NetApp Pumps Performance

NAS vendor introduces new FAS models, plus modules and appliance to goose performance

June 11, 2008

5 Min Read
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NetApp has raised the bar on the performance of its enterprise systems. While citing demand by engineering and high-performance computing (HPC) customers, the vendor is offering midrange solutions that increase throughput without forcing customers to add more storage.

"Customers are I/O constrained, not capacity constrained," says Patrick Rogers, VP of solutions marketing at NetApp. In response, NetApp is offering new FAS models with matching virtualization systems, a standalone appliance for accelerating storage performance, and modules for use in existing NetApp systems.

The centerpiece of today's announcement is the Performance Accleration Module (PAM), an add-on PCI Express card for existing NetApp systems that is based on solid state disk that provides read cache to speed up I/O performance. NetApp claims the addition of the cache module can improve latency by at least an order of magnitude.

Figure 1: NetApp Performance Acceleration ModuleSource: NetApp

Each 16-Gbyte PAM is designed to fit directly into the storage controller unit of existing FAS models. Particular units are constrained by their ability to house the modules, as shown in the chart below:Table 1: PAM Capacities of Existing NetApp Systems

NetApp System(s)

Maximum PAMs per Controller

Maximum Added Read Cache

FAS6080, V6080, FAS6070, V6070, SA600


80 Gbytes

FAS6040, V6040, FAS6030, V6030, FAS3170, V3170


64 Gbytes

FAS3070, V3070, FAS3140, V3140, SA300


32 Gbytes

FAS3040, V3040


16 Gbytes

A key feature of the PAM is its power consumption, which NetApp says is 18 watts. That is 95 percent less power per PAM, NetApp says, than one shelf of 15,000 RPM disk drives.

NetApp also has released three models of a Storage Accelerator Appliance (SA) that runs the vendor's Ontap operating system and is aimed at busting I/O bottlenecks in large compute farms, in remote offices, and in tiered storage environments. Raw maximum capacities range from 104 Tbytes to 1.1 Pbytes (!) and suppoprt SAS, Fibre Channel, and SATA disk drives.

If you don't see the FAS3020 on the list above, that may be because it is being replaced, along with the FAS3040 and FAS3070 (which nonetheless appear on the list of PAM-able systems). In their place, NetApp has introduced two new enterprise systems, the FAS3140, designed specifically to replace the FAS3020 and FAS3040; and the FAS3170, which replaces the FAS3070.

Overall, the new FAS3100 and V3100 systems increase the capacity of their forebears by anywhere from one-quarter to one-and-a-half times. All of the new systems can deploy the new PAMs.Table 2: New FAS Models Overview



Maximum raw capacity



Maximum disk drives



Controller architecture

64 bit

64 bit

Controller form factor

1 or 2 controllers in a single 6U chassis

1 or 2 controllers in

a single 6U chassis

Maximum 4Gbit/s



FC ports

Maximum Ethernet ports



Storage Protocols





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The products NetApp has announced today are currently available. Starting prices from NetApp are as follows:

  • FAS3100: $69,780, including 7 Tbytes of storage

  • V3100: $56,365 (no storage included)

  • Performance Acceleration Module: $15,000 for hardware; software is $20,000 -- one software license is required per storage controller; if multiple modules are bought, the first module costs $35,000 and subsequent modules cost $15,000 each

  • Storage Accleration Appliance: not disclosed

NetApp declined to offer customers for testimonial beyond one cited in its press materials -- Canada's Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre. And while NetApp is clearly aiming this announcement at HPC customers, the subtext is clear: The vendor is improving its performance pitch.

"It's a smart move on their part. Everyone has been attacking them on performance," says one industry analyst, who asked not to be named. "Increased performance is key for storage consolidation. That's a much larger market than HPC."This analyst thinks NetApp has its work cut out, however. "Unfortunately for NetApp, where they come up a bit short is 'price/performance,' " the analyst says. "There is a significant premium for the NetApp brand."

Competitors like BlueArc, Gear6, and Reldata also claim to improve enterprise and midrange system performance without requiring more hardware. Gear6, for instance, claims its CACHEfx appliances improve I/O for a range of enterprise customers by working in the network instead of the storage subsystem, making its solution more scalable.

NetApp will have its work cut out battling these competitors, while countering claims about the level of value it's added with these announcements. That said, performance is always a key factor in storage networking -- and, for NetApp customers, improving it can only be a benefit.Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Byte and Switch's editors directly, send us a message.

  • BlueArc Corp.

  • Gear6

  • NetApp Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • Reldata Inc.

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