Storage Insider: NetApp embraces HPC

I don't see other storage vendors sitting still, but it's undeniable that Network Appliance has been extra busy lately. Without digging out all the announcements made in the past 12 months or so, it's fair to say that NetApp has been adding major capabilities to its products, including virtualization, data encryption, and data protection.

That short list may not convey the fact that NetApp has essentially loaded its multifaceted OS, Data Ontap 7G, with just about every imaginable feature you may demand to properly manage data in a corporate environment.

Only weeks ago, armed with that formidable portfolio of applications, the company decided it was time to draw its revenue from a larger well, extending its target market from the midtier to high-end customers.

But in all this activity, did NetApp forget about Spinnaker, purchased way back in 2003?

Obviously not: With this week's announcement, NetApp makes yet another step to enlarge its revenue pool, this time entering HPC (high-performance computing) waters. Another version of its Data Ontap OS, this one called Data Ontap GX, blends the best features of Ontap 7G and Spinnaker to provide clustered NAS solutions for -- at least initially -- customers in the energy, entertainment, and electronic design sectors.

"We are announcing a new class of scaled-out systems based on our brand-new operating system technology, Ontap GX," says Patrick Rogers, vice president of marketing for products and alliances at NetApp.

The first version of Ontap GX exclusively targets the HPC environment, but future versions could bring the technology to other demanding environments, Rogers says.

Ontap GX can scale to 24 nodes and supports FAS3050 controllers linked by a GbE network. Support for nodes deploying the FAS6070 controller should follow shortly, according to Rogers. Customers can deploy both FC (Fibre Channel) and SATA drives to create high-performance or high-capacity tiers of storage.

It's worth noting that NetApp recently added RAID DP (double protection) to Ontap, which essentially protects you from the simultaneous failure of two disk drives, an occurrence more likely with SATA drives but nevertheless possible with any large volume.

The system is designed to provide nondisruptive node additions and data migration across storage tiers, and it can grow to as large as 5PB, which is the size of the largest namespace possible with this version, Rogers points out.

"GX is a breakthrough architecture in being able to assemble a set of storage devices and allowing customers to treat them as one," says Rich Clifton, vice president and general manager of NetApp's Enterprise Data Center and Applications business unit.

An interesting option that Ontap GX inherits from its Spinnaker parent is Flexvol HPO (high-performance option). Flexvol HPO makes Ontap capable of striping files and directories across all nodes, which should generate "blockbuster" performance in the multiple GBps range, according to Rogers.

NetApp will soon publish some Standard Performance Evaluation (SPEC) benchmarks to prove those claims, which will probably cause a traffic spike at the SPEC Web site.

It will be interesting to see how the release of Ontap GX affects the HPC market. For vendors such as BlueArc, Isilon, and ONStor, which have been selling high-performing NAS solutions for quite some time, NetApp could become a formidable competitor. However, having a large vendor move into their space is also a validation that these three vendors were pushing their technology the right way.

Will other big vendors follow NetApp into this rather difficult market segment? They might, but my guess is that for now they will take a wait-and-see attitude, just like you and I.

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