Nimbus intros diskless storage array

All-flash, no knickers disks

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Nimbus Data Systems is introducing a diskless, all-flash unified file and block storage product starting at less than $25,000. Oh, and it does inline deduplication.

The S-class is unique: a diskless iSCSI, NFS and CIFS-access network-attached storage array with up to 100TB of NAND flash capacity that comes with primary data deduplication. Where has this come from?

Nimbus is a 30-person firm that introduced its first iSCSI pizzabox storage product in 2006. It added snapshot and replication to its HALO O/S in 2006 and NFS and CIFS access last year. It licenses its iSCSI stack to EMC's Iomega unit and IBM's Tivoli division. The firm is a startup, founded by CEO Tom Isakovich and some angel investors - no venture capital is involved - and is profitable but small.

Selling a unified storage box if you are a small supplier is a hard game these days. For the Reldatas and Nimbuses of this world the news that EMC is going to merge its CLARiiON SAN arrays with its Celerra filers does not bring joy to the heart. Nor does the news that HP is pursuing a converged infrastructure (CI) agenda which includes having SAN block storage and network attached storage (NAS) as software services running on the same basic hardware with common data management services on top.

That nicely validates niche firms' product stances, but the huge marketing budgets and channel presence of the big dogs tends to drown out alternative offerings. It's a pain in the rear for Nimbus, which has been steadily enhancing its original 1U enclosure, 4-drive, iSCSI pizzabox since it was launched. CEO Tom Isakovich decided to stay ahead of the curve by going with flash now.

The S-class is Nimbus' iSCSI, NFS and CIFS pizza box redefined. It has two quad-core Nehalem processors running Nimbus' 64-bit HALO O/S. This provides a single virtual pool of storage with capacity added on demand, thin provisioning, snapshots with unlimited rollback points, continuous local and remote replication, and the inline deduplication, made possible because there is no disk access time to worry about. It's hash-based and allied with compression.

The S-class has a 6Gbit/s SAS backplane. Connected to this are up to 504 redundant flash blades, using Micron enterprise-grade multi-level cell flash. These blades are 28 per cent over-provisioned and have write amplification and wear-levelling functionality. Isakovich says the flash has a 30,000 write cycle life and: "The write endurance issue simply doesn't exist."

The RAID systems protects against two flash blade failures and rebuilds using live spares are done in a, well, a flash. The box connects to the outside world by either 10GbitE or 1GbitE and it has TCP/IP offload capability.

The reliability features include redundant network controllers, dual processors, mirrored system memory, redundant power supplies and fans, and dual operating system images. Auto-negotiating quad network ports enable users to migrate from Gigabit Ethernet connectivity to 10GbitE without any downtime.

A 2U S-class rackshelf consumes 80 watts and, Nimbus says, "delivers uncached IO performance comparable to 2,080 15K rpm drives that would require 8 full datacenter racks and 37,000 watt of power".

The performance in IOPS terms and compared to disk-based iSCSI/NFS arrays is stellar. It does up to 1.35 million uncached IOPS with a 41Gbit/s throughput. It can deliver 6,000 IOPS/watt or up to 675,000 IOPS per data centre floor tile.

Nimbus says the S-class "propels application performance, simplifies IT operations, and drives down data centre costs for years to come". Part of the simplification comes from the lack of any need at all for storage array tiering, caching, or short-stroking techniques, each often found in disk-based systems.

ESG analyst Mark Peters was impressed: "Nimbus challenges our certainty that we fully know what is reasonable and possible in the storage business ... The company's approach runs counter to the accepted approach of the storage business over decades. ... Everyone - Nimbus included - knows that real world results will be the clincher, but immediate product availability means we are close to getting those, and if the S-class results are even close to its promises then this product is going to garner a great deal of favorable and amazed attention.”

Nimbus says the product is good for enterprise-wide virtualisation, VDI deployments, databases and OLTP, and other I/O-intensive HPC and rich media applications, and is a drop-in replacement for hard disk drive arrays.

The obvious competition is networked flash-based products like TMS' RamSan and Violin's 1010 Memory Appliance. Nimbus says these have "very limited software and [are] unaffordable".

If real-world S-class performance lives up to Nimbus' claims and reliability is solid then the product will comprehensively outperform every single spinning disk-based, unified storage box out there, and blow away many Fibre Channel-based storage arrays too. Nimbus will have completely rewritten the unified storage array rules.

The product is available now from Nimbus’ worldwide set of integration and distribution partners. A 2.5TB model with a full HALO storage operating system license is $24,995; a 5 TB model is $39,995. Each system comes with a standard one year warranty (upgradable to three or five years) and optional 24x7x365 four-hour onsite service. ®

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