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NetApp scales up its high-end disk arrays

A high-end addition to NetApp's FAS6000 series can now scale to 1 PB, while the company's FAS2000 series now allows the mixing of SAS and SATA drives.

Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) today quietly launched two new models in its high-end FAS6000 series line of multiprotocol disk arrays, and added support for a mix of SAS and SATA drives in FAS2000 series enclosures.

The new FAS6000 disk arrays are the FAS6040 and the FAS6080, along with their corresponding V-Series gateway versions, the V6040 and V6080. The new disk arrays support 1 TB SATA drives and more drives per enclosure than their predecessors.

The FAS6040 scales to more than 800 TB of capacity using 840 disk drives. It replaces the FAS6030, which scaled to 420 TB. The new FAS6080 can scale to 1.1 PB with 1,176 disk drives. It replaces the FAS6070, which reached 504 TB. The FAS6080 also offers more failover options than its predecessor.

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According to analysts, NetApp is positioning the product between modular midrange offerings, such as EMC Corp.'s Clariion, and arrays from Tier 1 players, such as Hitachi Data Systems' (HDS) USP-V and EMC Symmetrix. "Typically Tier 1 players would say their arrays have more redundancy features built in [than the 6000 series] like dual motherboards," according to Gartner analyst Dave Russell. "But it may be we need to expand our Tier 1 definition -- it may be for some customers that capacity and price could outweigh extensive redundancy features, depending on the application."

NetApp did not announce pricing for the arrays, but pricing for the previous models started at $114,000 and $178,000, respectively. The typical price for fully populated FAS6000 series arrays is around $300,000 to $400,000.

NetApp's strength is its FAS3000 midrange systems, but it made a push into the enterprise with the FAS6000 in mid-2006 to widen its attempt to match EMC on all storage area network (SAN) fronts. "They've got to continue their volume play in the upper midmarket, but they need to continue to penetrate large enterprises," Russell said.

The plot may also be thickening when it comes to NetApp's close partner, IBM, as its own high-end DS6000 and DS8000 product lines have been relatively stagnant, and some observers in the industry have begun questioning the future of the products. IBM sells NetApp's storage systems through an OEM deal, but it is careful to position NetApp's products in a different category than its own SAN systems. "IBM has always positioned the NetApp products it resells in the NAS and iSCSI space, but there are definitely a lot of IBM customers investigating the Fibre Channel story from NetApp," said IDC analyst Brad Nisbet.

NetApp isn't talking about its strategy. A company spokesperson said all the information NetApp will make known on today's announcement is in its press release.

FAS2000 update

It's no secret that NetApp struggled with the release of its long-anticipated FAS2000 series. The promised ability to mix SAS and SATA drives in a single enclosure did not make it into the first release in September.

At the time, according to executive vice president of product operations Tom Georgens, shock and rotational vibration issues that had stymied other developers and early adopters of intermixed arrays had reared their ugly heads with the FAS2000 products as well. NetApp launched the FAS2000 series with the FAS2050, a 4U SAS enclosure, and the FAS2020, a 2U SATA system.

With today's announcement, both models will support both SAS and SATA drives internally. That's good news for one FAS2000 series user, John Saley. Saley is IT architect for RMT Inc., which uses FAS2000 series disk arrays at remote and branch offices. "This will make the FAS2000s a better fit for some of our smaller branch offices, which have a variety of applications but very little storage," he said. "We may use the SAS drives at those offices for applications like email, while lower-tier applications like GIS stay on SATA drives."

Russell said he has been unclear so far on NetApp's overall strategy at the low end. "I've suggested for a while that they package the FAS2000 series with NearStore licenses offering A-SIS data deduplication as a midmarket offering to compete with Data Domain," he said.


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