This week, NetApp announced the availability of a revamped All-SAN Array (ASA), a version of the ONTAP system that only supports block-level protocols. Is there actually anything new here, or is this just a goal to remind everyone the product still exists?
NetApp first announced the All-SAN Array, also known as the ASA, back in the autumn of 2019 at that year’s Insight conference. We covered the details as part of this blog post which highlighted that NetApp (at the time) had four block-based storage platforms.
Since then, the SolidFire platform has been placed into sunset mode, while the ONTAP family has been extended with the “capacity-optimised” C-Series models using QLC NAND. We covered these in a blog post from February 2023. So, with this relaunch, what’s new?
From a technical perspective, the new ASA looks remarkably similar to the first platform released in 2019. The only significant difference in architecture we can see is the availability of NVMe-based protocols (NVMe/FC and NVMe/TCP) to complement FCP and iSCSI. Of course, there’s a snazzy new bezel too.
NetApp highlights two other improvements. The first is a six-nine’s availability guarantee (99.9999%), and the second is a 4:1 efficiency guarantee, to which caveats undoubtedly apply.
Why choose to release a platform that actually restricts protocols? After all, Pure Storage recently announced the native integration of file and block on FlashArray. Theoretically, limiting conflicting protocol types could make an all-block system run faster (as we highlighted in our 2019 article). However, we think that there’s more at play here.
Remember for a moment that ex-HPE employee Sandeep Singh joined NetApp as SVP/GM for Enterprise Storage back in November 2022. At HPE, Sandeep was responsible for product management and marketing of HPE storage solutions (including the announcement of Primera). [Side note: it may be worth updating that Twitter bio, Sandeep.]
With this in mind, we think that the (re)announcement of ASA is an alignment of the NetApp storage portfolio that also includes the new C-Series. From a marketing perspective, the obvious competitive comparison to make is with Pure Storage, which has expanded its portfolio in recent years to include a redesigned FlashBlade (and capacity model), capacity-optimised FlashArray and a scale-out FlashArray, while FlashArray now has unified file and block capability.
NetApp’s on-premises (flash) storage portfolio now includes:
- AFF A-Series – all-flash ONTAP
- AFF C-Series – all-flash ONTAP using QLC NAND
- ASA Series – dedicated block-based all-flash
- EF-Series – simple and fast block-only storage (also used within StorageGrid)
So once again, even with the eventual retirement of SolidFire, NetApp still has four block-based storage solutions (the first two above also supporting file).
Of course, the ASA announcement isn’t solely about the hardware. NetApp is standardising support and licensing with ONTAP One and the refresh/replacement programmes that comprise NetApp Advance. So, all in all, a consolidation and rationalisation of solutions, services and support across all hardware platforms.
The Architect’s View®
Although it may seem odd that NetApp is relaunching an existing product, the logic here is all about bringing the portfolio of offerings in line across each solution family. Also, we can’t be certain, but we believe this is the same approach taken by Sandeep Singh while at HPE, where the disparate Nimble-heritage and 3PAR-heritage platforms became normalised under the Alletra brand name.
What’s most interesting is that NetApp sees Pure Storage as its main competitor rather than market leaders Dell and HPE. That view may have more to say about the feedback from the field in discussions with customers. As we’ve highlighted many times (here, here and here), Pure Storage looks to be delivering what customers want, while Dell and HPE aren’t seeing quite the same traction. NetApp clearly hopes to emulate some of this success with a more unified and clearer product portfolio.
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