Mid-range data centers have many of the same performance challenges that large enterprises do. As these organizations grow they are virtualizing servers, becoming more reliant on high transaction databases and can have Exchange or Sharepoint performance issues. The problem is they don’t have the budget or staffing to support that growth with traditional high performance storage technologies. Nimble Storage wants to be the high value, performance oriented storage solution for these markets.
Nimble uses a combination of NVRAM, Flash Storage and high capacity hard drive storage to create a system that delivers high performance at costs competitive with traditional mid-range solutions. Nimble then adds intelligence to this combination of hardware with their CASL (Cache Accelerated Sequential Layout) Architecture.
CASL is a variable sized block design that leverages NVRAM to better organize write I/O and make it sequential, virtually eliminating fragmentation. The reduction in random I/O makes CASL an ideal data layout strategy for flash based storage technologies and can even improve the lifespan of flash based storage technologies. Active data and flash eligible inbound writes are all held in the flash memory storage area, and as they become less active, are stored in the mechanical storage area.
CASL then solves a problem that is particularly troublesome to the busy mid-range IT administrator, knowing when and what data should move to the performance storage tier. The Nimble system automatically manages the data motion for the organization. Unlike tiering strategies offered by other vendors, CASL takes a more proactive approach to data location, especially when concerned with write I/O. Many automated tiering solutions force all writes to the hard drive layer and do nothing to optimize how data is written.
Nimble is also focusing on making their storage system easy to operate on a day to day basis and is investing a lot in proactive management. The system has a proactive alerting feature which sends a heartbeat message to Nimble support every ten minutes. With this information they can constantly analyze their customers’ systems and troubleshoot potential problems before they cause an outage.
Storage Swiss Take
Nimble’s use of CASL to enhance flash technology and optimize its use with mechanical drives is impressive and welcomed in the mid-range market. What impresses me more is their proactive support. As someone who used to run a technical support call center I have often said that when a customer calls for support we are already working at a disadvantage. Making them happy again is difficult to say the least. Proactive monitoring of the storage system so that problems can be fixed before they cause an outage is a much better solution and a much better way to keep customer satisfaction at very high levels.