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NetApp Embraces QLC With Their New FAS500f

This article reviews NetApp's newest platform announcement: the FAS500f.

October 28, 2020 4 minute read

If you have been following the storage industry, you will probably agree with us when we say it feels like we’ve been hearing about Quad Layer Cell (QLC) for a long time. Yet, here we are now. 

In the last few months, we've seen mainstream products come to market that leverage QLC media. In contrast, MLC and TLC had relatively quick market adoption as they provided a higher density of storage in a world where flash was still trying to catch up with the density of hybrid systems.

It’s now October 2020, and NetApp just announced the upcoming availability of their new FAS500f. This new platform intends to sign the death of the SAS 10K media, and the attributes that will make this possible are numerous.

Meet NetApp FAS500f

Cost

First and foremost, the new platform's cost profile is meant to be similar to a comparably performing hybrid FAS system. At this point, we cannot confirm whether NetApp has achieved this goal, given the current release of their quote tool does not allow us to create a FAS500f configuration.

Configuration

The second objective is to improve the density of a SAS-based deployment. NetApp does that by offering the base configuration of the FAS500f with a single drive configuration of 24x15.3TB in either self-encrypting drives (SED) or regular drives. The base configuration will provide customers with 263 TiB of usable capacity.

Simultaneously, NetApp maintains its 3:1 efficiency guarantee with this platform and boasts an impressive 791TB of effective capacity in this base configuration. The platform will only support a maximum of 48 drives, which would deliver a total effective capacity of near 1.6PB of usable space — a very respectable number considering the performance delivered by the new platform.

Performance & latency

Performance is an important aspect every customer looking at adopting QLC should be keenly aware of. The QLC media manages to pack more density at a lower cost point than currently available TLC storage, but that cost improvement does come with tradeoffs in the performance realm.

The most important aspect to consider is the average latency you can expect out of a QLC-based system. Customers can expect to see between 2 and 4ms IO response time from the FAS500f. This may seem like very high latency for a flash-based system, but if you compare the latency to other QLC-based systems, you will notice that the latency they publish is very similar.

Latency isn’t everything though. The IOPS the platform can deliver fits in the mid- to high-end SAS-based system performance range. NetApp claims an impressive 330K IOPS @ 3.6ms with a 100% 8K random read and a more realistic 170K IOPS @ 2ms for an OLTP 40% read, 60% write workload. This translates into fairly significant throughputs for sequential workloads of 6.5GB/s for reads and 2.8GB/s for writes.

System specifics

As one would expect from any new NetApp platform, a new operating system (OS) version will be required to support the hardware in the FAS500f. This practice is typical, given the new drive types and adapters requiring kernel device drivers. 

On the connectivity front, don’t let the size of this system fool you. Even though it only boasts two PCIe slots, it can support dual-port 100GbE for storage expansion, quad-port 32gbps Fiber Channel and/or quad-port 25GbE (10/25). 

As for on-board connectivity, you will find 2 RJ45 10GbE ports for management and/or data and two 25GbE (10/25) ports that are earmarked for cluster connectivity. All this means that customers could have up to a total of 18 data ports on a FAS500f.

Use cases

Given how new QLC-based systems are to the market, it’s hard to project what workloads customers will choose to embrace QLC with, but we can see some low-hanging fruits. Workloads such as departmental shares, where humans really won’t see the difference between accessing a file from their desktop at 100-microsecond versus 2 milliseconds latency is an obvious choice.

Another type of use case with requirements that have a nice fit with the FAS500f’s attributes is compliance data vaults. The durability of the media combined with the rebuild time, the relatively good performance, the ONTAP features such as snapshots, FlexClones and SnapLock all come together very well to serve this purpose.

If you want to learn more about QLC or the new FAS500f, reach out to your WWT account team or contact us today.

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