NetApp brings MAX Data technology to accelerate persistent memory to market in ONTAP 9.5

Joel Reich, EVP, Storage Systems & Software at NetApp

LAS VEGAS – Today was the day for the new data services and solutions announcements relating to the NetApp Data Fabric at the NetApp Insight customer event here. The company made multiple announcements, including their new ONTAP 9.5 software, an extension of the StorageGRID appliance family with the SG6060, new NetApp Solution Support for FlexPod, and a new NetApp Flash Performance Guarantee. The most intriguing announcement may, however, be Max Data. NetApp has announced this before, and it has been demoed at other events, but it will come to general availability with ONTAP 9.5.

“The biggest thing in here, which we previewed last year, was something which we now call MAX Data,” said Joel Reich, EVP, Storage Systems & Software at NetApp. “It uses the persistent memory in servers to deliver memory-like ultra-low latency and flash-like capacity, and create the highest performance and lowest latency tier in a flash ecosystem.”

MAX Data is based on the technology NetApp secured in the 2017 acquisition of Israeli startup Plexistor.

“This is a first of its kind in the market,” said Bharat Badrinath, Vice President, Product & Solutions Marketing at NetApp.  “It allows customers to use persistent memory in the server to improve performance by orders of magnitude of between 5x and 100x. It improves the latency and performance with no rewrites required to the application code. And the best feature of all is that it leverages all the capabilities of ONTAP.”

At this point in time, MAX Data is still a niche offering for the high end of the market, but Reich emphasized that it will inevitably be much more broadly used.

“It is early days for this technology, which we are the first company to bring to market,” he said. “It has started to be adopted at the top of the market. People have spent billions on proprietary hardware like Oracle Exadata. This use of persistent memory will let people move off that onto much more fungible infrastructure. Still, it is not inexpensive. Fabs are not inexpensive. Intel and others from the semiconductor space have made huge investments in this capability. It’s a big market that’s waiting to happen. The key question is how quickly prices come down, as it moves beyond the highest performance applications.”

Some partners have already made investments in this technology, Reich indicated.

“A lot of our channel partners are starting AI, deep learning and machine learning practices, and understanding how they can use persistent memory,” he indicated. “The ramp-up here for partners will be significant.”

“The sheer performance of this is disruptive,” said John Woodall, VP of Engineering at Palo Alto-based NetApp partner Integrated Archive Systems. “We have some customers on it today in active POCs. They operate in environments where latency, throughput and IOPS matter, and are the kind of customers who look at a fast environment and wonder how they can go faster. It works well in Oracle Exadata environments. Exadata is a good product, but this is significantly less cost.”

The new version of NetApp’s core ONTAP 9.5 software includes multiple enhancements to improve performance, including expanded ecosystem support for NVMe over Fibre Channel and accelerated read performance within a cluster and at remote sites with FlexCache. Data protection capabilities have also been upgraded. The addition of MAX Data significantly increases efficiency, as does the expansion of the same auto tiering capability that has existed for the public clouds to private ones.

“In ONTAP 9.3 we introduced FabricPools, which automatically tier workload in all flash on-prem systems to the cloud,” Reich said “ONTAP 9.5 adds an integration for private clouds – so it can go to a StorageGRID on prem appliance.”

Reich noted that NetApp has reversed the normal way of doing things here.

“We decided it was more important to go to the public cloud first,” he said. “The natural thing would have been to do it first to our own product.”

‘The new  features in ONTAP really help leverage the value of all-flash,” said Richard Losier, VP of Technology at Britesky, a cloud solution provider based in the western part of the Ottawa region. “It brings a lot more value to the customer for the cost.”

StorageGRID, NetApp’s Webscale object storage line, has been extended with the addition of the StorageGRID SG6060 appliance.

“It’s a new higher performance appliance, at the high end of the line, whose target market is rich media content,” Reich said.

“We are huge users of the StorageGRID appliances, which are really good products,” Losier said. “The new one is both high performance and good for the Internet of Things. Those might not seem like a logical pair, and if you just have a few devices, they aren’t, but if you have huge numbers of devices, performance is extremely important. That’s a lot of data.”

NetApp also announced single-point-of-contact support for their longstanding FlexPod converged offering stemming from their relationship with Cisco. The new support also includes NetApp Converged System Advisor (CSA) software, with a single-pane view of the system’s health, to reduce time to resolution for support incidents.

“Customers now have their choice of how to buy it,” Reich said. “Some want that ‘single throat to choke’ support. We aren’t saying though that we will stop one model and start the other. FlexPod has been very successful with the ‘meet in the channel support’ we have offered, but there are times when some customers just aren’t satisfied. With so much of the VBlock [competitive Dell EMC offering] coming up for refresh now, we wanted to make sure we cover the support objection.”

Some partners might not appreciate the loss of this business to NetApp, but none of those who talked with ChannelBuzz at the event were bothered by it in the slightest.

“I don’t want to do break-fix,” said Mike Smith, President of Ottawa-area solutions provider Decisive Technologies. “I want to get things right in the first place. The OEM is in a better position to provide that kind of support. My guys are too high end.”

“This will be a lot better for us,” said BriteSky’s Losier. “VBlocks are already sold on that model. It makes it a lot easier for the customer.”

Finally, NetApp is introducing a new Flash Performance Guarantee, for the AFF A800,A700,A700s and A300 models. It guarantees 500μs  latency  99 per cent of the time, for 180 days after purchase, measured over 100 hour periods.

“AFF customers tend to buy all-flash for a specific project, rather than buy it as infrastructure,” Reich said. “What we want to encourage is buying flash as infrastructure, so they will put more of their workloads in that infrastructure. We think the guarantee will help with that.”