NetApp Scales Up

NetApp takes aim at EMC and Hitachi in the enterprise

May 9, 2006

4 Min Read
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Network Appliance is taking aim at the enterprise with the latest additions to its FAS storage line, by far the biggest systems it has ever launched. (See NetApp Targets Enterprise.)

NetApp today unveiled the platform code-named "Excelsior" that it has been boasting about for months. The FAS6030 and FAS6070, immediately available, have a way to go to match the highest end of the competition's enterprise systems, but they dwarf NetApp's previous storage boxes.

Although all NetApp systems support Fibre Channel, NAS, and iSCSI connectivity, the FAS6000 is the first platform designed primarily for SAN.

"There's been a concentrated effort to become more focused on enterprise SAN systems," says Patrick Rogers, VP of products and technology. "We're moving into the frame array domain of high-end TagmaStore or Symmetrix systems."

NetApp's challenge to the EMC Symmetrix and Hitachi Data Systems TagmaStore platforms represents a big jump for NetApp, which made its mark with midrange NAS filers.Still, at least one analyst thinks NetApp needs to build a new image if it is to make it in the enterprise. "They have to shed the image of being just a NAS appliance," says Greg Schulz of StorageIO. "Ironically, the name Network Appliance is very powerful branding, but it reinforces in people's minds that it's just an appliance."

The FAS6000 systems are far from appliances. NetApp's previously largest system, the FAS980, supports 672 drives for 96 Tbytes of capacity and has 16 Gbytes of memory cache. The FAS6030 scales to 840 drives and 420 Tbytes and has 32 Gbytes of memory cache, and the FAS6070 maxes out at 1,008 drives and 504 Tbytes and 64 Gbytes of cache memory. Pricing starts at $131,000 for the FAS6030 and $196,225 for the FAS6070, including 1 Tbyte of storage.

But NetApp's new systems fall far below the highest-end enterprise systems from EMC and Hitachi. The EMC DMX-3 holds 2,400 drives and has 128 Gbytes of cache memory. (See EMC Swells Its High End.) The biggest Hitachi TagmaStore, the USP1100, holds 1,152 drives and has 256 Gbytes of cache memory. (See Hitachi Struts Mr. Universal.) In size and scale, NetApp's additions match up closer to the EMC Symmetrix DX-3000 with 576 drives and 64 Gbytes of cache, and Hitachi's USP600, with 512 drives and 128 Gbytes of cache.

One question is how NetApp's new gear stacks up against IBM's. NetApp doesnt position the FAS6000 as a competitor to IBM's enterprise systems, mainly because NetApp has an OEM deal with IBM. (See IBM, NetApp Partner Up.) Representatives of NetApp and IBM say IBM plans to sell the FAS6000, but IBM hasn't said when or how it will position the NetApp system in relation to its enterprise DS8000 family.

NetApp also needs to prove itself in its newly chosen space. "NetApp's speeds and feeds meet the criterion...to play in the realm of EMC and others in the enterprise," Schulz says. "But speeds and feeds do not guarantee performance."One NetApp customer sees the FAS6000 series as a good start for NetApp's climb into the enterprise. Kelly Carpenter, senior technical manager for the Genome Sequencing Center at the Washington University at St. Louis, runs FAS980s in his shop as well as Hitachi enterprise SANs. (See Genome Sequencing Center at Washington U.)

"It's a step in the right direction toward the enterprise," Carpenter says of NetApp's new platform. "Now they have scalability, which is one of the things they were hurting on. We'll have to see if they get GX out soon. That will help them scale more."

NetApp's Rogers says there are customers running the Data Ontap GX operating system based on NetApp's Spinnaker acquisition, but there's no general availability date for GX on the FAS6000. NetApp did upgrade its existing Data Ontap operating system, which runs the new systems, to make it enterprise ready. The major enhancement is a FlexShare feature that prioritizes storage resource allocation to give mission critical applications the most bandwidth.

NetApp also says the FAS6000 and FAS3000 midrange systems will support 4-Gbit/s on the front end between controller and server, but not yet to the hard drive. EMC and LSI Logic's Engenio today launched end-to-end 4-Gbit/s midrange systems, but there are no end-to-end 4-Gbit/s enterprise systems available yet. (See EMC Uncages 4-Gig Clariions.)

NetApp sees no urgency about 4-Gbit/s FC. "Customers are interested to know it's there, but I would not call it a burning issue," Rogers explains.— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Hitachi Data Systems (HDS)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • LSI Logic Corp. (NYSE: LSI)

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • The StorageIO Group

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