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NetApp AFF A900 brings more performance to same chassis

NetApp AFF A900 adds higher efficiency, additional OnTap features and optional anti-ransomware software to the flagship array. There's also an upgrade option for A700 users.

NetApp released the latest version of its flagship all-flash storage array Tuesday aimed at boosting performance for business-critical applications.

Previewed at the NetApp Insight 2021 conference, the all-flash fabric-attached storage (AFF) A900 is an 8U array that can be purchased as a standalone appliance. Customers of the A700, the new array's predecessor, can also upgrade to the A900 through a controller module swap. The new array is powered by the latest version of OnTap, 9.10.1, and comes with an enterprise edition of the OS that bundles several of NetApp's core features along with optional anti-ransomware software.

The A900 competes against high-end storage systems such as Dell's PowerMAX, Huawei's OceanStor Dorado and the Hitachi VSP 5000, according to Eric Burgener, an analyst at IDC. The A900 also competes more directly against the newly released Pure Storage FlashArray//XL, both of which are aimed at the low end of the high-end market.

"NetApp extends its single system performance capabilities, lowering the latencies to 100 microseconds and improving overall throughput relative to the older A700 by 50%," Burgener said.

IDC predicts the market for high-end storage hardware such as NetApp's A900 will shrink by a compound annual growth rate of -0.9% over the next several years. Regardless, Burgener said, it is still a large market. NetApp's A900 keeps the vendor in the high-end storage hardware race along with Dell, Hitachi Vantara, Huawei, IBM and increasingly Pure Storage.

New performance in the same package

The NetApp AFF A900 is the new flagship high-end storage array and uses the same chassis as the A700, according to Adam Fore, senior director of portfolio marketing at NetApp. Existing customers using the A700 can buy an upgrade kit, which includes new controller board modules and a new RAM module, increasing the compute abilities of the array, Fore said.

NetApp AFF A900 hits general availability.
NetApp A900 brings better performance in the same box as the A700.

Whether customers use an upgrade kit or a completely new appliance won't affect performance, he said. The main differences between the A700 and A900 are a controller and the RAM module, including non-volatile random-access memory (NVRAM). The upgrade increases the core count from 78 to 128, doubles the memory per DIMM from 64 GB to 128 GB for a larger RAM footprint and provides new motherboard architecture for about 50% better performance.

Fore said NetApp is using the latest CPUs from major vendors, and its new controllers support a PCIe 4.0 architecture.

The A900 translates into a performance of 2.4 million IOPS in a single chassis or 14.4 million IOPS when several chassis are clustered together, Fore said. This is delivered with 100 microseconds of latency.

"High-end applications like high-transaction databases or SAP need high storage performance that is also continuously available," he said.

IDC's Burgener said the option to upgrade is potentially a big selling point. Existing A700 customers can upgrade to next-generation controllers that bring performance and capacity expansion while extending the life of their current arrays and enabling a longer depreciation schedule, he said.

As with other products in NetApp's AFF line, the A900 comes with high redundancy, high availability and easy serviceability in the form of hot-swappable components, which allows users to swap out a faulty part nondisruptively during production. The A900 is quoted as having up to 702.7 petabytes of effective capacity, the same capacity as the A700.

OnTap packaged with other software

All NetApp AFF systems run OnTap, NetApp's OS, Fore said. For the A900, the vendor also released an OnTap Enterprise Edition, which comes with protocol support for block, Fibre Channel, iSCSI, NFS and SMB, as well as Amazon S3 block and object storage.

For networking capabilities, the new version of OnTap supports NVMe/TCP and NVMe/FC.

The OnTap Enterprise Edition includes FlexClone, which creates virtual data volume copies similar to a snapshot; FabricPool for automated tiering; and FlexCache, which caches writable volumes for clusters. It also includes NetApp's data protection offerings such as SnapMirror for data replication, MetroCluster for clustering and synchronous replications for high availability, SnapRestore for snapshot restore and SnapCenter for data backup.

Fore said OnTap Enterprise Edition comes standard with the A900.

The A900 also comes with an optional anti-ransomware package that includes FIPS 140-2 compliance through self-encrypting drives, write once, read many file locking, secure purge, logging and auditing monitoring, and protection for multifactor authentication, according to information provided by NetApp. This pertains to the AFF family in total, not specifically to the A900.

The NetApp AFF A900 is available now. The additional software comes as part of the unit at no additional cost. While pricing wasn't given, NetApp said it will be comparable to the A700, and Fore added that customers should expect a price difference between upgrading versus buying a new unit.

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