash technology, all the way back to their PAM card days.

NetApp does not expect too much overlap or cannibalization of its EF family of all-flash arrays since the EF family does not include any of the enterprise features of the AFF arrays, and has a specific purpose for all block data acceleration in such applications such as high performance computing (HPC).

Finally, Neuralytix expects that the AFF will provide net increase in revenues for NetApp during its FY’16.