NetApp’s May 14th Announcements – New Hardware, Free Data Classification, and More

I wanted to take some time to cover NetApp’s May 14th, 2024 announcements. It was clear early on that marketing was prancing in their pantaloons a bit and a more technical focused installment from yours truly might be helpful to some folks. At a high level it’s more of the same from NetApp, a refresh to the mid- and high-end AFF hardware to meet ever growing industry advancements, same for StorageGRID, and the continual iterative updates to ONTAP and BlueXP. Super fun and exciting? Maybe not. But a sign that NetApp still remains highly relevant and deserving of space in the modern data center.

Also it occurs to me that I haven’t written about anything since NetApp Insight 2023. Gotta write more, and diversify a bit, eh?

New AFF Platforms

The headliner news is the announcement of three new mid- and high-range AFF (All Flash FAS) storage platforms. The A70, A90, and A1K. No, not the A1000, just the A1K. Pretty sure NetApp’s quoting tool used an integer type that doesn’t support enough characters (yes, I made that joke several times already, and damn it, I’m going keep doing so until someone acknowledges it).

These come at a time as NetApp continues to stratify the divide between the AFF A-Series, meant for high performance and low latency workloads running NVMe, and the AFF C-Series running capacity based QLC flash drives. The A-Series is built for workloads that need that sweet sub millisecond latency with high IO compared to the C-Series sends to have minimum latency in the 3-5ms range.

The A70 is a mid-tier high performance system replacing the A400. It’s a 4U combined chassis sporting two controllers and 48 drive slots.

The A90 replaces the A800. Like the A800 and A70 it’s 4U with two controllers and 48 drive slots. Both systems can support additional storage shelves.

The A1K is a bit different, two 2U controllers that are interconnected by 2x 100GbE. It’s a bit of an odd config vs. traditionally having the two controllers in a single chassis. The first upside is that there’s no cumbersome midplane that needs to be accounted for during future controller upgrades. The lack of integrated drives also means that the system’s fans are all about cooling the compute, no need to worry about temperature generating SSDs in the way.

The A1K heralds the long coming demise of the large form factor A700/900 and, presumably, eventually, the FAS equivalents. The large form factor controllers were something a lot of customers absolutely loved, but apparently adoption wasn’t high enough to keep them around. RIP big fellas.

SAS storage modules should be available to support customers upgrading in place. I understand that everything new will only ship with NVMe drives.

The new systems are expected to start shipping late June 2024. Not sure when end-of-availability dates for the older gear will be announced, but at least there will be a minimum of 5 years from announcement date before end-of-life. Any recent adopters of the systems getting refreshed have nothing to worry about from a longevity perspective. I hear NetApp also has a pretty nice controller refresh program in place.

Hardware Performance

For the record, this is just a quick diagram to illustrate the market placement of the AFF A-Series line. More time was spent trying to make sure my arrows looked like arrows than any sort of factual scaling between systems

The marketing associated with the announcement indicates upwards of a 2x performance increase over the previous platforms. This uptick is driven by the usual: more & faster cores, more & faster memory, and the introduction of PCIe Gen 5. Within NetApp’s sizer I see top line IOPS for mixed SPC NFS workloads on the A400 increase by 122% on the A70. There’s a 89% increase between the A800 and A90, and a 61% increase from the A900 to the A1K.

NetApp’s marketing is heavily positioning these systems toward AI workloads and you’ll see them as the focal point for AIPod validated stacks.

Speaking of boosts, NetApp is saying that storage efficiencies will increase on these platforms as well, with a “new system average SE ratio of 3.9:1 compared to current A-Series systems with a 2.27:1 SE ratio.” Much like advertised performance, NetApp marketing numbers always seem to be presented in a vacuum and I haven’t a clue what kind of data is being used in this example. The marketing announcement also glazed over the “how” which is the first thing I asked. The increase in storage efficiencies is largely driven by the addition of the Intel Quick Assist offload engine (QAT) cards feature a part of the new processors. These cards magical bits of silicon offload compression tasks, at speeds up to 160GB/s, allowing ONTAP to use more CPU intensive algorithms previously relegated to post-write processing (See TSSE).

Speaking of TSSE, any data moved to these systems should automatically be processed with the stronger compression.

