NexGen Storage: All-Flash Arrays can be hybrids too!

NexGen Pivot3 logoNexGen has been building hybrid storages for several years: systems with spinning disks for capacity and flash for performance. This is a skill set that will not go away with the onset of all-flash Arrays. There are many types of flash available and each type of non-volatile memory will have advantages and disadvantages in capacity, performance, cost, power draw, etc. Mixing those characteristics properly inside one array allows a vendor to leverage the strengths of each technology. Say Hi to the hybrid all-flash arrays!

Meet the N5-1500. It’s the NexGen hybrid all-flash array using RAM for the lowest latency read cache, ultra-low latency PCIe flash for reads and writes and regular SSD for high capacity storage.

NexGen AFAs

The smallest N5-1500 array starts with 2,6TB of PCIe flash (as cache) in the controller and 15TB of raw SSD capacity. Additional raw capacity is added in 15TB packages, of which you can add a maximum of 3 packages for a total capacity of 60TB. Pricing for the base model starts at roughly $125k. There’s also a N5-3000 array that starts with 30TB of SSD capacity, but will also scale to 60TB.

With these arrays NexGen targets customers that need microsecond latencies with >10TB of active data. The arrays employ data reduction services like deduplication, not just to cram more data into the array but also to increase endurance and performance. If you can deduplicate some of the data, you no longer have to write as much to SSD and as such, you will save a couple of write cycles and some time to actually write it to SSD.

One of the claims made by NexGen were that customers are now trying to consolidate multiple workloads into one all-flash array. Previously a customer had a high performance workload and decided to move it off the traditional hybrid spinning disk arrays onto an AFA. There are now more and more high performance workloads and just continuously adding boxes creates silos. Something you usually don’t want.

Running multiple high performance workloads one one box can create some problems if the combined workload exceeds the specifications of the array. NexGen invested heavily in their QoS software to make sure workloads are throttled correctly if needed: read more about it over here.

My thoughts on NexGen Storage

NexGen kicked off their presentation at Storage Field Day 8 with an interesting analysis of the flash market: NAND chips are slowly declining in price, yet the prices for NAND devices have been rapidly declining for a while. In NexGens opinion this rapid decline of unit costs is mostly due to the larger vendors buying NAND chips in bulk and thus getting good volume deals. This would however mean that someone is losing a bit of magin, and this rapid decline in unit prices will most likely slow down.

I’ve been reading a number of posts about SSDs being the next low-power, ecological storage solution. We should all get rid of our spinning disks and replace them with high capacity SSDs. However as NexGen (and other vendors during SFD8) noted: SSDs have an idle power consumption that’s directly proportional to the capacity of the solid-state device. Additionally, when the SSD is servicing I/O, the power consumption rises. This is most apparent when writing to cells or erasing cells. With spinning disks increasing in capacity and more or less remaining stable in power consumption, we’re approaching (or maybe already past) the point where spinning disks use less power per TB than a solid-sate drive.

NexGen was recently acquired by Pivot3. Ray spoke with the CEOs of both companies in the latest GreyBeards on Storage episode. I’m curious to see how the technology of NexGen is used in the hyper-converged infrastructure products of Pivot3. Who knows, maybe we’ll find them at some future Tech Field Day!

You can watch the NexGen presentations over here. They are relatively short, but that was due to the fact that most of the presentation on the N5-1500 was still embargoed and thus off-camera. Josh de Jong wrote a good analysis over here, as did Dan with some additional tech specs. And to top it all off, have a listen at Enrico’s podcast.

Disclaimer: GestaltIT paid for the flight, hotel and various other expenses to make it possible for me to attend SFD8. I was however not compensated for my time and there is no requirement to blog or tweet about any of the presentations. Everything I post is of my own accord.