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NetApp’s all-flash portfolio is doing very well. Last year it grew by no less than 21 percent. However, the company can’t get complacent. Partly because of the growth of (Gen)AI workloads, the performance of the A-Series, the flagship in the AFF offering, had to go up a serious notch. NetApp has certainly succeeded in doing that with the launch today of the new AFF A1K, AFF A90 and AFF A70.

Over a year ago, NetApp came out with the AFF C-Series. AF stands for All-Flash and the last ‘F’ for FAS, which in its turn is an acronym for Fiber-Attached Storage. In plain human terms, it means that these arrays are only available with SSDs and are optimized as best as possible for the workloads for which they are intended. AFF arrays do that by means of ONTAP. It is also worth noting that AFF arrays are part of NetApp’s so-called unified offering. That means they can house block, file and object as data formats. ONTAP takes care of proper distribution between and spread across different arrays.

NetApp AFF A- and C-series

The AFF C-Series was positioned below the A-Series. The idea is that the A-Series is suitable for workloads where the best performance is the deciding factor, while the C-Series should be seen more as capacity-flash.

The C-Series is capacity-flash for customers, but also certainly for NetApp itself. That is, it sold quite a lot of it. Sales of all-flash rose rapidly after the launch of the various C-Series (besides the AFF C-Series, there was also an ASA C-Series). Joost van Drenth, Field CTO at NetApp, in conversation with us, states that the 21 percent growth in all-flash can be attributed almost entirely to these new series. So this was obviously a gap in the market, something other players also saw, by the way.

With the above strong growth in lower-cost all-flash offerings, it might be tempting to build on that in particular. However, NetApp is certainly not doing that. Nor would it be wise to do so. The existing A-Series may offer high performance, but workloads also continue to change. And by changing, we mean needing more performance. So today NetApp is announcing the latest models in the AFF A-Series.

New NetApp AFF A-Series

The newest line of models in the NetApp AFF A-Series consists of the AFF A1K, AFF A90 and AFF A70. We are not going to discuss and compare these in detail here. We have not seen any data sheets of the new arrays before the official launch, so we cannot do this properly at this time. The main feature of the new line-up as a whole is that the new generation performs up to two times better than the previous generation. For enthusiasts who like some numbers, NetApp claims about 40 million IOPs and 1TB/s of throughput.

A major reason for the much better performance of the latest AFF A-Series over its predecessor is that the new models can deploy the latest PCIe bus. Currently, it already includes support for 200G Ethernet, but another update is coming that will also enable 400G Ethernet. In addition, special cards will be used for offloading certain tasks. These include monitoring storage efficiency in the arrays. This will also improve the overall performance of the arrays.

In addition to the hardware, NetApp naturally also provides the complete control of the optimized storage stacks that customers purchase. In this regard, Van Drenth points in particular to ransomware detection. That, he says, is “on steroids”. NetApp has put a lot of time and effort into that in recent years. The company has snatched talent from other vendors to be able to do this. They have done a lot of work to train the underlying model. The result is that NetApp now claims an accuracy of 99+ percent. The Ransomware Recovery Guarantee is also still there. This guarantees that a customer can always recover their data, provided they setup their environment according to NetApp’s terms and conditions of course.

The intended use-case for the new AFF A-Series is the ability to run AI workloads at high speeds. With these new and much faster arrays, you significantly speed up access to the data needed for the models you run on-prem (for inferencing or RAG, for example). So with this you indirectly speed up your entire infrastructure as well. This is already getting an enormous boost with the previously mentioned 200G and 400G Ethernet, and later perhaps 800G Ethernet. Storage arrays must follow suit, so as not to be left behind.

There’s more

The new models in the NetApp AFF A-Series are by far the biggest news the company is bringing today. However, NetApp usually announces swathes of new stuff at their launches. That is also the case today. We briefly run through these additional announcements below.

New StorageGRID models

In addition to the AFF A-Series, StorageGRID, NetApp’s offering specifically focused on object storage, is also getting an update. This is not as big a jump as with AFF A-Series. It is more of a normal generational update. What is interesting here is that NetApp has added QLC models. You can think of this as C-Series models within StorageGRID. In total, the update to StorageGRID comprises six models, including models with HDDs. Unlike Pure Storage, NetApp does see a future in this. In any case, it will not stop selling HDDs as long as customers are still asking for them for the lowest tiers. NetApp has that “luxury,” of course, while Pure Storage has dedicated itself 100 percent to flash.

Cyber Vault Reference Architecture

To keep data secure, the key is to set up the environment so that data can actually be completely secure. To that end, it is good for customers to know how to set up what NetApp calls a Cyber Vault. That’s what the Cyber Vault Reference Architecture essentially is. It combines several components of what NetApp has to offer, creating the Cyber Vault. At the root of this lies SnapLock. NetApp has had that for some time. It’s a way to lock data without anyone being able to do anything about it. It cannot be hacked, Van Drenth claims. NetApp itself can’t access it, either. SnapLock is the backbone of the aforementioned Ransomware Recovery Guarantee.

SnapMirror Active Sync

With SnapMirror Active Sync, ONTAP offers an active-active solution to ensure the continuity of two data centers connected via this technology. If one of the data centers goes down, then this technology, in combination with databases from Oracle, SAP and Microsoft and VMware vSphere Metro Storage Cluster, guarantees that an organization has no downtime and simply remains operational.

FlexCache with Writeback

The idea behind FlexCache with Writeback is that it makes data accessible in locations outside of the one where the data actually resides. This is done without copying all that data to those other locations. Still, remote people can access and work with the data locally. As Van Drenth puts it, “for 1 percent of the capacity, you can make 100 percent of your storage available.” It’s actually a kind of streaming of the data that ONTAP enables with FlexCache with Writeback.

BlueXP Classification

The last of the new features announced by NetApp today that we want to highlight is BlueXP Classification. We have already written and published an extensive story about this management layer that can be laid over the entire hybrid environment. See the link at the bottom of this page for that story. BlueXP Classification is the new name for Cloud Data Sense. The news today is that NetApp is now going to offer this for free to BlueXP users, which customers don’t have to pay for either, by the way, Van Drenth mentions. Of course, they have to be NetApp customers with NetApp environments. Among other things, BlueXP Classification is interesting for classifying, tagging and categorizing data for AI purposes.

NetApp and Lenovo build converged solution together

Finally, to close off the host of announcements from NetApp in style, we also touch on the new NetApp AIPod that the company is building together with Lenovo. Lenovo is providing the ThinkSystem servers for the new system, which use Nvidia L40S GPUs. This combined with Nvidia’s Ethernet-based Spectrum-X networking platform, NetApp AFF storage, and built according to the Nvidia OVX architecture should provide a complete converged solution for customers. The goal of this NetApp AIPod is to provide customers with an out-of-the-box solution for RAG and inferencing purposes.

All in all, NetApp launched quite a few new things today, both in software and hardware. We have not been able to find availability information for the new models in the NetApp AFF A Series. As soon as we have that, we will add it to this article. The software capabilities are available with the latest of version of ONTAP. The NetApp AIPod that the company is developing with Lenovo will be available starting next summer.

Also read: NetApp BlueXP is a big step towards true hybrid cloud data management