Mind the product overlap gap, cloud ONTAP... make way for FlashRay – NetApp veep

El Reg told TLC flash will rule

Ty McConney is a NetApp corporate veep for flash solutions, handling its EF flash array, all-flash fabric-attached storage (FAS) and FlashRay. We sat down at a press meeting and grilled him about all-flash arrays (AFAs) from NetApp.

NetApp does have some AFA product overlap but, in McConney's words, "we'd rather have products with overlaps than having gaps."

The EF array, the Engenio SANtricity system, is NetApp's competitor against IBM FlashSystem, Skyera and Violin in the data IO acceleration market where the application does the data management. If these features were added to the EF SANtricity OS they would slow down the array's performance.

The EF series isn't necessarily a premier all-flash array for customers – it is an alternative.

All-flash FAS is NetApp's product which competes against Pure Storage and EMC XtremIO arrays because it has on-par or faster performance while enjoying the ONTAP mothership data management goodness. We feel this is NetApp's current premier AFA offering, with FlashRay set to take over that role eventually, according to an interview with McConney.

In the feature-rich TLC flash world FlashRay will be a winner.

FlashRay is a new all-flash array beast with a new architecture and new operating system that was built by some of the original ONTAP developers. It has been developed, we're told, for the long term, and not just for today's MLC flash. Triple-level cell (TLC) flash was mentioned again and again as a FlashRay technology, in the longer term, with whatever comes after NAND, such as Phase-Change Memory, being catered for in principle. McConney said: "This is the evolution train we're on."

Other flash array startups' technology won't be able use such non-volatile technologies without major development work.

McConney said NetApp examined buying a flash array startup but rejected all potential candidates because of the architectural imitations of their systems.

The MARS OS has had specific things added to to make good use of TLC flash SSDs and existing TLC SSDs have been qualified for FlashRay. McConney thought TLC flash would be used by the EF series and all-flash FAS in larger configurations where its lower cost would be apparent. Flashray will use TLC SSDs in lower quantities. He said 1.2TB and 800GB SSDs are being used in EF and AFA FAS currently. TLC SSDs will be bigger than that, he implied, for EF and FAS.

Lots of Mars-derived IP is being patented by NetApp, with 200 patent applications mentioned. The amount of over-provisioning in SSDs can be lowered if they are used by FlashRay because of the way the Mars OS reduces write amplification. This recovered capacity can be used by Mars in some way.

TLC was positioned as an MLC replacement, while suggestions that a TLC FlashRay could provide a slower/cheaper tier of flash storage alongside MLC FlashRay were rejected. NetApp is working closely with SamSung and SanDisk on flash developments – particularly TLC developments, we understand. Indeed, McConney had just returned from a trip to Korea.

Mars will have "optimal integration" with cDOT, with replication, mirroring and snapshots mentioned and common APIs.

FlashRay will be clustered, eventually was the word used. Database is the big FlashRay market prize.

The way FlashRay's limited availability was described with FlashRay systems going from one customer to another suggested that there were only some 20-50 systems out there. General availability is said to be somewhere around May-June 2015, with the dual-controller, high-availability system coming some time after that. En-route to GA, and possibly after that, new features will be added like iSCSI, snapshots and clones. File access wasn't mentioned.

Once FlashRay has high availability will it be positioned against Pure Storage and EMC XtremIO? "Yes, absolutely."

FlashRay is, as we understand it, NetApp's stake in a second-generation flash array world. It is partly for the future. This is not to say that FlashRay as currently conceived is not what NetApp would call a great product. It is, but TLC FlashRay will be even better. ®

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