NetApp has updated its midrange FAS3000 network storage family today with new systems claimed to serve files 40 percent faster, and introduced dedicated file caching appliances which it said are the first WAFS-type devices from a major storage company.

The company also introduced 16GB cache modules for its filers, called Performance Acceleration Modules (PAMs). It said these could provide the same additional I/O performance as an extra tray of Fibre Channel disks, but are cheaper and consume less power.

The new filers are the FAS3100 and V3100 range - the former includes disk arrays while the latter draws its storage from a SAN. They are aimed at speed-hungry midrange storage uses such as engineering and high performance computing (HPC), said John Rollason, NetApp's European solutions marketing manager.

Rollason added that the new filers are something of a back to its roots move for NetApp, which is seeing a demand for higher performance NAS systems, especially from the technical customers.

"Most of those environments run on NFS - it's where our bread and butter market was before we got into SANs," he said.

The 3100 controllers can also be used to upgrade existing 3000 series filers, he noted.

The PAMs can be fitted to NetApp 3000, 3100 and 6000 series storage controllers. Up to five can be installed, depending on the size of the system, which together with the controller's in-built cache of up to 32GB can take it to 112GB of cache in total.

"We previously had two directions of scaling - more internal cache and more spindles," Rollason said. "The PAM is a third scaling which could see the number of disks required actually going down."

Although the cache is solid-state memory, Rollason explained that it's slightly different to the approach EMC has espoused for its Symmetrix systems of using solid-state disk as a Tier 0 of super-fast storage. The PAM simply extends the current general-purpose cache model, he said.

NetApp's renewed focus on performance seems to have impressed users such as Greg Stazyk, systems co-ordinator at bio-research institute, the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre (GSC).

“Sequencing production processes generate tens of millions of files. We had absolutely reached the performance, reliability and manageability limits of our existing file server structure," Stazyk said.

"NetApp allowed us to keep pace with our storage demands and keep our production pipelines operating interruption free. As a result, biologist productivity has improved dramatically and we're doing a lot more with less budget than ever before."

Rollason noted that the caching appliances, called Storage Acceleration Appliances (SAA), are filers optimised to work as NFS caches in remote or branch offices, using NetApp's FlexCache technology. Three models are available - the SA200, SA300 and SA600, based on the FAS2000, 3000 and 6000 filers respectively.

"It's basically a cut-down version of the box and our Data OnTap 7G operating system, designed just to do caching," he said. He added that while the devices could replace the file caching function of a Riverbed or Silver Peak WAN optimisation appliance, that's all they do - they have no application acceleration capability.

NetApp said that the FAS3100 range would start at $69,780 (around £36,000), including 7TB of storage, and at $56,365 (around £29,000) for the V3100 NAS head with no storage. List price for the PAM is $15,000 for each hardware module, plus $20,000 software licence per PAMmed storage controller. SAA pricing depends on configuration, the company added.