NetApp vs. HPE 3PAR

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    The data storage industry is growing at an impressive pace. Global spending on data storage solutions will breach $51 billion in 2019, capping an extraordinary decade of IT spending increases. There is an enormous demand for data storage from private businesses and government institutions. Both require the ability to store and manage vast troves of digital information so that they can understand customer preferences, optimise their services, and ensure adequate maintenance of public records.

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    NetApp vs. HPE 3PAR (formerly 3PAR before being taken over by Hewlett-Packard Enterprises in 2010) offer services which enable organisations to store and manage their data. NetApp can offer you anything you want, delivering all-flash, HCI and hybrid storage systems, backup and infrastructure management solutions and SAN, NAS or cloud configurations. But, NetApp can probably be considered a hybrid storage specialist, delivering market-leading hybrid arrays. NetApp also excels at hybrid-cloud solutions that combine public and private cloud offerings into a single solution that has security and flexibility.   3PAR is the all-flash powerhouse of the HPE enterprise storage lineup. With its independent origins starting in the late 1990s, 3PAR set out to offer what it calls “utility storage” — an attempt to market its data services as basic business utilities, along the same lines as gas, electric and water. 3PAR is a ‘utility’ that enables companies to conduct their IT needs. They deliver the foundations not only for data storage and management, but the provision of additional cloud-based services like software-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service, and business social networking. Although HPE can offer as many options as NetApp, 3PAR competes more directly against NetApp’s all-flash storage solutions. Both are great solutions.* Here, we will provide insight into which of these two vendors might be right for you, and allow you to think about if all-flash is actually the best choice at all.

    NetApp And It’s Contribution To The Storage Market

    NetApp is the largest independent enterprise storage vendor in the world and is a member of the Fortune 500, the 500 most valuable publicly-traded companies in the United States. NetApp began its incredible journey to success back in 1992, holding its initial public offering just three years later.

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    The Original FAS Solution

    NetApp’s first foray into the storage market was the FAS, which stands for Fabric-Attached Server. The FAS system is essentially a rack of storage drives (at first magnetic and later flash), which come bundled with a controller that allows it serve as storage over a network using a range of protocols. Companies can connect to FAS disk arrays using HTTP, NFS, and SMB. FAS disks can be arranged into RAID configurations, allowing faster read and write times than available through using a single hard disk at a time. Later innovations upgraded the FAS product to AFF or All-Flash FAS, where engineers optimised the FAS controller to work with flash hard drives. Both FAS and AFF drives, however, use the same firmware, despite the flash drives requiring different internal data management methods.

    Enter SolidFire

    NetApp acquired SolidFire in 2016 as a way to improve its data storage products for cloud service providers and all-flash offering. Cloud service providers need products that are highly scalable and used a distributed architecture. SolidFire, which had been working on its own flash arrays since 2010, was a good match. They provided the kind of expertise that NetApp needed to break into the market. The SolidFire SF series offers cloud service providers a storage solution that enables them to scale effectively, provide multi-tenant functionality, and adjust the quality of service a customer receives, depending on their usage.

    E-Series Arrays

    NetApp acquired LSI Engenio and renamed the product E-series. Although ostensibly similar to FAS, the purpose of E-series was to provide faster flash storage solutions with exceptionally low latencies, allowing businesses to achieve faster “block-level” data storage. Many companies using Hadoop could unload new data quickly into E-Series storage devices without paying for extra FAS services they didn’t need, such as the ability to customise block protocols, carve up storage into discrete logical storage systems, or modify access domains and administration. In a sense, the E-Series became the go-to backup storage device for organisations, thanks to its affordability and extremely low latencies. NetApp claims that its E-Series products help to reduce rack space by 60%, power usage by 40%, and cooling requirements by 39%.* Customers can add storage space up to 6 petabytes and achieve sustained 21 Gbps bandwidths when accessing data.*

    NetApp: An Environment with Options

    NetApp offers all-flash, but also provides hybrid arrays, and uses a cache-accelerated write OS called WAFL to maximise the use of flash within a hybrid context. The Write Anywhere File Layout system creates metadata alongside user data which tags files, allowing the server to allocate blocks efficiently to store data, pushing “cold” data into HDD storage, while leaving active data on the faster flash memory. The WAFL system means that servers can restart quickly in the event of a power outage or crash. NetApp architecture is powered by their two software management control systems Element OS (for the SolidFire and HCI ranges) and ONTAP, which is a cloud-based and universal solution. Using ‘FlexArray Virtualisation’, ONTAP can basically integrate any third-party hardware into a single control system. This is a powerful and somewhat unique native capability for a storage vendor. These systems also provide data compression, deduplication, replication and single point of control for provisioning, troubleshooting and system visibility.    

    HPE 3PAR: A Reliable Offering Backed Up By AI

    HPE 3PAR, headquartered in Fremont, California, provides a range of data storage arrays at the enterprise level. It’s flagship product, the StoreServ, is a network-capable data storage device that offers more than 3M IOPS and latencies below a thousandth of a second. The product comes with a range of features, designed to help make the customer experience faster, more flexible, more predictable, and secure. 3PAR StoreServ uses a type of data deduplication and compression technology that enables companies to reduce their data footprint. By using less space on flash drives, HPE hopes that its Adaptive Data Reduction technology will allow companies to use the resources they have more efficiently.* The firm claims that with its flash technologies, organisations can get the most out of their existing resources. 3PAR sits within a wider range of HPE products. Effectively the all-flash heavy lifter of the HPE lineup, 3PAR competes most directly with the SolidFire range from NetApp. NetApp’s system delivers more flexibility when it comes to native integrations due to the ‘FlexArray Virtualisation’ capabilities of ONTAP. But, HPE brings a few unique capabilities to the table as well.

