I’ve been in the industry long enough to remember setting up my first “clusters” built from two machines the size of industrial refrigerators. One of my most anxiety-provoking memories is of carefully laying SCSI cables as thick as my thumb between machines and a box full of disks and measuring the distances and bending of the cables, knowing that a miscalculation could cause loss of data and possibly even loss of employment. .
Compared to this, the ease of installation and multi-homing connectivity provided with Fiber Channel SANs for open systems was almost miraculous. The group of evaluators expressed the value that I saw at the time elegantly in the Free SAN Storage Evaluator Guide :
“Storage Area Networks (SANs) allow storage systems to be shared by multiple computer servers on a network specifically designed to transport storage data. This flexibility provides storage administrators with the ability to more easily adapt to changing business needs.
Consolidation, flexibility, cost improvement and business acceleration remain the primary benefits of shared storage. Many customers still use this combination of shared storage with a purpose-built network as the foundation of their data management infrastructure.
Yet, after all this time, is this still the right approach?
What has changed over the past 20 years?
How did industry pioneers keep up with changing customer needs?
Are we past the point where new SAN performance and features exceed the needs of the most demanding users?
Are there significant differences between the main offerings, and if so, what are the most important things to consider?
Is SAN still relevant?
The short answer is yes, SAN is still very relevant. The market is growing. New technologies like NVMe over Fabrics make it a better choice for more workloads than ever before. And the promise of reducing costs while increasing flexibility is as true today as it was 20 years ago.
But what about the different offers from suppliers? In most cases, any reputable vendor can deliver as much performance, reliability, and capacity as anyone could possibly need. How can a customer choose the supplier that suits him?
One solution is to treat them all as commodities and pick the cheapest one that meets the basic requirements. There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see that a modern SAN has much more to offer than large amounts of fast, reliable block storage.
This is where resources such as the Reviewers Panel document come in. The way they broke down the assessment into 10 simple but valuable criteria can help you quickly sift through lots of information and make a better decision. Now you could say I’m biased. But when you look at the Evaluator Group’s analysis of NetApp® AFF storage systems and compare it to other industry leaders, you find that it stacks up remarkably well.
Consider Dell EMC’s three main SAN offerings: PowerMax, PowerStore, and Unity. The Evaluator Group Reports NetApp AFF Technology Outperforms Dell EMC PowerMax in 3 of 10 EvaluScale Criteria; PowerStore in 6 out of 10; and Unity XT in 5 out of 10. Unlike Dell EMC products, NetApp AFF systems did not receive an “area of development” rating for any of the 10 criteria.
In the independent view of the Evaluator Group, AFF is unmatched by anything Dell has to offer.
Now, going back to the idea of choosing the best priced one, you might expect AFF technology to be the most expensive. After all, it’s based on NetApp ONTAP® data management software, chosen by Azure, IBM, and AWS as the technology behind their cloud-native storage offerings. But no, price was one of two areas where AFF beat each of Dell’s SAN storage offerings.
There must be a catch, right? AFF has more features, and according to Forrester it also has the best price…maybe all that software value is slowing things down? Again, based on the Evaluator Group’s analysis, AFF is the only array available from NetApp or Dell EMC that meets the performance requirements of today’s modern SANs. It’s an important call, but I think NetApp can support it.
If you’re looking for a new SAN, why would you keep going to Dell, which forces you to choose between features, performance and price, when you can get all three with NetApp? To learn more about this topic, read the white paper Why Your SAN Needs NetApp for Virtualization and Enterprise Applications.