NetApp's new SolidFire software option is buy once, use anywhere

The company will let enterprises buy perpetual licenses that aren't tied to specific storage arrays

Enterprise storage technology, once bound tightly to specialized boxes, now has more to do with software that can run on standard computing gear. This shift gives companies more freedom to deploy storage as they like. It’s also changing how they pay for it.

NetApp's SolidFire division, a recent acquisition focused on all-flash technology, is introducing a way for customers to buy its software and hardware separately. As their needs grow and change, enterprises will be able to use the same software licenses across multiple sites and machines.

The new FlashForward Capacity Licensing is just one of several purchasing options for SolidFire flash technology, but it reflects a change in the way enterprises roll out and manage IT infrastructure. The practice of using software to define all systems and treating hardware as a commodity began in big Internet operations like Facebook and Google but is now becoming more feasible for ordinary companies.

Some enterprises have bought into these Web-scale operations directly, buying cloud-based storage and computing capacity in increments as their needs grow. SolidFire isn’t trying to compete with cloud storage services, but those options have changed the landscape, said Dave Wright, SolidFire’s founder, vice president and general manager.

“Cloud pricing models have really opened customers’ eyes to the advantage of flexible pricing models,” Wright said.

The new purchasing option will allow customers to buy a perpetual software license that cover 100TB of pooled storage capacity no matter where in the enterprise that capacity may be. One license can span systems at several different sites and be transferred perpetually to future generations of hardware. When the company's needs grow, it can just buy another 100TB license. This still counts as a capital expenditure, so companies that have been buying storage in one-time purchases don’t have to change gears financially.

SolidFire isn't saying how much the licenses will cost but says the new purchasing model introduces ways to save money. For one thing, customers can wait for flash prices to fall before buying more hardware, while knowing they can use the same software license on the future systems.

NetApp already lets customers purchase SolidFire software by itself and install it on hardware from other companies. But if they do, it’s up to them to get the hardware qualified. SolidFire has qualified some third-party gear to run its software, but this approach is best suited to large customers like service providers, Wright said.

With FlashForward Capacity Licensing, customers will get SolidFire’s own hardware. They can’t buy software licenses for hardware they already own, but new nodes with the perpetual 100TB licenses can be integrated with other SolidFire nodes.

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