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Nimble all-flash AF Series arrays hit the market

Nimble's all-flash AF Series arrays use Samsung 3D NAND SSDs, and can be combined with Nimble Adaptive Flash hybrid arrays in a Unified Flash Fabric.

Nimble Storage today took the next logical step in its product evolution, introducing a line of 3D NAND-based all-flash arrays with inline deduplication and compression.

Nimble AF Series arrays are the first Nimble all-flash products after years of selling hybrid arrays that mix solid-state drives (SSDs) with mostly hard disk drives. There are four Nimble all-flash models that vary in capacity and performance. The flagship AF9000 scales to 553 TB of raw storage in a 4U array, with two 4U expansion shelves. The midrange AF7000 scales to 323 TB of raw capacity, with two expansion shelves. The AF5000 and entry-level AF3000 hold one expansion shelf apiece. The AF5000 scales to 184 TB, and the AF3000 scales to 92 TB of raw capacity.

Nimble customers can scale up to four AF arrays and manage them as a unified cluster. Nimble presumes 5:1 data reduction with its proprietary data compression and deduplication that boosts effective capacity to 2 PB per 12U configuration, and up to 8.2 PB per four-node AF9000 cluster.

Nimble claimed a mixed read-write performance ranging from 50,000 IOPS on the AF3000 to 300,000 IOPS on the AF9000, and up to 1.2 million IOPS per four-node AF9000 cluster.

The all-flash systems support Fibre Channel and iSCSI block storage. Nimble dubbed this all-flash system the Predictive Flash Platform, which uses the same cloud-based InfoSight Predictive Analytics as the Nimble Adaptive Flash hybrid arrays.

Nimble all-flash arrays use Samsung Electronics' PM863 Series SSDs, ranging from 240 GB to 3.84 TB capacities. PM863 uses Samsung Vertical NAND flash technology. Nimble operating system (OS) software provides triple-parity RAID to withstand three simultaneous drive failures per AF array without data loss.

Nimble all-flash storage needed to jolt sales

Nimble has been trying to woo enterprise customers by enhancing its use of flash storage in its CS Series hybrid arrays. It added an optional all-flash shelf in 2014, and allowed customers to pin volumes to flash beginning in 2015 to improve performance. But many customers wanted all-flash. After Nimble missed its sales forecast, when reporting earnings last November, CEO Suresh Vasudevan confirmed the vendor was working to bring out an all-flash array. Before that, Nimble executives maintained hybrid performance was good enough and cost less than all-flash.

"We've been building flash-optimized [products] for about five years, but we're drawing a clean slate to bring out our all-flash array," said Gavin Cohen, Nimble's senior director of strategy and market development. "The cost of flash has fallen, and we architected our array to take advantage of [changing] flash economics."

Eric Burgener, research director of IDC's storage practice, said the Nimble all-flash products arrive amid projections that flash-only array sales will top $5.5 billion by 2019.

"Now, Nimble can sell more effectively to customers [who] already have decided they want an all-flash array, rather than trying to convince them a hybrid array is just as good," Burgener said.

Nimble all-flash part of Unified Flash Fabric

The all-flash arrays run the same Nimble OS as its CS hybrid systems, and share common data services for cloning, data encryption, replication and snapshots.

The all-flash arrays run the same Nimble OS as its CS hybrid systems, and share common data services for cloning, data encryption, replication and snapshots. Cohen said customers can keep application-consistent snapshots locally on Nimble AF storage, and replicate archive, backup and disaster recovery copies to Adaptive Flash hybrid arrays for instant recovery.

"We're democratizing flash by making it available to every application. We have Adaptive Flash for your mixed workloads and Nimble all-flash arrays for your performance-sensitive applications, so it's a nice mix," Cohen said.

Nimble had built-in compression since it started shipping its iSCSI SC arrays in 2010, but added inline deduplication for the all-flash. Dedupe and compression help extend flash's footprint and bring down the cost per GB.

"We've seen a shift in the last year [of] purchase criteria of end users," IDC's Burgener said. "More and more users want to use all-flash arrays as their primary storage array to support mixed workload consolidation. That's where having mature data services becomes an important consideration."

Nimble Storage said customers may order AF Series arrays now. The vendor did not disclose pricing.

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