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Nimble Storage upgrades hybrid flash for primary, secondary storage

Nimble Storage delivers its largest capacity hybrid flash iSCSI array with multi-level cell (MLC) SSDs and SATA drives.

With an eye on larger customers, startup Nimble Storage Inc. today added higher capacity versions of its hybrid flash and hard drive storage systems, upgraded its cloning and replication capabilities, and integrated its operating system more tightly with VMware.

Nimble Storage came out of stealth in mid-2010 with storage systems combining iSCSI, flash, and inline compression and replication. Its goal is to handle primary storage and data protection in the same box.

The new Nimble CS260 includes four 300 GB multi-level cell (MLC) solid-state drives (SSDs) and 12 3 TB SATA drives, for 36 TB of raw capacity and 48 TB of usable hard drive capacity with 50% compression.

The 3U CS260 includes six Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports per controller, and a CS260G model is available with two 10 GbE ports and two GbE ports per controller.

Nimble’s previous largest system, the CS240, supported 24 TB of raw and 36 TB of usable capacity, and 640 GB of raw flash capacity. Nimble will continue to sell the CS240, as well as the smaller CS210 (8 TB raw capacity) and CS220 (12 TB raw) models.

Our customers are looking to do broader deployments across more applications.

Dan Leary, Nimble Storage’s vice president of marketing

With Version 1.1 of the operating system, administrators can clone golden images in groups of 10 instead of one at a time. Replication monitoring is more granular, as customers can view lag times between replications and configure quality of service levels to limit bandwidth usage during peak times.

Nimble customers can now allocate and discover volumes to virtual machines (VMs) from the VMware vCenter console. Previously, they used the Nimble console to configure volumes and vCenter for discovering volumes.

“We're getting into larger enterprises that have larger capacity needs,” said Dan Leary, Nimble’s vice president of marketing. “Our customers are looking to do broader deployments across more applications. A typical customer runs multiple [Microsoft] SQL databases, SharePoint, Windows file shares and VMware.”

Pricing for Nimble arrays ranges from $40,000 on the low end to $100,000 for the CS260, roughly $2 per GB of storage.

James Bagley, consulting analyst at Storage Strategies Now, said Nimble’s capabilities, such as 50% compression and hot-swappable dual controllers with mirrored NVRAM for high availability, make for “a lot of features at a low cost.

“It’s a straight hybrid array that uses a combination of NVRAM for caching and low-cost hard disk drives for mass storage,” he said. “The other interesting wrinkle is they do in-line compression. It gives them the ability to have 48 TB of usable storage and 36 TB of raw storage assuming a 50% compression ratio. I don’t know anyone else doing that.”

Seattle-based custom printing company RPI has been a Nimble customer for 14 months, purchasing two CS240s, one CS240G and one CS260G. It runs VMware, and Microsoft Exchange and SQL, on the Nimble arrays. RPI switched from EqualLogic’s iSCSI storage-area networks (SANs) after Dell purchased EqualLogic and no longer made product enhancements on a quarterly schedule, said Matthew Andersen, RPI's director of IT.

Andersen said he likes Nimble Storage’s integration with VMware, and saw a performance increase over EqualLogic while requiring less raw capacity.

“With the compression ratio, I could buy less disk and get the same amount of storage,” he said. “Nimble also does true zero-byte snapshots.”

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We liked what we saw about Nimble boxes, but we're still looking for more data comparing Nimble to our NetApp devices, to complete our evaluation.