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NetApp launches Ontap 9 for flash, cloud

With the worst part of its Clustered Data Ontap (CDOT) challenges behind it, NetApp is bringing out the next version of its Ontap storage operating system. Ontap 9 will focus on flash, coming as NetApp supports 15 TB solid-state drives and promises at least 4-1 data reduction through deduplication.

NetApp CEO George Kurian disclosed the upgrade Wednesday during the company’s earnings call. NetApp planned an official Ontap 9 launch next week but released details following Kurian’s comments.

Ontap 9 – “data” has been dropped from the product name – will be generally available June 15. It is the successor to CDOT, with upgrades available to CDOT and 7-Mode customers.

NetApp VP of product marketing Lee Caswell said Ontap 9 will have three types of data reduction. Along with inline compression and deduplication, a new data compaction feature will use additional processing power to write data more efficiently to SSDs. The 15 TB SSDs will first be available on NetApp’s All-Flash FAS arrays.

Caswell said NetApp will give more storage to customers who fail to get 4-1 data reduction.

NetApp will also follow in the footsteps of all-flash vendors such as Pure Storage and give free controller upgrades after three years to customers under Premium Maintenance. It will also extend its flash warranty to six years.

The underlying Ontap 9 technology will also be available in Ontap Cloud (formerly Cloud Ontap) and a software-only version called Ontap Select. NetApp claims Ontap 9 can be deployed in 10 minutes. NetApp also promises greater security through triple-parity RAID and improved encryption.

“The next generation of Ontap will simplify customers’ IT transformations to modern data centers and hybrid cloud environments,” Kurian said. “Customers can choose the architecture of their choice – engineered systems, software-defined storage or cloud.”

Ontap Cloud will run in Amazon Web Services and the new version can run as a high availability cluster. Caswell said support will follow for other public clouds. Ontap Select replaces Ontap Edge, with greater hardware support and reduced pricing.

“Ontap was already friendly to flash and we invested early to make sure it can run in the cloud,” Caswell said. “With Ontap 9 you can consolidate platforms. The idea is you can have it all integrated into one system from flash to disk to cloud, and blocks, objects and files all together now.”

NetApp has had problems getting customers to migrate from its 7-Mode Ontap to CDOT. That, along with its lateness to all-flash storage, negatively impacted its sales in recent years. But Kurian said clustered node shipments grew 80% year-over-year last quarter, making up 85% of new sales. However, CDOT still accounts for only 26% of NetApp’s customer base and the upgrades have been largely driven by discounts and promotions.

Those discounts have taken a toll on NetApp’s bottom line. The company lost $8 million in the quarter, as revenue of $1.38 billion for the quarter declined 10.4% and came in below expectations. Its $5.5 billion in revenue for last year dropped nine percent from the previous year.

Kurian said it will be “a year of transition” as NetApp tries to rally around what it calls “strategic solutions” – CDOT, all-flash arrays including SolidFire, E-Series storage, hybrid cloud products and OnCommand Insight management software.

These products made up 53% of NetApp’s revenue over the past year and 61% last quarter. The strategy is similar to that of NetApp’s main rival EMC and other large storage vendors who also push new technologies such as all-flash arrays, cloud and hyper-converged while their older technology declines in deployments.

Kurian did not break out revenue from the all-flash SolidFire platform it acquired in January. But he left no doubt about its strategic importance, especially because SolidFire’s flash arrays are sold mainly to cloud providers.

“All-flash systems are the new SAN configurations,” he said.

NetApp also sells all-flash versions of its E-Series high performance systems and All-flash FAS mainstream storage arrays. NetApp executives said  the vendor is on pace for around $700 million in all-flash revenue over the next year, although it is also discounting those products.

NetApp has come a long way in flash since Kurian replaced Tom Georgens as CEO a year ago.

“When I took over as CEO, NetApp was dealing with several internal challenges,” Kurian said Wednesday. “We were late to the all-flash array market, we were not prepared to assist our installed base of customers in migrating to clustered Ontap and we had limited traction in the hybrid cloud. Over the course of the year, we’ve made substantial progress. We have moved into a leadership position in the flash market with a broad portfolio that addresses multiple workload requirements and deployment styles. We regained ground with our channel partners by successfully enabling them to migrate the install base to clustered Ontap. Our data fabric strategy has proven effective in positioning us to win leading edge cloud deployments.”

Considering it lost $8 million and its revenue declined last quarter, NetApp still has a lot of work to do in its transition. It has yet to satisfactorily address hyper-convergence. Kurian said SolidFire with OpenStack can bring the benefits of hyper-converged technology. That would require bringing a new version of SolidFire – perhaps packaging its Element OS on servers with hypervisors.