Nimble's Adaptive Flash goes bigger with beefed-up controller

The company is also introducing an All-Flash Shelf to add more solid-state capacity

Nimble Storage says flash, currently all the rage in enterprises, is best used in moderation. But just to be safe, the company's giving customers a way to use a lot more of it.

Its Adaptive Flash System includes both SSDs (solid-state drives) and HDDs (hard disk drives), and is designed to tell enterprises how much flash they'll need and let them add it incrementally. After all, for most applications, only about 10 percent of the data needs to be stored on SSDs, according to Radhika Krishnan, Nimble's vice president of product marketing and alliances.

On Wednesday, the company announced its latest flash-and-disk system, the CS700, as well as the All-Flash Shelf, an add-on component that can accommodate as much as 12.8TB of SSDs. Combined with a fully configured CS700, that adds up to 16TB of flash, and as many as four of the systems can be linked to form a single virtual platform with 64TB of flash and 1PB of total capacity. Prices will range from US$1 to $5 per gigabyte, with the bottom end coming in below the typical cost of high-speed 15,000-rpm disks.

The CS700 joins Nimble's already shipping CS200 and CS400 and brings more computing power to the game. Based on Intel's Ivy Bridge chip architecture, it can be configured with twice the number of cores, and along with improvements to software, it offers more than double the performance of the CS400, Krishnan said. Across a four-node system, that means as much as 500,000 IOPS (I/O operations per second). The step up in size and performance should help Nimble win more large-enterprise deals, she said.

All storage vendors are using flash to meet growing demands for fast data access, and many are aiming all-flash arrays at the problem. Nimble is sticking with a mixed approach and says it can make smarter use of flash through better software and increasing computing power. Part of that capability comes with InfoSight, Nimble's cloud-based management and support system, which monitors use of the storage systems and learns to predict future needs.

The software development shop at eMeter, a utility software division of Siemens, relies on Nimble for the bulk of its storage. InfoSight tells eMeter when it's time to add more flash or disks or take other steps, based on data the system collects about use of the Nimble systems, said Senior System Administrator Bryan Bond.

"That's several hours of my work a week that I don't have to do anymore," Bond said.

Nimble's latest software makes it easier to manage the systems because it can automatically balance the workload among the seven Nimble devices eMeter has, Bond said. That's important for software development, because eMeter's 150 development people in the U.S. and 75 in India often come up with new applications with unpredictable storage needs, he said.

The bigger, faster CS700 may allow eMeter to put the same amount of storage under fewer Nimble controllers, cutting space and cooling needs in the data center, Bond said.

Nimble's new hardware brings the company into the realm of all-flash array performance, and though it doesn't quite match the speed of the fastest all-flash arrays, there's a lot of overlap in how they may be used, said Taneja Group analyst Arun Taneja. The next two years will be a time of rapid change in storage, with many questions for enterprises to answer, he said.

"There's a lot of offerings that are going to be put in front of the customers," Taneja said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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