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NetApp Insight 2018: A primer on storage for AI, flash-enabled cloud

LAS VEGAS-NetApp expects about 5,000 customers and partners to gather here Monday as it lays out a roadmap for flash-enabled AI and cloud applications.

NetApp Insight 2018 marks the fifth year the event has been open to analysts, OEMs and the media. Prior to 2014, NetApp used Insight exclusively as technical training for data center managers. In 2017, NetApp Insight got off to a late start, as opening day was postponed following a mass shooting event on the Las Vegas Strip.

The three-day event will cover how the NetApp Data Fabric technologies extend to broader cloud use cases, said Kris Newton, a NetApp vice president of corporate communications and investor relations.

“We know that pretty much every organization, at some level, is thinking through AI and the cloud.  We’ll have lots of discussion around how our customers can optimize their move to AI and the cloud, and see real results,” Newton said.

AI use cases cut across verticals, Newton said, spurring demand for faster storage and more efficient configurations to ingest data.

“AI puts pressure on your storage. You need storage that’s lightning-fast. You can’t wait around for your storage to respond,” Newton said.

Although she didn’t reveal details, Newton said NetApp Insight will highlight the role NVMe flash and storage class memory technologies play in a modernized data center. NetApp this year added an NVMe-based model to its All Flash FAS (AFF) Series arrays, mirroring similar moves by rival Dell EMC and others. The NVMe version of FAS allows customers to upgrade an existing FAS array by upgrading the OnTap operating system.

NVMe storage uses PCI Express to send traffic directly to CPUs, providing faster data transfer than traditional iSCSI command hops.

Sales of NVMe all-flash arrays will generate about $500 million in 2018, according to a report by analyst firm IDC, based in Framingham, Mass.

Storage arrays that extend NVMe from the back end to application hosts are sometimes known as rack-scale flash. NetApp’s AFF with NVMe technically doesn’t fit the definition, since NVMe runs on the front end, but allows customers to continue using SAS SSDs.

It wouldn’t be a NetApp Insight conference without product news. NetApp hinted it would reveal upgrades to its OnTap-based storage for converged systems, file storage and object platforms, as well as deeper integration for multicloud support.

Another point of interest will be any new details forthcoming on NetApp’s recent joint venture in China with server maker Lenovo. Under that deal, Lenovo will sell NetApp storage under its ThinkSystem brand.

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