The NetApp fabric-attached storage (FAS) series with SSDs only are offered as the All Flash FAS (AFF) systems and have different models. NetApp refers to fabric-attached storage systems as storage connected to hosts via any network. The FAS series is part of NetApp’s strategy to offer a network storage system that is capable of supporting both NAS and storage-area network (SAN) accessibility from a single storage pool. All Flash FAS (AFF) only supports SSDs and have embedded software changes to optimize use of flash.
The A800, released in May 2018, includes support for NVMe over Fabric (Fibre Channel with Gen 6 at 32Gb/s initially with Ethernet RDMA at 100Gb/s to follow) and NVMe devices, including support for 30TB SSDs. The AFF C190 system released in June 2019 is an all flash entry-level system targeted for channel sales. The A250, released in October 2020, has NVMe over Fabric support and NVMe connected SSDs.
In October 2019, NetApp released their midrange A400 model featuring end-to-end NVMe support and Pensando ASIC acceleration. The Pensando ASIC chips used in the A400 array to offload data reduction processing, such as compression and deduplication, from the main CPU. The A400 is the first AFF model to feature this type of hardware offloading.
NetApp offers two of their AFF models, the A250 (an update from the A220) and A700, as SAN-only models which drop the AFF’s file functionality for a simplified block-only option. The SAN-only models do not support scale-out clustering, they are only available as single dual-controller systems.
The embedded operating software is called ONTAP and support scale-out clustering and advanced feature capabilities. ONTAP 9 replaces the earlier clustered Data ONTAP (cDOT) and 7-mode (non-clustered). A cloud version of ONTAP is also available.
NetApp ONTAP has scale out capability to allow systems to be configured to match the environment needs and to increase in both capacity and performance as required. The scale out capability with ONTAP allows scaling to 24 node nodes (the A250 can scale to 8 nodes) along with the capacity scaling for NAS and 12 nodes for block mode. A dual node NetApp system is called a High Availability configuration or HA pair.
Data reduction in the form of deduplication, compression, and compaction are supported on NetApp systems for primary data. The data reduction is performed inline and NetApp provides a 4:1 reduction guarantee. Compaction is filling the 4K allocation chunks with smaller blocks, which can improve storage utilization, especially with small files.
The FabricPool feature tiers snapshot data not in the active filesystem and inactive blocks from a primary storage system and SnapMirror or SnapVault data from a secondary storage system to either Amazon S3 or StorageGRID WebScale.
The NetApp systems are pervasively used in IT as primary storage, secondary storage, and even for archiving. Both block and file support are in usage but predominantly the NetApp systems are used as NAS for file storage. The systems fit typical IT usages and are found in very wide applicability across vertical markets. The FlexGroup feature allow for use in media & entertainment, oil & gas, EDA, and healthcare usage. The feature also increases parallelism to improve performance with large numbers of files in multi-node configurations.
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NetApp AFF and FAS are unified SAN and NAS systems where block LUNs are mapped to files within the system and written to attached storage devices as blocks. As one of the first truly unified block and file storage systems, NetApp established the market for customers that want to use systems for both types of access. NetApp FAS and AFF systems have the most extensive set of advanced features available for storage with a few exceptions. FabricPool tiering to clouds can reduce cost of storage and provide another storage location for data protection. A custom flash device implementation may have some advantages, but NetApp uses commonly available SSDs. The addition of NVMe device support and NVMe over Fabric significantly increases performance and makes NetApp a leader in supplying advanced technology. Adding object support (October 2020) will expand use for AFF systems, especially with applications written to specifically target S3 for storing data.
The addition of Flex Groups changes the market opportunity for NetApp FAS and AFF systems with greater capacity scalability and much larger number of files supported. The change also introduces more parallelism in access, increasing performance. The use of common software and features across FAS, AFF, and the software only versions of ONTAP provides leverage in development for NetApp and advantages in operations for customers. NetApp also integrates with other software systems and applications, usually as the first vendor to deliver support. The scale-out capability was long and difficult delivery for NetApp FAS and AFF but does provide the expected advantages for customers. A problem arises in that the number of controllers supported is different between block and file access, requiring additional consideration from customers. Evaluator Group believes the continuing evolution and improvement to the NetApp systems make it a safe choice for customers with great features and performance.