Just before Christmas there was an announcement that NetApp purchased SolidFire for 870 Million in cash. The announcement came under the radar for most of the industry due to the holiday season. It came somewhat of a surprise to me that NetApp decided to pull the trigger on purchasing a Flash storage vendor. I remember hearing rumblings that FlashRay wasn’t going well for NetApp a few months ago and began to wonder if NetApp was going to pull back and reevaluate their storage play. However, I still didn’t think NetApp was going to go the acquisition route. I figured they would push forward with their current flash offerings.
Why the Purchase?
There was a good podcast by Justin Warren at The Eignecast where he interviews both George Kurian, CEO of NetApp, and Dave Write, CEO of SolidFire. George Kurian was pretty transparent when he discusses FlashRay and the challenges NetApp was having internally getting the product to match their vision and the challenges of the market. The bottom line, FlashRay was not ready for primetime and further delays were going to hurt NetApp in the flash marketplace and NetApp needed an acquisition to make up for any lost time. So here comes SolidFire!
Brief History of NetApp All-Flash
I thought it would be interesting to look at NetApp’s history in All-Flash. NetApp has been leveraging Hybrid-Flash for some time but was fairly new to the All-Flash storage market. Just a note; You could do an All Flash FAS prior to the release of the FAS8000 series but NetApp didn’t productize it like they did with AFF platform back in 2014 when the new FAS8000s came out.
All-Flash FAS (AFF)
Starting with their All-Flash FAS (AFF) is what NetApp calls their enterprise platform. It runs the Data ONTAP operating systems and utilizes WAFL which has been the core of their product line for quite some time. The bottom line is that all the software features that we have grown to love with NetApp are available with the AFF platform.
NetApp acquired LSI back in 2011. The E-Series storage platform was designed for environments that need simple fast block-only storage platform without the bells and whistles. E-Series doesn’t run Data ONTAP, it runs SANtricity. The EF-Series is the All-Flash E-Series and it brings high-performance but little in features functionality. The big difference between EF-Series and AFF is that the EF-Series has lower latency and higher IOPs but for most customers the AFF will meet their performance requirements.
NetApp’s FlashRay was supposed to address the big knock on NetApp, which has been ease of use. The big success that Pure and other flash startups have had is ease of use. This has especially resonated with environments that don’t have a storage expert or storage team on staff. FlashRay also ran another operating system called Mars OS which gave NetApp 3 operating system. The reason for not using ONTAP was it inherent complexities and big memory footprint but now with the purchase of SolidFire we can officially say that FlashRay is dead.
Now comes SolidFire. SolidFire’s role at NetApp will be to replace the FlashRay. SolidFire is a highly distributed architecture that will fill the gap that AFF and EF Series can’t fill. It also addresses the main goal of FlashRay which was ease of use from a management perspective. NetApp plans on keeping the Name and hopes this will keep Pure, XtremIO, and other from taking market share. I will be doing a more detailed blog post in the future.
What does it mean for NetApp going forward?
NetApp was late to the game when it came to All-Flash. During NetApp Insight they were very honest in saying that they didn’t give the market what it was demanding and that opened the door to the competition. They instead were too focused on Hybrid-Flash solutions like Flash Cache and Flash Pools which still are very relevant but lack the sexiness of flash only. In NetApp’s defense most customers don’t need all flash but what they need and want can be two very different things. Plus, companies like Pure did a great job marketing flash and finding creative ways to make their product affordable. The big question I have about the SolidFire acquisition in how this will impact NetApp going forward managing three software platforms. This was the same question I had about FlashRay, as well. What attracted me to NetApp like other customers was the one software operating system that was consistent across platforms. That made the product simple to digest and made it a lot more appealing than EMC which seemed to have 2 or 3 of everything. I know that NetApp started to realize that Data ONTAP wasn’t a fit for every customer which makes some sense and having other offerings will help to address customer needs without confusing them in the process. We’ll have see how this strategy plays out.