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NetApp All Flash FAS (AFF) – Product Brief

Last updated June 10th, 2021 for product updates. Concise 8-page overview of the features and functionality of the NetApp All Flash FAS. Includes EvaluScale Reviewing Methodology. Download the free Product Brief now!


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 AFF models, the A250 (an update from the A220), A400, A800, and A700, as SAN-only models which drop the AFF’s file functionality for a simplified block-only option. ONTAP 9.9.1 added support for all San AFF Arrays to scale out to 12 nodes, as well as in place conversion of AFF arrays to an all SAN configuration with minimal disruption.

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.

    • Performance – As standard NAS systems, the NetApp AFF systems have excellent performance for file storage and retrieval for mixed types of files. There are SPEC benchmarks published with details of performance.  The block usage also have excellent performance. NetApp quotes performance as 11.4M IOPs and 300 GB/s bandwidth for the AFF A800 model in a cluster.
    • Availability – The dual node systems are active-active for availability and the scaling with shared access to the storage arrays provides a high availability solution. Both dual parity (RAID-DP) and triple parity RAID-TP protection is available.
    • Scale out configurations in cluster mode
      • Performance and capacity can be scaled together with the addition of more nodes to the cluster. Scaling with performance and capacity allows customers to maintain performance as capacity demands are being met.
      • Global namespace across all nodes in the cluster simplifies access to files or LUNs contained in the different nodes. Operational tasks and user access is greatly enhanced without having to manage multiple mounts or paths to resolve to the data for access.
      • Non-disruptive operations are possible in cluster mode that either could not be done otherwise or only with manual operations.
        • Load balancing can be done with redistributing active data across different nodes.
        • Capacity balancing can be accomplished transparently to manage new nodes with potentially new technology being added to the system.
        • In addition to adding new nodes to the cluster, nodes may be retired from service with the data transparently migrated to other nodes. Technology updating without service interruption or administrative effort in migration is a key enablement for cluster mode operations.
        • Non-disruptive servicing is available as with the high availability configurations.
      • Existing added value features such as Snapshots work transparently in the cluster environment.
      • Existing interface protocols such as Fibre Channel and iSCSI or NAS protocols operate without change in the cluster environment.
      • A single point of management is used across the cluster, eliminating the individual management tasks for non-cluster environments.
    • Replication for BC/DR – There are multiple replication features for NetApp including incremental Snapshots, asynchronous, and synchronous remote replication providing many choices for customers in meeting BC/DR needs. Relaxed Synchronous allows for less performance impacting replication.
    • Notable – The wealth of advanced features is greater than any other individual storage system. These features extend the value of the system providing additional capabilities for companies and their workflows.
  • Applications
    • The NetApp AFF storage systems are targeted at either file-based applications (unstructured data) or block storage usages. As unified storage, both types of usages can be supported at the same time.
    • With both file and block storage support, the NetApp AFF can be used as a consolidation solution across different requirements.
  • System environments
    • With the broad range of file protocols including native CIFS/SMB and NFS for file and Fibre Channel and iSCSI for block storage, the NetApp systems can install in almost any environment.
    • HDFS support for Hadoop environments
  • Deployment and Administration
    • Noted for the ease of use, the NetApp systems can be installed by users with moderate networking and storage skills.
    • NetApp provides resource management software as well as device and feature managers. A CLI is also available for low-level management.
    • With Active IQ, telemetry data is sent to a cloud-based application that performs analytics on the data. Active IQ is an update of the original Autosupport function.

Read more on NetApp AFF differentiating elements and  Evaluator Group EvaluScale™ Ranking

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Evaluator Group Opinion: Differentiating elements for NetApp AFF

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 expands the 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


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