Nimble's all-in-one storage combines primary and backup in one box

Arrays use iSCSI, data deduplication and compression to create cheap, fast storage

Start-up Nimble Storage came out of the development stage this week with its first product -- an array that combines solid state drives (SSD) with high-capacity, cost and performance serial ATA (SATA) hard drives, acts as primary and backup storage and replicates offsite for disaster recovery.

The array, designed by former NetApp and Data Domain executives Varun Mehta and Umesh Maheshwari, Nimble's new CS-Series dramatically reduces the cost and complexity of primary and backup storage, cuts backup and restore times from hours to seconds, and provides disaster recovery.

"We combined primary and secondary storage into one box. What you get is the elimination of backup windows. We use snapshots. Backups are instant," Mehta said. "Now because we have these compressed snapshots, replication is very easy and can be done much more frequently. Also, because we're replicating from primary to primary storage, data is immediately available in a disaster."

The CS-Series arrays comes preconfigured with SSD that is used as cache to increase performance for high-I/O applications, and SATA drives for both primary storage and backup. Mehta claims the array costs users under US$3 per GB of primary storage and 25 cents per GB for backup capacity. The arrays use iSCSI as a transport protocol, allowing them to be connected via typical routers to application servers instead of more expensive and complicated Fibre Channel architectures.

The 3U high (5.25-in) arrays come with two quad-Gigabit Ethernet ports and run on multicore processors.

"This is the first solution that places flash within reach for midsize enterprises -- companies with between 200 and 2,000 employees," Mehta said.

The array come in two models, CS220, which can store up to 9TB of primary data and 108TB of backup data, and the CS240, which stores up to 18TB of primary data and 216TB of backup data. The arrays can set up with policies to store backup data for 60 or 90 days. The arrays use 7,200 RPM hard disk drives from Western Digital and X25-M SSDs from Intel Corp.

Mehta said Nimble has secured more than $17 million in venture capital funding to date, and that the technology is a logical follow-on to its two founders work with other established storage vendors.

"Both of us have a deep and extensive background in storage. I started my career at Sun over 20 years ago, where I worked on NFS. Then moved to NetApp. Then we were both privileged to have same experience working at Data Domain," Mehta said. "What we're doing is a logical extension of what we did at NetApp and Data Domain."

Dave Conde and IT director at utility industry software developer eMeter Corp. in San Mateo, Calif., has been running a CS220 with 5TB capacity in a test environment for a litter more than two months, and if things continue to go as well as they have, he plans on purchasing two of the boxes - one for primary storage and one for offsite disaster recovery.

The company has 100 physical servers and 250 virtual machines running VMware on x86 blade servers, as well as IBM AIX, Solaris and HP -UX operating systems. For storage, eMeter uses a Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN) from IBM, which is a rebranded N-series storage array from NetApp.

Conde said his Fibtre Channel SAN would benefit from a complimentary, more cost effective tier of storage.

"The very idea of collapsing some of the different storage technologies into a single device has a great appeal to me. I've been someone who for almost 5 years has not a big fan of tape.. I don't use it. It's not reliable," he said. "We were shocked with the performance of the product. We saw a very quick 8,000 or 12,000 IOPS. For what we're doing, it was pretty impressive."

Conde has yet to test the array with "a significant number of databases" that would reveal the sustained throughput rate, but he said he has been impressed so far.

"I'd guess it's about half or less the cost cost of a Fibre Channel SAN," he said. "When you compare it to serious gear from EMC , I guess it could compete."

He also said he's a strong believer Data Domain's deduplication (now EMC's) product, and when he heard Nimble's founders had worked on the technology, it gave "credence to the potential of a product there."

The CS-series arrays use an algorithm that Nimble calls a "Cache Accelerated Sequential Layout" (CASL), which enables inline data compression, data deduplication and intelligent data optimization, which determines how the data is stored and when it's replicated across a WAN.

According to Mehta, CASL allows organizations to reduce their capital expenditures for storage and backup by at least 60%, while eliminating the need for separate, disk-based backup because it's all done in a single box. The boxes and also be cobbled together using a peer-to-peer clustering architecture to increase capacity.

"Unlike other large vendors who charge more for advanced features, our customers pay one low price to get cloning, thin provisioning and WAN replication," said Dan Leary, Nimble's vice president of marketing.

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Tags disaster recoverystoragesoftwareapplicationsstorage hardwareBusiness Continuitynetwork-attached storagenetappdata domainstorage softwareStorage ManagementNetworked Storage

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Lucas Mearian

Computerworld (US)
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