    HPE InfoSight

    One of the most valuable features coming out of HPE is their own cloud-based analytics platform and control system, InfoSight. This is the HPE answer to ONTAP. Although it does not offer the same type of third-party integrations, it delivers advanced predictive analytics and automated maintenance. This drives down costs for businesses by managing their storage more efficiently. HPE claims that millions of sensors throughout its server network constantly monitor data usage, allowing for the prediction of problems before they impact operations, scale performance or bandwidth needs. Automatic actions can be taken and recommendations are delivered when an issue needs to be raised for operator approval. InfoSight came out of HPE’s acquisition of Nimble in 2016. Nimble offers cheaper all-flash arrays, along with hybrid options that compete directly against the FAS and E-series technology offered by NetApp. Like NetApp, Nimble uses a cache based OS (CASL) that maximises the use of flash in a hybrid context.

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    Peer Persistence

    Beyond the analytics of InfoSight, HPE focuses on uptime availability, a capability they have branded Peer Persistence. This enables companies to experience as little downtime on their server arrays as possible, boosting productivity. The company claims that its platforms have “6 nines availability,” meaning that they are available 99.9999% of the time. In practice, this means that HPE can protect customers against site-wide or natural disasters, thanks to its synchronous replication technology — a type of inbuilt disaster recovery. HPE also claims to offer something that many other data storage providers do not — the ability to store data at a third site. The company claims that its data backup technology is “set and forget,” meaning that once systems are in place, enterprises do not need to focus on their replication requirements — it’s all done automatically in the background with no extra cost.

    Priority Optimisation Software

    Sometimes businesses need lower latencies and higher bandwidths on some applications compared to others. HPE 3PAR’s StoreServ devices allow customers to set priority applications using their priority software, enabling them to get the maximum performance from their server devices as and when they need it. Priority optimisation software allows customers to set priority tenants, and prevent individual users from taking up all the server resources.

    NetApp vs. HPE 3PAR: Power and Availability vs. Flexibility

    Both NetApp and HPE 3PAR are looking for ways to provide customers with smarter data storage solutions that streamline the data centre and provide active insights into the maintenance of storage systems. The ability of each company to deliver these solutions comes down to their software management systems. HPE’s InfoSight has NetApp beat when it comes to predictive data analytics.* But, NetApp’s ONTAP delivers a more universal system that can easily manage a legacy environment with components for many different vendors. For most IT teams, achieving this means turning to more complex technology such as REST APIs. NetApp continues that flexibility in their delivery of WAFL, and its ability to improve the performance of hybrid storage, allowing these cheaper arrays to remain competitive in a data centre environment evermore dominated by flash. These capabilities are much more directly in competition with HPE’s Nimble than HPE’s 3PAR.   Both NetApp and HPE 3PAR offer customers impressive uptime rates. NetApp says that its products maintain a “five nines” uptime – meaning that they are available 99.999% of the time.* HPE 3PAR, however, has a “six nines guarantee.” The guarantee means that companies that experience uptime less than 99.9999% of the time can get money off their service renewal payments and may be entitled to a refund.*

    Summary: Analytics or A Holistic Approach to the Data Centre  

    Both HPE 3PAR and NetApp develop products that allow organisations and cloud service providers to store vast quantities of information. HPE 3PAR’s All Flash Arrays excel at improving data storage performance, reducing overheads for organisations, and providing a reliable service. NetApps storage solutions, especially its FAS flash solutions, are geared toward organisations that value both speed and functionality and want to have as many options as possible. Both companies use software to improve the efficiency with which their products use existing “raw” storage space. HPE’s technology has the advantage when it comes to predictive analytics, but the NetApp solution can be deployed more flexibly. HPE 3PAR is also looking to steal market share from NetApp through its dedupe capabilities. The company offers a technology called Zero Detect which helps to reduce the cost of storage by eliminating duplicate data coming in from multiple data streams. HPE 3PAR combines Zero Detect with a range of other technologies, designed to help companies get the most performance possible from their arrays with minimum expenditure. HPE 3PAR Compression, for instance, reduces the data footprint of data, increasing effective flash storage capacity. HPE 3PAR’s Data Packing improves bandwidth by packing smaller datasets together. Its “Thin Technologies” help to compact data further, using inbuilt hardware advantages. NetApp offers its own dedupe technology which is application independent, demands minimal resource overhead, is compatible with all-flash, FAS and hybrid products, and works with the company’s storage efficiency technologies. But, the solutions are not quite as advanced and are not backed up by the AI power of InfoSight. If you want ‘out of the box’ power, HPE is probably the solution for you. NetApp, however, is more of a team player. Able to improve your entire data centre experience and cut down silos, NetApp is still a very competitive offering for the modern data centre. NetApp also delivers the ability to use cheaper hybrid arrays more efficiently. This is something that HPE offers, but only in their Nimble products. Flash has become a staple of the data centre. But, it is worth considering if it is worth the higher upfront investments for your specific use case. The real decision when it comes to HPE 3PAR vs. NetApp, however, is the power of AI vs. third-party integrations. That answer will depend on what you need and the IT you already have.


    *Gartner Peer Insights: HPE vs. NetApp *NetApp EF570 All-Flash Array Review *NetApp E5600 Series *IDC White Paper: >99.999% Availability *HPE 3PAR StoreServ Storage

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    Troy Platts

    Troy has spent over 20 years helping organisations solve their data, storage and compute conundrums. He is a regular speaker at vendor events and spends any free time he has keeping abreast of advances in data platform technologies. He also makes a mean curry.

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