On the 23rd of February, Nimble Storage announced their new Predictive Flash platform as an extension of their current product portfolio. It uses the same trusted software, but leverages the speed of flash and advanced analytics to offer higher performance storage. A customer expects data to be available instantly and without delays. Nimble Storage makes sure this is the case based on a three-pronged approach: high density solid-state storage, cloud based management and big data analytics to proactively solve issues before they cause a problem for the business.
A big component of this approach is the cloud based management and big data analytics contained in InfoSight. I’ve written a couple of posts about InfoSight earlier, which you can find summarized over here.
With the help of the InfoSight analytics, Nimble Storage analyzed the root cause of the gap between expected/desired application performance and the actual performance. It turns out that more than half of these performance gaps are incorrectly blamed on the storage infrastructure. Less than half is actually related to the storage, the rest is somewhere else in the stack: either configuration issues, non-storage best practices, interoperability issues, compute issues, etc.
With InfoSight detecting and fixing 9 out of 10 issues automatically before the customer even notices them, the Nimble Storage arrays in the field have achieved a >99,9997% uptime on average. Because many of the “simpler” problems are automatically detected and resolved, Nimble only needs to employ Level 3 engineers in their support team. This results in a <1 minute hold time to speak to L3 engineers, plus avoids the typical frustration with “what firmware version are you running?”-style questions entirely.
Keeping the customer happy isn’t just done by throwing hardware and software at it. The norms and values with which a company serves its customers is a vital component. One example is providing transparent claims on system performance: the numbers used by Nimble are realistic and achievable, as backed by Justin Giardina, CTO of iLand Internet Solutions during a 1:1 interview. Another feature is what Nimble Storage calls Timeless Storage:
- All systems are all-inclusive with regards to software licenses.
- Support prices are flat during the entire lifetime of the system: even in the 4th and 5th years, which traditionally show massive increases in support costs.
- The customer can choose from two deployment models: the traditional CAPEX based model, or an OPEX based one where you only pay for the storage you use, regardless whether your storage usage goes up or down.
This whole package results in very satisfied customers: Nimble has a Net Promotor Score of 85 which means the vast majority of their customers will promote Nimble Storage to peers.
The Nimble Storage all-flash arrays come in 4 models (all 4U in size), starting at the entry-level AF3000 and AF5000 arrays that can grow up to 184TB of flash with a maximum of 120k IOPs. Additionally, there’s the AF7000 for price/performance optimized deployments and the AF9000 offering the highest performance of them all.
48 SSDs per array are inserted in the front of the system using 24 Dual Flash Carriers: a nifty way of fitting two 2,5” commodity solid-state drives in one 3,5” drive bay. No worries: each of the drives is independently removable from the system. Drive sizes currently range from 240GB each to 4TB each, with 8TB being in development. You can actually purchase an array with only 24 drives if 48 drives is too much capacity: you can later add those remaining 24 drives.
If you need more capacity than the initial 48 drives can offer, you can expand an array with up to two expansion shelves, each containing an additional 48 drives. With the current systems, this results in a 2PB, 300k IOps AF9000 array. Effective capacities are based on a 5x data reduction from deduplication and compression which, again, are based on real-life values gathered through InfoSight. Of course if you have a non-typical workload, mileage may vary…
If that’s still not enough you can cluster up to four systems together: in the biggest configuration this will be an 8.2PB cluster of systems that (as a whole) can handle up to 1.2M IOps. These clusters can mix both types of arrays: if you want to cluster an all-flash array with a hybrid array, there’s perfectly possible. The Nimble OS will then allow you to move volumes between arrays in the cluster seamlessly and non-disruptively.
The drives themselves are Samsung 3D-NAND commodity drives. Nimble implemented several mechanisms such as large-scale IO coalescing and an advanced flash endurance management system to ensure the SSDs last 7 years. If your particular workload wears out the SSDs prematurely, the system will flag these drives for proactive replacement.
While talking resiliency: Nimble Storage uses something called Triple+ Parity RAID that can (you’ve guessed it!) tolerate 3 simultaneous drive failures. This includes data protection for intra-drive failures, which is especially vital once SSDs start nearing the end of their life cycle.
Of course you can also create snapshots of the data on the array, and replicate this data to a second Nimble Storage array. Replicating from a predictive all-flash platform to an adaptive hybrid flash platform is no problem, if you need to save some money on the DR site.
My thoughts on the Nimble Predictive Flash Platform
Having spent quite some time troubleshooting storage problems in the field, I can back two things straight away:
- Proper monitoring and statistics are vital to quick troubleshooting. Without them it’s near impossible to quickly diagnose and solve complex problems.
- The majority of problems are not as storage array related as the person complaining might think. I’m not saying “it’s never the storage!”; it just helps to first view the whole chain between storage array and application, before diving straight into the stats of a storage system.
InfoSight ticks those two boxes and thus makes me happy, both from an engineering perspective and a customer perspective.
Additionally, being able to mix hybrid and all-flash systems in one cluster and natively within replication pairs is a great thing. It makes data migrations easy, which usually automatically makes it less error-prone and faster (from a change management perspective). Plus it is a great way to save cost, which is always smart with the ever decreasing budgets in mind. This could very well be one of the big differentiators with which Nimble can enter new markets.
Do check out posts from Stephen, Dan and Enrico, whom also attended the Nimble Storage Predictive Flash Platform launch in San Francisco. You can watch a recording of the presentation over here. And for some additional customer experiences and Nimble channel partner news, stay tuned for a follow-up post.
Disclaimer: Nimble Storage invited me to attend their Predictive Flash Platform launch in San Francisco. They paid for the flights, hotel and various other expenses to make it possible for me to attend. We also toured the Mission district of San Francisco and were stuffed to the brim with food. Seriously, a LOT of food. Don’t make the same mistake we did: skip that breakfast! And check out Edible Excursions. Just don’t think the walking part compensates for the eating part.
I was not compensated for my time and there is no requirement to blog or tweet. Everything I post is of my own accord, as always.