Nimble Storage array adds FC support for enterprises

Nimble Storage announced this week that it has added Fibre Channel versions of all of its SAN arrays, which previously were iSCSI-only.

Nimble Storage this week said it its CS Series storage arrays are generally available with Fibre Channel, living up to the company's promise to deliver the Fibre Channel protocol before the end of 2014.

Nimble has supported iSCSI since its inception in 2010. It was originally focused on the mid-market and higher end of the SMB market. After becoming a public company last year, Nimble CEO Suresh Vasudevan said last February that the vendor would add Fibre Channel (FC) support to expand its base by chasing the enterprise market.

Radhika Krishnan, Nimble's vice president of product marketing, said 40 customers have been using FC in beta for months, and some of them have already purchased Nimble FC arrays. This Nimble storage array supports the latest generation of FC, which runs at 16 gigabits per second (Gbps).

Pick FC or iSCSI – everything else is the same

The Nimble CS300, CS500 and CS700 are now available as FC or iSCSI arrays. Krishnan said the FC and iSCSI arrays are the same except for the block storage protocol. They support the same hard drive and flash capacities and are priced the same, although FC arrays require more expensive switching and SAN infrastructure.

FC support follows Nimble's Adaptive Flash platform launched in June as another step into the enterprise. Adaptive Flash includes an all-flash expansion shelf to boost performance.

"We started out focused on the mid-market," Krishnan said. "But we've since made forays into large enterprises. Now you have more flexibility in terms of the protocol you choose to deploy. Enterprise customers have a strong preference for Fibre Channel. The IT staff is more familiar with Fibre Channel in the enterprise."

Nimble is also expanding the capacity of its systems with the addition of 4 TB hard disk drives, 1.6 TB solid-state flash drives, and the ability to add six expansion shelves. A Nimble Storage array can scale to more than 2 PB of hard drive capacity and 160 TB of flash. The highest capacity drives Nimble previously supported were 3 TB hard drives and 1.2 TB SSDs, with three expansion shelves.

Nimble will support FC networking products from Brocade Communications Systems, Emulex Corp. and QLogic Corp., and said it will expand that list. The one notable exemption so far is FC switch vendor Cisco, which is a Nimble partner for SmartStack reference architecture stacks.

Bryan Bond, senior systems administrator for meter data management software firm eMeter, said he has run a FC Nimble CS700 in beta and expects his next Nimble purchase will be a FC system. Siemens-owned eMeter has six Nimble arrays in production, Bond said.

Bond said he has requested FC arrays from Nimble for years because eMeter's storage often has to match the type of systems run by its customers. The company stores mostly applications developed in-house and Oracle databases on its SAN.

Bond said eMeter also uses NetApp Inc. and Hitachi Data Systems arrays to meet specific customer requirements. He said the performance of Nimble systems running 10-Gigabit Ethernet iSCSI was good enough, but the FC gives him more flexibility.

"With a utility company, customers tell you what hardware they want to run on," he said. "Having only iSCSI limited our flexibility to move things from one system to another. Fibre Channel gives us the ability to connect all of our systems. We have to support hardware running IBM AIX, HP-UX or SunOS where Fibre Channel is the preferred storage, and this allows us to move quicker into those environments. It’s not a performance issue for us."

Enterprises still trust FC

Henry Baltazar, a senior analyst at research firm Forrester Research, said that while Ethernet-based storage has made inroads in recent years and multi-protocol arrays are common, many shops still prefer FC.

"Fibre Channel is still the No. 1 storage protocol," he said. "It's still the one that people rely on for high availability, usability, and high performance. It’s a better fit for the enterprise."

While current Nimble customers like eMeter are adding FC, Baltazar said he expects most of Nimble's FC sales to go to companies who are not using the iSCSI systems.

"This is more about getting customers that wouldn’t look at iSCSI," he said. "There are still organizations that don’t trust iSCSI for performance. For now and years to come, there will be dyed-in-the-wool storage guys who must have Fibre Channel."

Next Steps

Nimble launches all-flash shelf

Dell's all-flash SC4020 Fibre Channel brings flash to low-end storage

Dig Deeper on SAN technology and arrays