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All-Flash Array Market Has A New Hotshot: Nimble Storage Unveils New Predictive AFAs

By - Source: Toms IT Pro
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Nimble Storage is well known for its disk-based hybrid storage systems, and now the company is expanding into the all-flash market with the announcement of its Predictive All-Flash Arrays (AF Series).

Nimble claims its new AF9000 products provide up to 350,000 IOPS at sub-millisecond latencies and offer up to 2 PB of storage in a 12U rack footprint. The arrays scale up and scale out, which allows them to provide up to 1.2 million IOPS and over 8 PBs of capacity in a four-node configuration.

Nimble optimized its AF series for 3D V-NAND provided via Samsung's PM863 SSDs, which we tested thoroughly in a recent product evaluation. Nimble joins a bevy of other vendors that are employing 3D V-NAND, and the company indicated that it offers up to 20 percent more capacity with half the footprint and cost of competing eMLC-based arrays.

The arrays come in entry-level AF3000 and AF5000 offerings, a balanced price/performance AF7000 model, and the high-end AF9000. Each entry-level dual-node controller supports a 48-SSD expansion shelf, while the larger AF7000 and AF9000 models support two shelves. The only physical difference between the models is the processor and RAM, which Nimble allows users to upgrade, thus unlocking more performance.

Nimble pairs the copious storage capacity of 3D TLC NAND with its own variable block deduplication, compression and zero pattern elimination technology to provide up to an 5x capacity boost (dependent upon the type of data stored). The system also offers thin provisioning and zero-copy clones to boost usable storage capacity, and its inline data reduction techniques reduce wear on the underlying flash resource.  Nimble storage indicated that its arrays offer better scalability than competitors, such as Pure Storage, which isn't built upon a scale-out architecture and will require five controllers (compared to one from Nimble) to provide a similar amount of capacity.

The arrays also use 10 to 30 times less memory (via its memory-efficient metadata processing techniques that reduces hash table overhead) than competing all-flash arrays, which is a key component to reducing cost. This enhancement also allows Nimble to deploy fewer controllers into the overall hierarchy. 

Nimble ties these features into a singular architecture that can employ its hybrid offerings to provide backup, disaster recovery and archival services at a reduced cost. Nimble employs a number of techniques to offer six nines of availability, such as triple-parity RAID that survives the loss of three SSDs without losing data.

Nimble points to this technique as a significant differentiator; its competitors can only survive the loss of two SSDs. The company also employs an intra-drive parity scheme that is similar to erasure coding, which allows it to recover from sector or bit errors on individual SSDs. One of Nimble's key design tenets is to enable users to linearly scale performance and capacity as they add more shelves and controllers. The company combines these features with its InfoSight Predictive Analytics platform to offer predictive support. The InfoSight platform allows Nimble to analyze sensor data from its arrays to predictively diagnose problems with the array and the surrounding infrastructure.

Nimble has been supplying storage products for 6 years and touts its 7,500-customer install base as an indicator of its success. The company recently commissioned an NPS (Net Promoter Score) survey by Precision Sample. Nimble scored an NPS of 85, which is higher than even the score 79 NPS attained by Pure Storage, which was better than the customer satisfaction ratings of any other company at the time (it even surpassed the Apple iPhone).

Nimble is taking a direct shot at the leaders of the all-flash segment. The all-flash segment is increasingly hard to penetrate due to the refined software features and tremendous performance offered by the incumbents. Nimble's long-standing history in the hybrid market provides it a mature customer base and extensive knowledge, and if its claims pan out, the company is in a good position to secure a beachhead in the hottest segment in the data center.

The new series of Nimble all-flash arrays is available for order now, and all of the enhanced data services features are included under its single-licensing model.

Paul Alcorn is a Contributing Editor for Tom's IT Pro, covering Storage. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.