NetApp’s all-flash range-topping A900: new stuff in an old box

NetApp has a new high-end all-flash array, the A900, more than doubling the capacity of the previous top end A800 system and a performance upgrade for the existing A700.  

NetApp A700 chassis.

The details, such as they are, can be seen on a NetApp datasheet. The company says its AFF A900 offers organisations the highest data storage performance to accelerate their business-critical enterprise database and application needs, the security and reliability to keep customer data highly available and secure, and the simplicity and flexibility that agile organisations require.

Here is a table comparing the current focus AFF arrays — A250, A400, A800 and new A900 — plus a comparison column showing the A700. This is the pre-Oct 2020 upgrade for the A700 which gave it NVMe SSD and NVMe-over Fabrics support.

We say “focus” AFF arrays as there have been other AFF arrays — such as the A300, A320, and A700s — which are not shown in this version of NetApp’s AFF range spec sheet.

The main differences in the table between the A900 and A700 are eight more 100GbitE target ports, and NVMe/TCP and NVMe/FC support. NetApp does not reveal controller CPU details but we think the A900 gets gen 3 Xeon controllers; it is a dual-controller array like all the other AFF models.

In March 2017 the A700 provided up to 7 million IOPS per NAS cluster (24-nodes), and was rated at 9.2 million IOPS in June 2018. The A900 delivers up to 14.4 million IOPS in a NAS cluster — a 5.2 million IOPS difference which is near enough NetApp’s 50 per cent more performance claim and clearly points to a controller CPU upgrade. The A900’s 300GB/sec cluster throughput is the same as the A700 and A800.

NetApp suggests the A900 matches the needs of high-end enterprise Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, MongoDB databases, VDI, and server virtualization workloads. It comes with ONTAP Enterprise Edition data management software which is pre-packaged with unified support for SAN, NAS, NVMe-oF, and S3, built-in data protection with optional anti-ransomware capabilities.

A blog by NetApp’s Cheryl George, a technical marketing engineer, indicates the A900 has a “High-resilience design with … isolation of controllers from I/O modules, carrier-grade chassis, and hot pluggable cards.”

Pure Storage announced its new high-end FlashArray//XL product earlier this month. This supports PCIe 4, a feature which is not highlighted by NetApp with the A900.

The //XLs also support 64Gbit/sec Fibre Channel while A900 is limited to 32Gbit/sec — half the speed, but the focus is increasingly on NVMe-connectivity so the FC difference could be moot. Pure says the //XLs are for the most-demanding, mission-critical workloads, like SAP/HANA, Oracle, SQL Server and VMware — the same as the A900. 

Without detailed configuration information we cannot compare the two systems in any realistic way at all.

The AFF A900 is available as a non-disruptive, in-chassis, upgrade to existing A700 customers, and ONTAP software automatically applies firmware updates.