Nimble Storage’s CS is a mid-market game-changer

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Content Copyright © 2011 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Nimble Storage is not a very familiar name this side of the pond, but that is about to change – and how! Today is its official launch into Europe; it has a new EMEA sales director, Philip Turner, and is about to open offices in London, Germany and Benelux.

This may appear rather fast growth for a small VC start-up that sells entirely through the channel – and seeks European channel partners – until you look at the innovation it offers under the covers. In fact I find it difficult to know where to start. I have not seen this in operation, of course, so I can only report on what the company has told me – and leave others to check it out in practice. However, its US growth-figures from a first release in August 2010 in a crowded and competitive mid-marketplace – over 150 customers – are hard to ignore.

The company started with a blank canvas (but a technical team with storage innovation experience from the likes of NetApp and Data Domain), and came up with something that just does things differently. More importantly, it overcomes the performance OR space dilemma, by getting the best of both.

Its CS (converged storage) Series of arrays incorporate a new ‘Cache Accelerated Sequential Layout’ architecture that leverages flash memory alongside high capacity SATA drives to produce phenomenally high performance for a low price-tag. The data received is compressed in-line straight away with no performance hit (so, typically, saving 50% storage space); storage is in variable-size blocks with data written out sequentially in full RAID stripes – averaging 100% faster than to fixed layout disk. “Hot” (active) data is duplicated in flash memory for ultra-fast reads – but it is all stored on low-RPM but high-capacity SATA disks.

The CS210 has c8TB disk capacity, 160 or 320GB flash and 4x1GbE ports, the CS220/G 12 or 16TB and 320/640GB flash, the CS240/G 24/32TB and 640/1300GB flash – with both CS220 and CS240 either 6x1GbE ports or 2x10GbE + 2x1GbE (G models). All carry high availability features including dual hot-swappable controllers, power supplies and mirrored NVRAM.

All of this is in a 3U high cabinet, which effectively provides all the functionality, performance and capacity of three primary storage units and a backup device. Thin provisioning is all inherently included – while the GUI is designed for simple operation by IT generalists. Dan Leary, Nimble Storage’s VP of marketing, told me that scale-out connectivity, with the ability to group multiple arrays, will be available next year – without hardware changes being needed.

At the risk of boring readers, I will continue to talk technology…

The architecture converges storage, backup and disaster recovery (DR) so that near-instant delta re-direct-on-write snapshots are the backup; DR can be achieved in seconds with WAN-efficient replication as standard. This means longer retention of backups is possible (so, for instance, 30 days retention will cover 90% of recovery requests).

However, the systems are designed more than anything for virtual environments. For instance, Nimble has a close working relationship with VMware and its GUI is available inside vCenter. Instant clones of ‘gold’ storage configuration images are provided through vCenter plug-ins to help optimise matching storage with the VMs using it. The architecture directly addresses performance contention problems typically experienced when accessing storage between competing VMs.

Prices, unpublished, are said by Nimble to be typically under a third of competition for the same capacity – and twice the throughput, plus backup in seconds and recovery in minutes (instead of hours and even days). For me, such statistics make the Nimble Storage offering a real storage game-changer.

Downsides? I am not yet in a position to judge, but it almost sounds too good to be true for the mid-market at least. So, obviously, you need to prove for yourself whether I am painting a fair picture. Clearly, it has to contend with fierce competition, and not a little “FUD” I suspect. But I will watch with interest to see how this stirs the likes of NetApp, HP and Dell (Equallogic, Compellent) for instance.