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IT services firm sidesteps performance woes with Nimble Storage array

Landesk Software swapped out legacy EMC Fibre Channel storage for a Nimble Storage CS300 hybrid array to support 400 virtual machines.

Landesk Software added a Nimble Storage CS300 hybrid array with Fibre Channel connectivity to accommodate hundreds of virtual machines connected to primary storage. In the process, the Salt Lake City-based IT services firm plans to repurpose an EMC VNX storage array that remains under warranty for another year or so.

The switch was made to overcome performance issues associated with 400 virtual machines (VMs) that handle production storage for SAP databases, Microsoft Exchange email, domain controllers, internal applications and Web services. 

"Our main driver of new storage is demand for the number of VMs we have to spin up. Pretty much anything the business needs is running a VM," said Jeremy Balter, Landesk's senior system administrator.

"We were reaching 20% utilization on our [EMC] SAN -- the point where you can't really add more storage without degrading performance. The 20% point is when users start complaining. We were getting close to being unable to use our storage," Balter said.

New storage involved swapping Fibre Channel connections to CS300

Fast storage drives Landesk's business model. The company sells productivity software and support services to help IT departments maximize productivity and curtail costs. Its flagship Landesk Management Suite encompasses systems and security management, asset tracking and enterprise mobility.

Landesk built its virtual infrastructure for Fibre Channel on a Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) 6248UP eight-blade server. The single-chassis installation supports two domains with an 80 Gb backplane that runs RAID data protection across two 40 Gb Cisco Nexus 5000 network switches.

Balter said moving from EMC to Nimble was a simple matter of swapping Fibre Channel connections from the VNX chassis to the Nimble CS300. The Nimble array runs 8 Gb Fibre Channel across 10-Gigabit Ethernet pipes.

Nimble in November added Fibre Channel support to CS Series arrays. Previous Nimble arrays supported only the iSCSI protocol.

Pricing, data reduction piqued Landesk's interest

Landesk budgeted approximately $230,000 to upgrade storage. In addition to Nimble, the company received a bid from EMC to upgrade to larger VNX boxes. HP submitted a proposal for its HP 3PAR StoreServ 7200 two-node SAS configuration.

"Originally, Nimble came in higher than everyone else. While we did like their technology, we didn't feel it was worth the risk at the same price point [as arrays from large vendors]. So initially we wrote them off," Balter said.

Nimble eventually came down on price. Balter estimates Landesk's total outlay for the Nimble Storage array at $185,000.

Pricing aside, Balter said inline compression in the Nimble arrays is a strong draw as VM storage spirals upward. Nimble's data reduction enables Landesk to compress 15 TB of its 46 TB of primary storage. The compression is part of Nimble's Cache Accelerated Sequential Layout (CASL).

"We're getting a capacity savings of about one-third our total storage, with no degradation in access speeds. We haven't run any benchmarks to find out the actual latency delta, but it feels faster. I can tell when I click things that it's much more responsive than before," Balter said.

In CASL, all writes pass through the processor and get written sequentially, keeping fast bits together in flash cache and spreading slow bits across a tier of fixed disks.

"We have four 300 GB solid-state drives for a cache and each one of the shelves has one 600 GB drive. The thing about CASL is it becomes processor-bound, not hard drive-bound. As fast as your processor can get the data through, that's how fast you can write to hard drives," Balter said.

Nimble Storage array integrated with backup, DR planning

Landesk ties its Nimble VM production storage to off-site replication with Zerto Virtual Replication to support recovery point objectives and disaster recovery. Zerto is in place at the company's Salt Lake City headquarters and colocation sites in Colorado and the UK. Landesk uses EMC Avamar backup software, which dedupes backed up data. Balter said Nimble's CS Series supports compressible, array-based snapshots of VMs that tie into VMware vCenter "so we're doubly protected."

Balter said the EMC VNX array still holds about 2% of his primary storage. After those workloads are moved to Nimble this year, the VNX box will be used by software engineers as a test bed for application development.

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