NetApp AFF A250 BRINGS IT!

We’re all familiar with that excitement and anticipation we get when our favorite company releases a new device, am I right? What about when they double the performance, make it thinner, and the screen is higher quality in an even smaller form factor, for about the same price as the previous generation? Well, today I’m happy to share with you an example of just that very thing.

NetApp introduced the All-Flash FAS … or “AFF” … A200 back in 2017 as a new entry point for all-flash arrays, delivering outstanding performance packed into a tiny 2U form-factor. In 2018, they improved on that with the A220, and in 2020 at their Insight event, they launched the latest model of this family … the A250.

Put simply, the A250 delivers:

  • 24 CPU Cores
  • 128GB RAM
  • 8GB of NVMEM
  • 24 NVMe flash drives

…all in a 2U footprint. It’s also very configurable and expandable, but hang tight, we’ll go over that in more detail in a bit.

Now if you are new to NetApp, the A250 provides an excellent starting point for your overall data management experience, giving you one of the best “bang-for-your-buck” offerings on the market today! But, if you’re an existing A220 customer, we think YOU are especially going to be really excited as well.

Why?

While both the A220 and A250 feature a 12-core CPU in each controller, the A250 offers a newer CPU family running at 2.1GHz per core compared to the 1.5GHz per core of the A220, and DOUBLES the system memory to 64GB per controller, up from 32GB in the A220! It also has double the amount of non-volative memory at 8GB, up from 4GB in the A220!

What this means to you is…

MOAR POWAH!

From a usability perspective, what this means to you is that as technology evolves, so does your ability to drive more and more I/O through the same form factor and in some ways continue to drive overall costs down by increasing efficiencies.  How are they able to do this? I’m glad you asked…

Both systems utilize a base 2U enclosure to house the controllers, as well as 24 internal drives. However, while the A220 uses SAS SSDs, the A250 leverages NVMe-connected drives, AND can also scale to leverage additional NVMe drives with an added NS224 disk shelf using 100 gigabit ethernet interconnects. A big ask from NetApp customers over the last few years is that they wanted an NVMe-attached storage system available in the small form factor embedded space. Don’t have the big budget for an ultra-scalable A400 or A800, but still want that caliber of performance?

I give you the A250.

Now, I will admit that there is a bit of mystique around NVMe that I’d like to dispel for you.  NVMe itself is actually a protocol, not physical hardware. The NVMe protocol is designed to improve latency by allowing the drive connector itself to leverage NVMe connectivity. This concept is very similar to changing SATA adapters to NearLine-SAS adapters for spinning disk drives. In the end, it’s exactly the same 7200 RPM drive, but the drive connectivity itself is upgraded to leverage benefits of newer technology.

“But Nick… can’t I just slap some of these new NVMe SSDs into my A220 system that I already have?”

No! Please don’t do that. They are electrically incompatible. Doing this could actually cause serious harm to your system. To help keep track of media, NetApp has also changed the front of the drive carriage itself to a blue color for all NVMe media instead of the usual gunmetal grey that’s used by SAS media.

Please don’t put NVMe drives in your A220. No, seriously. Please. You’ll thank me later.

With that out of the way, let’s shift gears and talk about I/O connectivity. The A220 was previously offered in two very static configurations: Unified or Ethernet.  The Unified configuration provided four UTA2 universal target adapter ports per controller. Using port personalities in ONTAP, you could easily modify each port to accommodate either 10Gb Ethernet using SFP+ modules or copper cabling, but you also had the option to utilize 16Gb fiber channel by changing those port personalities and inserting fiber channel modules. Very flexible configuration. Hence the name, “Unified.”  The Ethernet configuration was simply built with four RJ-45 10GBASE-T ports on each controller.

So how does that compare to the newer A250?  First up are the onboard 25GbE ports. 25 gig!  ONBOARD!  These are used for both cluster and HA communications. Because it is a RoCEv2 ASIC, the 25GbE ports can utilize a better performing, more stable connection than the non-transparent bridging that is used in the A220.  As you’d expect, you’ve still got all of your onboard console and management ports for remote access and diagnostics, BUT we also included not one but TWO 10gig ethernet ports onboard for connectivity to either 10gig or 1gig switches.

When we looked back at the A220, we recognized that having only 4 host I/O ports onboard was very limiting, and to swap those out required swapping out the entire controller. This is especially true when you’re working with a 2U storage system, where real estate on the controller itself is a premium.  So for the A250, instead of putting those I/O ports onboard, we leverage mezzanine adapters giving you much more flexibility and options for how you’d like to tailor the array to interact with the rest of your datacenter.  Each A250 has TWO mezzanine slots per controller to accommodate various I/O needs. In each of those two slots, you can place any combination of 4-port 32Gb Fiber Channel target adapters or 4-port 25Gb Ethernet adapters for host connectivity. In addition, you can also add a 2-port 100 gig adapter, which allows you to attach an additional NVMe expansion shelf, or you can add a 4-port 12Gb SAS adapter to connect an external SAS shelf in order to seamlessly migrate data on existing legacy storage shelves.  Compared to the onboard Unified UTAs or Ethernet adapter choices of the A220, the A250 allows you to customize and configure your system with no limitations, any way you see fit.

To close, I’m excited about the adoption of the A200 lineup over the last few years, and feel like the A250 has landed in this Goldilocks sweet spot of maximizing performance, minimizing footprint, and providing some of the most extreme I/O interconnectivity available on the market today as well as the flexibility to interconnect it with your datacenter in multiple ways.

Make sure you’re subscribed to my YouTube channel for more videos coming soon, and if you have any questions, drop them down in the comments! Head over to netapp.com for more info.

We’ll see ya next time!

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