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NetApp stokes midrange fires with new array

The FAS 3040 is a scaled down version of the 64-bit 3070 architecture; NetApp officials say more moves downmarket will follow.

Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) has announced a new scaled down addition to its FAS3000 line of midrange storage area network (SAN) and network attached storage (NAS) boxes, and said more moves downmarket will follow as it continues to wrestle with EMC Corp. in the midrange.

The FAS 3040 is built using the same 64-bit controller as the FAS3070 introduced last October. The new box, which is priced starting at $83,000 for 2 terabytes (TB) of storage, scales up to 252 disk drives or 126 TB capacity and includes 16 embedded 4 Gbps Fibre Channel ports along with 8 GB cache. Customers will also be able to add 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) adapter cards in the second half of this year. (By comparison, the 3070 starts at roughly $115,000 for a system with 1 TB of capacity, scales to 502 Fibre Channel or SATA disk drives, or a mix of both for a total of 252 TB, features 16 GB of cache memory and supports thirty-two 4 Gbps Fibre Channel ports or 32 GigE ports.

The chief differentiator between this product and other products in the FAS3000 series with similar capacities is the performance, according to NetApp's vice president of solutions marketing Patrick Rogers. The FAS3020 and 3050 are both based on an older controller introduced in May 2005, which uses a 32-bit operating system. The FAS3020 and 3050 will stay on the market, Rogers said. Users can upgrade between any FAS200 or 3000 model system, including the new systems, by swapping out controllers.

One NetApp user, Craig Vershon, IT infrastructure manager for Newfield Exploration Co., said he's waiting for the 10 GigE feature. "Right now we're trunking 1 Gbit pipes, which still doesn't get us as much throughput as we would like," he said. "We won't fill the whole 10 Gbits, but we do need a good chunk of it, and we're running out of plugs trying to do it with 1 Gbit wires."

Vershon, who is currently using the FAS3020, as well as FAS980 filers, said he doesn't have plans to upgrade to the new controllers right away, but within the next year will probably switch over, after 10 GigE becomes available. "In our industry we usually have to expand very quickly on short notice," he said, one of the reasons he picked NetApp because upgrading does not require switching out disks or migrating data.

Vershon said he is eyeing the FAS6000 series to replace his older 980s, but will wait to see 10 GigE adapters become available for those systems before upgrading.

NetApp is slightly behind archrival EMC in announcing a variety of capacity models for newer, faster midrange disk systems. EMC currently offers four models of its 4 Gbps Fibre Channel boxes with PCI-Express, the CX3-20, CX3-40, CX3-80 and most recently, the CX3-10.

Rogers hinted that an equivalent to the CX3-10 will come out of the FAS3000 line in the coming months. "That's the next logical place we would go, and ultimately you'll see something like it, but that's not something we're ready to announce today," he said.

The 3040 is also available as a diskless V-series gateway, starting at $58,450 for a single controller system. The V-series can be used to make any disk subsystem, including, NetApp was quick to point out, an EMC Clariion, into a NetApp box and allow it to run NetApp's snapshot and mirroring software.

Users to benefit from increased competition

It's no secret in the industry that the already heated competition between EMC and NetApp has grown even more intense with NetApp's growth in the midrange SAN market since the introduction of the 3000 line, and in particular since NetApp began sniping at EMC on performance since the introduction of the 64-bit controller with the 3070 in October. (See EMC and NetApp duke it out in the midrange, Nov. 16). The 3000 line has become "the stalwart" among all of NetApp's storage offerings, with approximately 10,000 units shipped in the last 18 months, according to Rogers, who called it "the heart of our product line in terms of revenues."

But that's only part of the story, according to Brian Babineau, analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group. "The real battle as far as NetApp is concerned is between the NetApp-IBM contingency and the EMC-Dell Inc. contingency, and it's international," he said, adding that NetApp's SAN growth is due at least in part to IBM giving it "data center level credibility" with its install base.

NetApp has also been reporting heady growth as a result of its development in the midrange space, which Babineau noted can't last forever. "Eventually the 30% to 40% top-line numbers are going to start to decline," he said. "They can't sustain that long term."

Babineau also said he doesn't envision a total takeover by NetApp in the midrange space, either. "NetApp has the momentum of the NAS/iSCSI growth market, but EMC is still strongest in Fibre Channel," he said. "And in the end, both NetApp and EMC are also battling with [Hewlett-Packard Co.] (HP) who also continues to be a leader in the midrange SAN market with the EVA."

The infighting over product features will continue to cause fireworks, Babineau predicted, but said the bottom line for users is that the continued fierce competition in this market will mean they have much more power to negotiate better pricing. "If customers are smart, they'll just play all three of these guys against each other to get the best deal," Babineau said.

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