Nimble’s Adaptive Flash extends the range of Hybrid Arrays

Choosing a storage system has always involved tradeoffs, often between performance and capacity. This has been the case with flash-based systems where buyers have typically decided on hybrid arrays when capacity was more important and all-flash arrays when performance was key. Nimble has shifted that decision point with a new hybrid flash array, the CS700, and an approach they call “Adaptive Flash”. These technologies make it possible to use one system to accommodate more workloads, even those that have traditionally been the domain of all-flash arrays.

CS700

This is Nimble’s new high-end platform that provides more performance and much more potential flash capacity to cover a wider range of high-performance workloads. Nimble has upgraded the CPU to Intel’s IvyBridge processors, producing 125K IOPS per 12-hard disk, 4-SSD system. They’ve also added a triple-parity RAID feature that uses the hot spare as a third parity drive, providing the ability to sustain an additional drive failure without impacting capacity. According to Nimble, this feature doesn’t impact performance either.

All-flash Shelf

Nimble also offers the option of populating a drive shelf with all SSDs, increasing the maximum flash capacity to 16TB for a single system. The all-flash shelf is comprised of 16 SSDs in 4-drive packs, giving users the flexibility to populate the shelf with 4-packs of different types of solid state drives. With this additional flash capacity the system can cover a much wider range of high performance workloads, even those once reserved for all-flash arrays.

4-Node Cluster

Up to four CS700 modules can be clustered to create a system with 64TB of total flash and performance of over 500K IOPS that can scale seamlessly up to 1PB of capacity. With this increased cache and greater total capacity, along with an ability to support more working data sets, the CS700 is a good storage consolidation platform.

Adaptive Flash

Adaptive Flash refers to Nimble’s ability to address a wider range of use cases with a single platform. Part of this ability comes from Nimble’s core CASL technology and from InfoSight, the data collection and analysis system that drives sophisticated analytics and modeling.

CASL

Cache Accelerated Sequential Layout is a file system architecture that’s designed for flash caching. With CASL, writes come into NVRAM where they’re acknowledged, compressed and organized into sequential data stripes before being written to disk, with a copy of ‘cache worthy’ data placed on flash. The process dramatically improves write performance to HDDs, but this sequential layout is ideal for flash as well, as it eliminates write amplification. CASL’s write optimized data layout maximizes flash resources and allows the system to scale performance and capacity independently, without disruption.

InfoSight

InfoSight captures operational information from the Nimble array to support predictive health and maintenance, but it also provides insight into increasing performance, efficiency and optimal scaling configurations. InfoSight gives users the ability see how workloads are affecting the storage volumes, which ones are cache starved and which may have too much cache.

It also provides information on capacity and controller CPU utilization, essentially the intelligence required to adjust the mix of flash and configure the capacity and performance levels of the system for greater efficiency. Then, when it comes time to upgrade the system, administrators have the right information. This doesn’t suggest they can control these resources like they were turning up a volume knob, but instead, can better understand their storage demand profiles, at a workload level, so the system can be scaled in the most efficient manner.

This kind of intelligence is important to optimizing Nimble systems which have so much flexibility, from the drive level (HDDs or SSDs), to the system level (drive shelves or all-flash shelves) or the cluster level by combining systems. Nimble calls this “scale to fit”, adding capacity, performance or a combination of the two in the right ratios as dictated by InfoSight.

StorageSwiss Take

With more cache and a four-node configuration, this new storage array can support an even larger hybrid system capacity – up to 1PB, according to the company. But that same 64TB of flash and a half million IOPS can also make the system look a lot like an all-flash array. This extends the range of use cases the system can support significantly, up from capacity-centric applications that hybrid arrays have traditionally been used for, well into the realm of all-flash arrays. For environments that need that flexibility, like those trying to consolidate different kinds of workloads, Nimble’s new adaptive flash technology could be a good fit.

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Eric is an Analyst with Storage Switzerland and has over 25 years experience in high-technology industries. He’s held technical, management and marketing positions in the computer storage, instrumentation, digital imaging and test equipment fields. He has spent the past 15 years in the data storage field, with storage hardware manufacturers and as a national storage integrator, designing and implementing open systems storage solutions for companies in the Western United States.  Eric earned degrees in electrical/computer engineering from the University of Colorado and marketing from California State University, Humboldt.  He and his wife live in Colorado and have twins in college.

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