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NexGen Storage re-launches new batch of hybrid arrays with PCIe flash

NexGen Storage jumps back into crowded hybrid-array market with beefed-up N5 platform, quality-of-service software for optimizing PCIe flash.

Fresh off its spinout from SanDisk, NexGen Storage today refreshed its portfolio of hybrid PCIe flash arrays.

NexGen launched four 3U arrays -- the N5-200, N5-300, N5-500 and N5-1000 -- that combine hard disk drive storage with PCIe flash modules as a low-latency write buffer. NexGen also released the latest version of its quality-of-service (QoS) software for automating storage policies to boost flash efficiency.

The arrays are generally available with pricing from $55,000 to $199,000.

The product launch marks NexGen's return as an independent storage vendor following its spinout this month from SanDisk. SanDisk added ioControl technology through a 2014 pickup of PCIe card pioneer Fusion-io. NexGen began selling the N5 platform before its subsequent purchase by Fusion-io in 2013. Fusion-io sold the arrays under the ioControl brand, but NexGen has reverted to its N5 branding.

NexGen Storage has evolved from a SanDisk property to a customer. The N5 arrays use Fusion-io PCIe flash drives, and the new series of arrays implement SanDisk's FlashSoft caching software.

NexGen scales storage with additional disk shelves, PCIe cards

The N5-300, N5-500 and N5-1000 contain up to 16 4 TB hard disk drives per unit for 64 TB of raw storage. Users can increase capacity to 256 TB by installing 16-drive expansion shelves. The N5-200 provides 128 TB of raw capacity with 16 2 TB HDDs and expands to 128 TB.

NexGen uses off-the-shelf hardware enclosures and places flash storage on the PCIe bus to directly access servers. Additional PCie cards can be installed in the head unit to scale performance. The high-density N5-1000 array packs 10.4 TB of native flash that scales to 15.6 TB.

The midrange N5-500 array starts with 5.2 TB of flash that can double to 10.4 TB. The N5-300 and N5-200 arrays come with 2.6 TB and 2 TB of flash capacity that scales to 7.2 TB and 7.8 TB, respectively.

Software-based policy automation lets a customer select service levels for different storage workloads. Data sets can be dropped in one of five preset policies. NexGen added an algorithm it calls Prioritized Active Cache, which mirrors all writes in a highly available state before acknowledging the host.

A customer's storage policies inform the cache algorithm where the writes ultimately need to reside. The flash write buffer is designed to give predictable performance for high-value storage and less critical applications to spindled media.

Chris McCall, senior vice president of marketing with NexGen Storage, said the N5 architecture relies more heavily on flash than competing hybrid arrays that use solid-state storage with RAID protection.

Because PCIe drives do not consume drive slots, N5 arrays provide 31% more storage capacity per rack than competitors, McCall said.

NexGen: Customers filling our pipeline

Mark Peters, a senior analyst with Enterprise Storage Group, said NexGen needs to reintroduce itself to the storage market after nearly two years out of the spotlight. Peters said the PCIe write buffer differentiates NexGen from competing hybrid arrays.

"Most QoS is entirely responsive inasmuch as it makes assumptions about which data is important. It's very much a peanut butter approach in that you spread all the good stuff, the capacity stuff, over everything in storage according to how hot it is. The problem with that approach is that it's not a responsive system," Peters said.

"NexGen's QoS starts with a prescriptive layer of what's important. They're not responding to data busyness or peak demand, but managing according to workload values."

McCall said "multiple hundreds" of new customers have been added during the past 20 months since NexGen was acquired. Financial services, public administration, and professional services represent typical use cases.

NCS Credit is a customer of the original NexGen Storage and runs an older N5-50 base model with VMware 5.1 to manage 8.5 TB of primary storage. NCS implemented the array to replace a Dell EqualLogic SAN it now uses as a backup target.

IT services manager Michael Frank said his company plans to upgrade to the larger N5 boxes over the next year or so. NCS is experiencing rapid data growth as it gathers lien data from every county recorder's office in the U.S., which it resells as a credit resource.

"One of the big things we like about the [NexGen array] is that it's expandable. Our storage has grown a lot so we're looking for more storage capacity. We're on the most basic level of flash and the upgrades would give us so much more flash storage for the same price," Frank said.

Next Steps

NexGen offers performance guarantee for n5 series

NexGen launches n5 VM storage system

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Are you likely to consider ioControl hybrid arrays now that they support more flash storage?
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We are not interested yet in the biocontrol hybrid even  with the flash storage additions. We are going to wait until the next generation ioControls is released so others can be the "beta testers". We find it wise to keep this as our policy in all aspects of our IT systems. We do like the idea of the flash storage integration to the biocontrol hybrids, but as yet, we are not ready to adopt them.
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