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NetApp embraces server flash cache, reseller deal with Fusion-io

NetApp moves into server flash cache with Flash Accel software to compete with EMC's VFCache, and strikes up a reseller deal with Fusion-io.

NetApp extended its flash storage reach into the server today by adding its Flash Accel caching software and entering into a reseller deal with PCIe flash vendor Fusion-io.

Flash Accel uses PCIe server flash cards to cache data frequently accessed from NetApp arrays, which speeds application performance and reduces demand on back-end storage. Flash Accel is similar to the flash cache software EMC ships with its VFCache product, but NetApp has wider support for industry PCIe cards.

While EMC sells Micron and LSI cards as part of VFCache, NetApp's Flash Accel will work with PCIe cards from most vendors. LSI, Micron, SanDisk, STEC and Virident are working to qualify their server-side caching cards with Flash Accel.

But Fusion-io is NetApp's only reseller partner for PCIe cards, at least for now. NetApp will resell Fusion-io's ioDrive2 365 GB and 785 GB multi-layer cell (MLC) flash cards. NetApp will also resell Fusion-io's ioTurbine and directCache flash caching software for customers who prefer to use Fusion-io's software instead of Flash Accel.

Like Flash Accel, Fusion-io's ioTurbine and directCache will maintain data coherency with data stored on NetApp storage through integration with NetApp's Data Ontap operating system.

NetApp has supported cache inside storage controllers since 2009 with its FlashCache product, and added Flash Pool volume-level caching inside its arrays earlier this year. The vendor claims it has sold more than 17 PB of flash storage.

NetApp CEO Tom Georgens said during the vendor's earnings report call last week that NetApp would continue to expand its flash support. He said he expects customers to use flash on the host, in the array, in storage devices and as solid-state disks (SSDs), and that NetApp will support flash in all of those places.

"We have consistently said that flash will be used at every layer of the stack, and NetApp will play at all of these levels," Georgens said last week. "On the server side, our strategy is to partner with server flash hardware vendors and add value through software."

Paul Feresten, NetApp's senior product marketing manager for intelligent caching, said NetApp's flash reach could spread to an all-flash array, "but we're not ready to announce anything yet. It's something we will look at."

Like VFCache's software, Flash Accel is write-through cache, meaning it caches reads for faster performance, but passes writes to the primary storage system. Feresten said the first release of Flash Accel supports Windows applications and VMware vSphere, with broadened application and hypervisor support planned in future releases. Flash Accel supports VMware's VMotion capability to move a virtual machine, which is a function that EMC did not support with its first release of VFCache.

"We're taking a hardware-agnostic approach," Feresetn said. "EMC packages VFCache with server cards. NetApp says 'You pick a PCIe card, or we'll resell you one from Fusion-io.'"

He added that NetApp will add server flash options to its FlexPod reference architecture for converged IT stacks.

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