IPsec/TLS offload hardware and ONTAP support will be available as well at a later date.

Even More Hardware Notes

From what I can tell it’s the same hardware architecture across all three of the controller types, with just changes to the internal components (CPU and RAM), and a different containing chassis for the A1K. At a personal level I like this change for NetApp, seems like it simplified time to market while reducing manufacturing costs.

This also means pretty consistent IO modules across the line…

  • 10 GBase-T
  • 10/25 GbE
  • 40/100 GbE
  • 100/200 GbE
  • 64 Gb FC (guessing these will have 32 Gb FC SPFs available as well as 64 Gb SFPs)
  • 12 Gb SAS (for connection to any existing SAS shelves, these systems can only be ordered with NVMe drives)

The amount you can slap in a controller will vary depending on configuration, I’ll let your NetApp engineer handle that.

Oh, and guess, what, the bezel lights up!

Image thanks to Oliver Fuckner

ONTAP Upgrades

It wouldn’t be your typical NetApp announcement without some new features in ONTAP 9.15.1.

Starting with the simplest to describe… FlexCache write back. Essentially your remote ONTAP locations using FlexCache volumes will sync data back and forth with the primary system. Doesn’t sound too fancy written out, but of high value to distributed workloads and customers looking for that global namespace experience.

On-system anti-ransomware production gets an AI boost… I had wanted to comment more on this but it’s 8AM after a week long sales conference and the doc.netapp link to the ONTAP release notes is broken… so let’s just assume that the anti-ransomware detection algorithms are less likely to generate false positives.

Also worth noting that “SnapMirror Business Continuity” is now dead. Well, actually, just renamed to “SnapMirror Active Sync.”

NetApp Cyber Vault

This is the most peculiar announcement to come out on the 14th, largely because the messaging around it is, frankly, a bit of a mess. Let’s start by clearing this up… Cyber Vault is NOT a new product, this is a reference architecture. Cyber Vault is the same proven ONTAP technology customers have been using for ages now. SnapMirror, with SnapVault, replicating data to another cluster, and using SnapLock to set hard constraints against data deletion.

My best guess is someone said “hey, how do we make this easier to explain to customers and make it easier for them to implement?” and not long after someone slapped tile on there and began speaking to the tile more than the technology itself.

I’ve heard quite a few folks suggest that it should be a separate product SKU with discounted licensing, something I suspect will happen if there’s enough demand.


Way down here at the bottom of this page is a friendly reminder that StorageGRID still exists, still rocks… and has an upgrade announcement as well. New high capacity nodes, new gateway nodes, and QLC flash nodes.


And way, way, waaay down here is the new stuff coming to BlueXP. Who would’ve guessed that after the cloud revolution the AI revolution would make hardware the most interesting thing again? Anyhoo, BlueXP gets some nifty enhancements….

  • BlueXP Ransomware Protection is now GA
    • Using “AIOps to orchestrate a comprehensive ransomware defense that covers all 6 functions of the NIST cyber security framework, all from one single pane of glass”
  • ONTAP System Alerts
    • Another feather in the “single pane of glass” hat, you can now use BlueXP like you would AIQUM to monitor alerts across any discovered ONTAP clusters.
    • Roadmap includes adding in alerts from other sources like AIQ and FSxN

Also something about BlueXP Classification being included now? Yes, buried at the bottom is the news that BlueXP Classification, previously known by the much catchier tile “Cloud Data Sense”, no longer needs a separate license for providing analytics from ONTAP sources. As far as I’m aware this is only applicable to reading directly from ONTAP volumes, databases or block sources still requires a license.

If you haven’t messed with Cloud Data Sense BlueXP Classification, now’s a time to give it a shot. While not as competitive as something more focused as Varonis, it’s now 100% cheaper. Data visibility is a key tenant when it comes to cyber security.

Oh, and if you’re in NetApp marketing and you read this far down the page, I absolutely love your choice to use #ffbd28. The world needs more vibrant PowerPoint decks.

Additional Resources

Publication History

  • May 17, 2024 – Initial Posting
  • May 20, 2024 – Some proof reading. I only found a “r” that was missing, which means I must be missing even more mistakes.
  • May 21, 2024 – Clarification regarding QAT