Nimble launches all-flash shelf instead of all-flash array

Nimble Storage sticks with the hybrid flash array model with the CS700 -- its highest performance array -- and an All Flash Shelf.

Nimble Storage, looking to break into the enterprise, today launched its highest capacity hybrid flash array and...

a solid-state drive (SSD) shelf as part of what it calls its Adaptive Flash platform.

Nimble isn't adding an all-flash array, just an All-Flash Shelf (AFS) that lets customers pack an additional 12.8 TB of solid-state drive (SSD) capacity behind a new CS700 or existing CS400 hybrid array.

The AFS holds four four-packs of 800 GB drives in a 3u box. Customers can start with 3.2 TB and add more flash non-disruptively in 3.2 TB increments up to 12.8 TB in a shelf.

The CS700 uses Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture, and triple-parity RAID for data protection. It includes 12 hard disk drives and four SSDs for a total of 3.2 TB of flash. A CS700 with a fully loaded AFS provides 16 TB of flash, with 64 TB in a four-node cluster. Until now, Nimble CS200 and CS400 arrays have been limited to 3.6 TB of flash on the head and 600 GB in an expansion shelf.

Nimble claims one 3U CS700 can handle more than 125,000 IOPS and a four-node cluster can handle 500,000 IOPS.

Nimble vice president of product marketing Radhika Krishnan said Nimble wants to bridge the gap between systems that use some or all flash for performance-intensive workloads and those that use primarily hard disk drives for capacity workloads.

"The reality is, most workloads straddle both," she said. "Most workloads need a combination of performance and capacity, and a single architecture that's usable for both. No longer are you stuck with 10 terabytes of flash because that's the most your flash-only system can offer, nor are you stuck with many milliseconds of latency because you have a hybrid system."

Adaptive Flash is Nimble's name for the method it uses to tell customers how much flash they need. It combines Nimble's CASL file system that optimizes writes to flash and its InfoSight cloud-based analytics engine. Nimble will use InfoSight analytics to suggest to customers the right amount of flash for workloads.

"People buy an all-flash system now because they don't know how to buy a system with the right amount of flash," Krishnan said. "They end up grossly over-provisioning. We can give them a window into how this flash is operating, and how much they need on a system to achieve a specific latency."

Krishnan said it is cheaper and more efficient to use disk capacity for data required for snapshots and replication and overhead from RAID parity. She estimates it requires from 17 TB to 20 TB of SSD capacity to store 10 TB of data, and it's cheaper to use disk for the overhead.

Nimble does not make its pricing public, but Krishnan said the CS700 and flash shelf will cost between $1 and $5 per GB depending on the configuration.

The new flash products are part of Nimble's strategy to move farther into the enterprise. Nimble began selling mostly to SMBs and small enterprises in 2010, and the bulk of its customers are still in those markets although it has begun penetrating large companies. The next part of its enterprise plan is to add Fibre Channel support later this year. Nimble's arrays have been iSCSI only from the start.

Arun Taneja, consulting analyst for the Taneja Group, said Nimble coined the term Adaptive Flash because it wants to avoid being called a hybrid flash vendor. Most hybrids are traditional disk arrays with SSDs added, but Nimble claims its CASL operating and architecture is designed to optimize flash performance.

"Nimble is saying 'hybrids are passé, I'm going to deliver all-flash performance at high-end disk prices,'" Taneja said.

He said the new flash products will achieve Nimble's goal of moving up to the enterprise.

"This allows them to play everywhere except at the very high end and the archive space. And they don't want to play in the archive space," he said. "It gives them the ability to continue to grow."

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