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NetApp's FlashRay to zap Symmetrix with fibre channel

Flash-for-VDI is wimpy startup play, says CTO's man Bercovici

Intelligent flash storage arrays

What if an enterprise storage vendor launched a new array and didn't tell anyone how it would connect to the outside world?

Oddly, this scenario played out earlier this month when NetApp revealed its FlashRay, an all-flash array it intends to start selling in 2014.

Even Val Bercovici, who works in NetApp's office of the chief technology officer, thinks it's a bit odd the company didn't mention how the incipient array will connect to networks.

On a visit to Australia he set the record straight: it'll be fibre channel all the way, certainly 8Gbps and probably 16Gbps too. Fibre channel will ship first because that's what NetApp thinks users of tier one storage want, and tier one is where it is aiming Flash Ray.

“We don't have a Symmetrix business to protect,” Bercovici said, referring to rival EMC's top-end array. “The first reason people bought Symmetrix was performance. It was not reliability. People look for performance first with their tier one storage.”

While plenty of other flash array vendors pitch their boxen at virtual desktop infrastructure, NetApp will make sure FlashRay can handle such workloads but is instead interested in taking business in the very core of a data centre where packets need to flow with uncommon speed.

Can NetApp do that given it will likely be a year before FlashRay lands? Bercovici admitted it is very unusual for NetApp to pre-announce a product, but that internal strategists feel the market for all-flash arrays is sufficiently young that the company won't lose much by waiting until 2014 to release production models of the new device.

“There is so much activity in flash startups that we wanted to put a stake in the ground, because we knew we could do better,” he said. That better will mean that when the FlashRay lands it won't contain conventional solid state disks, preferring enterprise multi-level cell (eMLC) storage.

Bercovici also said that when FlashRay emerges it will integrate with Data OnTap through compatability with NetApp's SnapMirror and SnapVault, allowing users to press both into service and store the results on other NetApp arrays.

That cross-compatibility, he hopes, will make it easier for NetApp to communicate that it is now what he calls “a portfolio company” inasmuch as it now offers different appliances running different code for different roles. NetApp has often criticised rivals for just that approach, labeling it over-complex. “We're going to transition to that,” Bercovici said, with both NetApp itself and world+dog to receive some re-education on the benefits of its new approach. ®

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