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NetApp EF540, Something Familiar, Something New

Some things new and cool, along with some things familiar, tried, true and proven

NetApp announced the other day a new all nand flash solid-state devices (SSD) storage system called the EF540 that is available now. The EF540 has some things new and cool, along with some things familiar, tried, true and proven.

What is new is that the EF540 is an all nand flash multi-level cell (MLC) SSD storage system. What is old is that the EF540 is based on the NetApp E-Series (read more here and here) and SANtricity software with hundreds of thousands installed systems. As a refresher, the E-Series are the storage system technologies and solutions obtained via the Engenio acquisition from LSI in 2011.

Image of NetApp EF540 via ntapgeek.com
Image via www.ntapgeek.com

The EF540 expands the NetApp SSD flash portfolio which includes products such as FlashCache (read cache aka PAM) for controllers in ONTAP based storage systems. Other NetApp items in the NetApp flash portfolio include FlashPool SSD drives for persistent read and write storage in ONTAP based systems. Complimenting FlashCache and FlashPool is the server-side PCIe caching card and software FlashAccel. NetApp is claiming to have revenue shipped 36PB of flash complimenting over 3 Exabytes (EB) of storage while continuing to ship a large amount of SAS and SATA HDD's.

NetApp also previewed its future FlashRay storage system that should appear in beta later in 2013 and general availability in 2014.

In addition to SSD and flash related announcements, NetApp also announced enhancements to its ONTAP FAS/V6200 series including the FAS/V6220, FAS/V6250 and FAS/V6290.

Some characteristics of the NetApp EF540 and SANtricity include:

  • Two models with 12 or 24 x 6Gbs SAS 800GB MLC SSD devices
  • Up to 9.6TB or 19.2TB physical storage in a 2U (3.5 inch) tall enclosure
  • Dual controllers for redundancy, load-balancing and availability
  • IOP performance of over 300,000 4Kbyte random 100% reads under 1ms
  • 6GByte/sec performance of 512Kbyte sequential reads, 5.5Gbyte/sec random reads
  • Multiple RAID levels (0, 1, 10, 3, 5, 6) and flexible group sizes
  • 12GB of DRAM cache memory in each controller (mirrored)
  • 4 x 8GFC host server-side ports per controller
  • Optional expansion host ports (6Gb SAS, 8GFC, 10Gb iSCSI, 40Gb IBA/SRP)
  • Snapshots and replication (synchronous and asynchronous) including to HDD systems
  • Can be used for traditional IOP intensive little-data, or bandwidth for big-data
  • Proactive SSD wear monitoring and notification alerts
  • Utilizes SANtricity version 10.84

Click here to vote and view results in a Poll, Are large storage arrays day's numbered?

EMC and NetApp (along with other vendors) continue to sell large numbers of HDD's as well as large amounts of SSD. Both EMC and NetApp are taking similar approaches of leveraging PCIe flash cards as cache adding software functionality to compliment underlying storage systems. The benefit is that the cache approach is less disruptive for many environments while allowing improved return on investment (ROI) of existing assets.




Storage systems with HDD and SSD


FAS/V, E-Series

Storage systems with SSD cache



All SSD based storage



All new SSD system in development

Project X


Server side PCIe SSD cache



Partner ecosystems



The best IO is the one that you do not have to do, however the next best are those that have the least cost or affect which is where SSD comes into play. SSD is like real estate in that location matters in terms of providing benefit, as well as how much space or capacity is needed.

What does this all mean?
The NetApp EF540 based on the E-Series storage system architecture is like one of its primary competitors (e.g. EMC VNX also available as an all-flash model). The similarity is that both have been competitors, as well as have been around for over a decade with hundreds of thousands of installed systems. The similarities are also that both continue to evolve their code base leveraging new hardware and software functionality. These improvements have resulted in improved performance, availability, capacity, energy effectiveness and cost reduction.

Click here to vote and view results in a Poll, Whats your take on RAID still being relevant?

From a performance perspective, there are plenty of public workloads and benchmarks including Microsoft ESRP and SPC among others to confirm its performance. Watch for NetApp to release EF540 SPC results given their history of doing so with other E-Series based systems. With those or other results, compare and contrast to other solutions looking not just at IOPS or MB/sec (bandwidth), also latency, functionality and cost.

What does the EF540 compete with?
The EF540 competes with all flash-based SSD solutions (Violin, Solidfire, Purestorage, Whiptail, Kaminario, IBM/TMS, up-coming EMC Project "X" (aka XtremeIO)) among others. Some of those systems use general-purpose servers combined SSD drives, PCIe cards along with management software where others leverage customized platforms with software. To a lesser extent, competition will also be mixed mode SSD and HDD solutions along with some PCIe target SSD cards for some situations.

What to watch and look for:
It will be interesting to view and contrast public price performance results using SPC or Microsoft ESRP among others to see how the EF540 compares. In addition, it will be interesting to compare other storage based, as well as SSD systems beyond the number of IOPS. What will be interesting is to keep an eye on latency, as well as bandwidth, feature functionality and associated costs.

Given that the NetApp E-Series are OEM or sold by third parties, let's see if something looking similar or identical to the EF540 appear at any of those or new partners. This includes traditional general purpose and little-data environments, along with cloud, managed service provider, high performance compute and high productivity compute (HPC), super computer (SC), big data and big bandwidth among others.

Click here to vote and view results in a Poll, Have SSD been successful in traditional storage systems and arrays

The EF540 could also appear as a storage or IO accelerator for large-scale out, clustered, grid and object storage systems for meta data, indices, key value stores among other uses either direct attached to servers, or via shared iSCSI, SAS, FC and InfiniBand (IBA) SCSI Remote Protocol (SRP).

Keep an eye on how the startups that have been primarily Just a Bunch Of SSD (JBOS) in a box start talking about adding new features and functionality such as snapshots, replication or price reductions. Also, keep an eye and ear open to what EMC does with project "X" along with NetApp FlashRay among other improvements.

For NetApp customers, prospects, partners, E-Series OEMs and their customers with the need for IO consolidation, or performance optimization for big-data, little-data and related applications the EF540 opens up new opportunities and should be good news. For EMC competitors, they now have new competition which also signals an expanding market with new opportunities in adjacent areas for growth. This also further signals the need for diverse ssd portfolios and product options to meet different customer application needs, along with increased functionality vs. lowest cost for high capacity fast nand SSD storage.

Some related reading:

Disclosure: NetApp, Engenio (when LSI), EMC and TMS (now IBM) have been clients of StorageIO.

Ok, nuff said

Cheers gs

Greg Schulz - Author Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking (CRC Press, 2011), The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC Press, 2009), and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier, 2004)

twitter @storageio

All Comments, (C) and (TM) belong to their owners/posters, Other content (C) Copyright 2006-2013 StorageIO All Rights Reserved

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More Stories By Greg Schulz

Greg Schulz is founder of the Server and StorageIO (StorageIO) Group, an IT industry analyst and consultancy firm. Greg has worked with various server operating systems along with storage and networking software tools, hardware and services. Greg has worked as a programmer, systems administrator, disaster recovery consultant, and storage and capacity planner for various IT organizations. He has worked for various vendors before joining an industry analyst firm and later forming StorageIO.

In addition to his analyst and consulting research duties, Schulz has published over a thousand articles, tips, reports and white papers and is a sought after popular speaker at events around the world. Greg is also author of the books Resilient Storage Network (Elsevier) and The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC). His blog is at www.storageioblog.com and he can also be found on twitter @storageio.

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