This is one of a series of posts discussing the presenters at Storage Field Day 9, occurring 16th-18th March 2016 in Silicon Valley, at which I am an attending delegate.  See links at the end of this post to other presenting vendors.  Details of the event can be found on the Storage Field Day 9 page at and on the dedicated events page on this site at Storage Field Day 9.

As storage companies go, NetApp is certainly an interesting one.  Looking back just over 20 years ago, their NAS filers (affectionately known as toasters) were revolutionary in bringing shared file storage to the masses, without the hassles of managing dedicated Unix or Windows servers.  Data ONTAP and the WAFL file system (I know it’s technically not a file system, but it helps people visualise) introduced features like snapshots, efficient replication and archiving.  For many years, NetApp was undoubtedly a leader, but Data ONTAP in its original form faced an issue in scalability.

The architecture of what is now called 7-mode is dual controller, with performance increases based on the speed of the processors in the controller units.  NetApp acquired Spinnaker, a start-up making a scale-out storage solution, and attempted to integrate the technology into Data ONTAP, rather than running it as a separate platform.  This introduced years of pain for the company, mixed marketing messages claiming both 7-mode and newer cluster mode were the “same” product and some regression of features, as rewrites of both platforms from the same codebase was undertaken and completed.

During recent years there have been battles with EMC to be the biggest and fastest growing storage company, failed attempts at all-flash with FlashRay and a number of products that seem to have been acquired and never seen the light of day again.  Move forward to the present day and NetApp is a more interesting company to engage with.  The obsession with Data ONTAP as the only storage platform of choice seems to have waned.  The company now has E-Series (cheap, block based storage with an all-flash variant), FAS (the Data ONTAP family, again with an all-flash variant) and the newly acquired SolidFire, an all-flash scale-out storage platform.

The acquisition of SolidFire represents a move that hasn’t been seen with the company before and (if the announcements are to be believed) that’s to take a successful product and not attempt to lever it into the ONTAP platform.  Instead, NetApp are promising to keep SolidFire autonomous to a certain degree, while learning from the benefits of their (SolidFire’s) culture.  This is a remarkable statement for an incumbent acquiring what is a 5-year old start-up.

So what can we expect from NetApp’s presentation at SFD9?  I think all the delegates will be expecting that SolidFire will be front and centre as part of the discussion.  NetApp are (rightly) pleased with their acquisition and now it is fully completed, this presents an opportunity for both companies to start explaining how SolidFire will evolve within NetApp and what we can expect to see in the future.  I suspect there may also be a degree of scene setting to show how the existing NetApp platform and SolidFire fit together.  From my perspective, I hope they highlight:

  • Operational Efficiency – SolidFire is fully API driven.  Data ONTAP can be managed by CLI.  Harmonising the management functionality has to be on the agenda as a key requirement to enable customers to pick and choose NetApp hardware.
  • Quality of Service – NetApp completely rewrote quality of service in C-mode (formerly cluster mode) to be application focused, rather than the legacy prioritisation features that were in 7-mode.  SolidFire has always supported QoS to apply application service metrics at the LUN level and now provides the same functionality on VVOLs.

I’ve covered the background from a technology perspective, however I highly recommend reading Justin Warren’s financial review over at his eigenmagic blog, which puts some perspective on the potential success of each of the FAS, E-series and SolidFire product lines.

One last thing… I’ve heard rumours that the NetApp presentation could be well worth tuning in for, with some star presenters on camera.  If this turns out to be true, the NetApp presentation will be well worth tuning in for.

Further Reading


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Written by Chris Evans

With 30+ years in IT, Chris has worked on everything from mainframe to open platforms, Windows and more. During that time, he has focused on storage, developed software and even co-founded a music company in the late 1990s. These days it's all about analysis, advice and consultancy.