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NetApp developing server-side flash software

NetApp CEO Tom Georgens says he expects server-side flash to become a key part of his vendor’s flash strategy. However, NetApp will take a different approach than its rival EMC.

Asked about EMC’s VFCache product during NetApp’s earnings call Wednesday, Georgens said server-side flash is “a sure thing,” but NetApp will focus on data management software that works with PCIe cards instead of selling the cards. He doesn’t rule out selling cards either, though.

“I don’t think the opportunity is simply selling cards into the host, although we may do that,” he said. “But our real goal is we’re going to bring the data that’s stored in flash on the host into our data management methodology for backup, replication, deduplication and all of those things. It isn’t as simple as we’re going to make a PCI flash card. Our focus this year is the software component and bringing that into our broader data management capability.”

With VFCache, EMC sells PCIe cards from Micron or LSI with the storage vendor’s management software. NetApp appears intent on selling software that will work with any PCIe cards – or at least the most popular cards. The question is whether it can develop software that is integrated as tightly with many cards instead of focusing on one or two.

Georgens said NetApp was correct all along with its contention that using flash as cache is more effective than replacing hard drives in an array with solid-state drives (SSDs). NetApp’s Fast Cache card goes into the array to accelerate performance. It is included on all FAS6000 systems and as an option on NetApp’s other FAS systems. NetApp does offer SSDs in the array, but recommends flash as cache.

“Flash is going to be pervasive,” Georgens said. “I think you’re going to see it everywhere in the infrastructure. Our position all along has been that flash as a cache is where it has the most impact. And I would say that we actually see probably more pervasive deployment of flash in our systems than anybody else in the industry.”

On the hard drive front, Georgens said the impact from shortages caused by floods in Thailand weren’t as bad as anticipated last quarter although it will take another six to nine months before the “uncertainty” lifts.

“While drive vendors had little forward delivery visibility, most of the disk drives shipped in excess of initial estimates,” Georgens said. “However, not all drive types were universally available and some spot shortages impacted revenue and will likely do so in the upcoming quarter as well. … We expect the drive situation to continue to inject uncertainty into the revenue for the next nine months as availability, cost and pricing settle out in the market.”

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