NetApp takes aim at HPC market with FAS upgrades, caching devices

Along with upgrading its midrange storage with the FAS3100 series, NetApp adds caching appliances and performance acceleration cards to help eliminate I/O bottlenecks in an HPC environment.

NetApp Inc. is refreshing its enterprise SAN and NAS line with two midrange FAS storage systems. The company has also released cache and application optimization products aimed at engineering and high-performance computing (HPC) shops.

The two new midrange storage systems are the FAS3140, which replaces NetApp's 3020 and 3040 FAS and V models, and the FAS3170, which replaces the FAS3070. The new models support CIFS, NFS, Fibre Channel and iSCSI SANs, and compete primarily with EMC's Clariion SAN and Celerra NAS, Hewlett-Packard's EVA, Hitachi Data Systems' Adaptable Module Storage (ASM) and BlueArc's Titan Series NAS. Midrange systems account for most of NetApp's sales revenue.

The FAS3120 supports up to 420 TB; the FAS3170 supports 840 TB. Both systems are based on 64-bit architecture, have dual-core CPUs and are available in single- or dual-controller configurations. They also support eight PCIe I/O slots (the FAS3000 systems they are replacing supported six slots), which provides the room to plug in the company's new performance acceleration modules.

Netapp also introduced two entries in is V-Series of gateways, the V3140 and V3170, that serve as front-end controllers to storage systems from other vendors.

Patrick Rogers, NetApp vice president of solutions marketing, said that the company's storage accleration devices and performance acceleration cards are best used for scientific and engineering computations and to give geographically dispersed workforces that need to collaborate a central repository for workloads.

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Storage acceleration units serve as caching devices

NetApp's storage acceleration appliances serve as caching devices for the company's storage systems, allowing faster delivery of commonly used files. According to Rogers, the appliances represent the first time that NetApp has delivered a standalone caching application -- the company previously had only a software product that allowed caching at remote locations. The accelertion applicances are designed for the main data center or remote locations.

There are three models – the SA200 for the low-end FAS2000, the SA300 for the FAS3100 and the SA600 for NetApp's high-end FAS6000 system. The SA200 includes 2 GB of memory for a single controller and 4 GB for an active-active configuration. The SA300 has 8 GB for a single controller and 16 GB for active-active controllers. The SA600 has 32 GB for a single controller and 64 GB for active-active controllers.

"It probably won't help their benchmark numbers, but in terms of real-time performance, if you carefully construct your workload to match the cache, you can have a significant improvement," said analyst Russ Fellows, Evaluator Group.

The storage acceleration appliances give NetApp an answer to cache partitioning in higher-end systems, such as EMC's Symmetrix and HDS' USP. "It's a step up from what midrange products offer," Fellows said. The appliances also compete with products from Gear6, which sells devices with cache ranging from 128 GB to more than a TB.

NetApp's performance acceleration modules are 16 GB cards that plug into PCIe slots and function as a read cache to eliminate bottlenecks between high I/O applications and servers. The main candidates for these modules are random-read intensive applications, such as engineering simulations, Rogers said. He also said such modules are alternatives to buying more disk drives.

"Often engineering simulations are limited by I/O throughput to servers," he said. "Customers buy lots of disk drives to create as much I/O as possible. They can plug in this card and reduce the number of disk drives they have to buy."

Performance accleration modules
The performance acceleration modules -- the first such systems released by NetApp -- can improve performance of the company's FAS storage systems as well as its controllers. "This doesn't exist in the midrange today," Rogers said. "Previously, the only place you'd find such cache expansion was in mainframe storage systems." Rogers said that for many HPC environments, the bottleneck is not capacity but I/O throughput -- how fast data can be written or read to disk. "You can only squeeze so much blood out of a turnip," he said. The 16 GB card, he said, "consumes 95 percent less power than a shelf of Fibre Channel disks. If you're I/O constrained, you'll choose this card every time, not only for throughput but performance."

Cheap alternative to increasing memory

Greg Stazyk, systems coordinator at the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre (GSC) in Vancouver, British Columbia, said he's not ready for a FAS systems update yet, but he is interested in the application performance products. He said that GSC runs a lot of custom applications for its research, including some with large files that read sequentially and others that use millions of small files.

"Our filers provide storage for an HPC cluster, and we run a variety of applications on that," Stazyk said. "We find that even though things have been running good, new apps come out, and we will see performance bottlenecks going forward. The cards are an incremental performance boost, a lower-cost alternative to increasing memory and file cache. If we can keep a large cache available, we should see a performance benefit."

Stazyk said he expects to add caching devices as well to his two FAS3050 systems and one FAS6070 system, which combine for about 250 TB of raw capacity and are used primarily for files. He said the alternatives to adding caching with the cards and devices would be moving some projects to more expensive Fibre Channel drives from SATA.

"We see the need down the road for putting cache in front," he said. "We'll have projects that will hit hard from read perspective, and we'll need to keep building the NFS response for those projects. I like that they have a lower end way for us to pop in a unit to our FAS6070 for a boost now."

NetApp isn't yet rolling out an upgrade to its Data OnTap GX operating system, which provides clustered NAS capability for HPC shops. However, NetApp executives have hinted that one more upgrade is coming soon before integrating GX into the main OnTap OS.

Stazyk said GSC will probably move to GX eventually, but not until it is integrated into OnTap.

Pricing for the FAS3100 systems begins at $69,780 with 7 TB of storage. The V3100 starts at $56,365 with no storage attached. List price for the performance acceleration module is $35,000 for the first module, including one software license, and $15,000 for each additional card. Pricing for the storage acceleration appliances varies by configuration, number of disk shelves and performance acceleration modules. All the products are expected to be available this quarter.

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