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Nimbus adds to Gemini all-flash storage array portfolio

Nimbus Data bumps up performance of its Gemini all-flash storage array in face of increasing competition from major storage vendors.

Nimbus Data Systems today launched its fourth-generation all-flash storage arrays, and its CEO predicted hybrid flash systems are about to become obsolete.

Nimbus is among a group of small vendors that have concentrated on all-flash arrays while the established storage vendors moved into flash with hybrid arrays, which mix solid-state drives and hard drives.

With the Nimbus Gemini F400 and F600 unified storage systems, Nimbus claims to have lowered pricing by 35% while more than doubling performance of its previous generation Gemini arrays.

The Gemini F400 and F600 are 2U boxes that hold from 3 TB to 48 TB of raw multi-level cell flash. The difference between them is the connectivity options. The F400 has eight small form-factor pluggable (SFP) ports and supports 16 Gbps Fibre Channel and 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) connections. The F600 has eight quad SFP ports to support 56 Gbps InfiniBand and 40 GbE. The F400 and F600 are available with single or dual active-active hot swappable controllers. Pricing for the F400 starts at around $60,000 with the F600 starting at around $80,000.

Nimbus CEO Tom Isakovich said the vendor improved performance and lowered price in several ways with the new systems. The F400 and F600 are the first Nimbus systems to use smaller than 20 nanometer flash. Isakovich wouldn't reveal the exact size, but said it is between 10 and 20 nanometers.

Nimbus is also using a new hardware data signal processor to provide the correct amount of current based on the age of the flash to minimize flash wear; software that turns random small block writes into sequential large block writes to reduce write amplification; and cell-level -- rather than chip-level – wear-leveling algorithms to detect flash endurance variations and eliminate hot spots.

The vendor claims the new arrays can handle 1 million write IOPS at 4 KB blocks, up to 2 million read IOPS at 4 KB, and has latency as low as 50 microseconds.

Nimbus offers a 10-year warranty for its flash systems. "If you took the array and did nothing but writes, you couldn't wear it out over 10 years," Isakovich said.

Isakovich said the new Nimbus arrays have reduced cost to 78 cents per usable gigabyte (GB) -- figuring the results from data deduplication -- compared to $2 or more per GB for hybrid arrays. While EMC and other large vendors see flash playing mostly in hybrid arrays, Isakovich said the time is right for an all-flash world in storage.

"The flash market is evolving rapidly," Isakovich said. "Flash has gotten smaller, cheaper and better. Hybrid's days are numbered. Customers don't want unpredictable performance. "

He said the caching performance for hybrid arrays is spotty, making them far less reliable than all flash systems.

"Hybrid is too complicated -- you have to figure out the right mix of flash and disk. Spindles fail, and when they do, rebuild times are unacceptable," Isakovich said. "Hybrid vendors cannot speak to their performance during cache misses, and cache misses are frequent."

He said all-flash array vendors have reduced their cost per usable GB to close to that of disk, and no tiering or I/O tuning is required.

Dennis Martin, president of Arvada, Colo.-based research firm Demartek, said he agrees with Isakovich that all new storage systems should be designed only for flash or other types of non-volatile memory -- not for disk. He expects the transition to an all-flash storage environment will take years, but thinks it's definitely under way.

"There's a short-term use for putting [flash] cache in front of hard drives as an intermediate step, but in the long term, all-flash is how you want to go," Martin said.

Martin said he hasn't yet tested the new Gemini systems, but has tested earlier Nimbus arrays in his lab and was impressed. He said Nimbus' wide range of connectivity support helps its arrays stand out.

"Nimbus has a nice design," he said. "The all-flash vendors are each doing something different. Supporting Fibre Channel, Ethernet and InifniBand tells you what markets Nimbus is going after."

Isakovich said 40% of Nimbus' sales are for database applications; 40% are for virtual desktop and virtual machines; and 20% are for cloud computing.

Nimbus, which has been selling all-flash arrays since 2010, claims close to 500 customers. According to research firm Gartner, Nimbus generated $21.75 million in revenue in 2012, placing it sixth among flash array vendors behind Violin Memory, EMC, IBM, NetApp and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS). Gartner's numbers give Nimbus 5.6% of the flash array market in 2012. However, EMC, IBM, NetApp and HDS -- as well as Hewlett-Packard and Dell -- are accelerating their move into flash with new all-flash arrays while increasing sales of their hybrid arrays.

Isakovich said Nimbus is on pace for a $50 million revenue year and is talking about going public in 2014.

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