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Nimbus Gemini X marks the spot with 96 TB of all-flash capacity

Nimbus Gemini X series scales out to 96 TB of all-flash capacity in a single array, with clusters hitting 960 TB; startup aims at EMC XtremIO.

Nimbus Data today launched its Gemini X series of enterprise all-flash arrays that can store 96 TB of raw capacity in one box and scale to nearly 1 PB in a cluster.

The 96 TB Nimbus Gemini X96 is the largest capacity system built specifically for flash on the market. Nimbus has sold all-flash systems since 2010, and also sells modular Gemini F400 and F600 arrays. The F600 has a maximum capacity of 48 TB.

"We're having a lot of customer conversations around large all-flash deployments," Nimbus CEO Tom Isakovich said. "The market is maturing, and people are no longer just using flash for specific databases or VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] needs. [The] conversation is becoming, 'We want to use flash for our entire Tier 1 environment.'"

The scale-out Nimbus Gemini X uses the same HALO operating system as the Gemini F series, but has a different architecture. While the F series arrays are single independent nodes, the X series consists of Flash Directors and Flash Nodes. Each X1000 Flash Director is a low-latency 320 Gbps Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) switch with up to 40 ports. The ports can be 16 Gbps Fibre Channel (FC), 10 or 40 Gigabit Ethernet, or 56 Gbps InfiniBand.

Directors manage storage across each cluster. A director supports 40 Gbps of sustained throughput, 4 million 4 KB IOPS, and sub-100 microseconds of latency, according to Nimbus. Each Gemini X system includes two directors for redundancy.

Gemini X96 and X48 Flash Nodes are 2u arrays that support 96 TB or 48 TB. The nodes have 24 slots. The X96 uses Nimbus' new 4 TB enterprise flash drives or its existing 2 TB drives. The X48 includes 2 TB drives. The nodes offload hardware-intensive operations such as inline deduplication, flash management, encryption and parity protection. The nodes connect to directors through RDMA. Nimbus uses 1x nanometer multi-level cell flash drives.

Customers can cluster up to 10 arrays for 960 TB of flash capacity in a single namespace in 24u of rack space. Each node adds 32 Gbps of bandwidth and 400,000 IOPS to the cluster. The system's parity-based data protection allows customers to lose a node in a cluster without losing data.

"This is true scale-out," Isakovich said. "It scales capacity with performance with centralized management, and full offload of data services to the storage nodes."

Nimbus Gemini F customers can upgrade to an X48 node by swapping controllers and connecting to Flash Directors.

Jim Bagley, senior analyst for SSG-NOW, said the Nimbus Gemini X moves the vendor to the top of the heap for capacity in an array developed specifically for flash.

"This is an impressive milestone for Nimbus, with that kind of capacity," Bagley said. "I don't know of any customers deploying 96 terabytes of flash yet, but they're going to want to eventually. With this system, they know they can grow into the system without doing a forklift upgrade."

Bagley said the all-flash market has changed over the past year with larger vendors adding products to compete with Nimbus and other startups who had early all-flash arrays.

"It's a much more diverse situation now that you have EMC, HP, Dell and IBM in it," he said, "plus the gang of startups."

Isakovich considers EMC XtremIO the main competition for Gemini X, because EMC is the largest storage vendor and XtremIO is the only other scale-out array built solely for flash. Isakovich said Nimbus' management features are ahead of XtremIO's because Nimbus has been selling all-flash arrays for more than three years, while XtremIO launched late in 2013. XtremIO is also SAN-only (FC and iSCSI), while Nimbus supports FC, iSCSI and NAS (NFS and SMB) protocols.

Isakovich said the Gemini X target customer will deploy more than 50 TB of flash, usually for virtual servers or desktops, large databases or data warehouse applications. He said the features customers look for depend on their use case. "For database customers, it's all about latency," he said. "They're not interested in anything that gets in the way of latency -- no dedupe, no compression, no encryption. For virtualization customers, latency is not the most important thing. They're going to run dedupe, compression, maybe encryption and still get fantastic performance. That's why you can run our system with any service on or off."

The Nimbus Gemini X will be available through an early access program beginning in April, with general availability (GA) scheduled for the summer. Isakovich said pricing will be set when the systems go GA.

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Interesting name choice "X series", considering EMC's XtremeIO product name is X-brick, formally launching just a few months ago.

Even more interesting that Pure Storage launched their "FA-400" in May 2013, and then Nimbus Data launched their "F400" in August 2013.