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HPE's Nimble Secondary Flash Array uses... disk?

What are they banging on about?

Analysis Having acquired Nimble Storage and its hybrid and all-flash arrays, HPE is positioning it as a kind of secondary storage. What does that mean?

Its mainstream enterprise external storage product is the StoreServ 3PAR line of ASIC-accelerated hybrid and all-flash arrays, an XP7 array OEM'd from Hitachi. The Nimble arrays are described as simple predictive and cloud-ready storage. The MSA arrays and StoreVirtual SANs are affordable storage for smaller sites, while HPE's hyperconverged storage, now bulked up with the SimpliVity acquisition, is for mid-range and enterprise needs.

So the overview external storage product positioning is straightforward: 3PAR and XP7 at the top, Nimble in the middle and MSA at the bottom.

The Nimble all-flash AF series arrays come with InfoSight management, which provides array management analytics from a cloud data centre – the predictive part of the Nimble array positioning. They also have "six nines" availability and can pump data off to a public cloud backend – the cloud-ready part of the Nimble positioning description. The Nimble Cloud Volumes service stores block data for use by AWS or Azure instances in its own cloud data centre. Such Cloud Volumes are available in the USA and being extended to other regions.

Misnamed secondary flash arrays

As an HPE unit, Nimble Storage has introduced two Secondary Flash Arrays, the SF100 and SF300, but these are misnamed. They are actually hybrid flash/disk array products, as the data sheet makes clear, with its detailing of raw capacity and flash capacity, and describing them as flash-optimised.

This data sheet says the SF Series has a capacity-optimised storage architecture – it doesn't mention the "disk" word. But the small print spells out that "all SF Series models consist of up to 21 HDD drives and 3 DFCs (holding up to 6 SSDs)". A DFC is a Dual Flash Carrier. We understand these are 2TB disk drives.

Here is a comparison chart for the AF and SF Series products:

Model Name SF100 SF300 AF1000 AF3000 AF5000 AF7000 AF9000 4 x AF9000 Cluster
Raw capacity 21 - 126TB 42 - 252TB 6 - 64TB 6 - 92TB 11 - 184TB 11 - 323TB 23 - 553TB 2,212TB
Flash 1.4 - 36TB 2.8 - 76TB 6 - 64TB 6 - 92TB 11 - 184TB 11 - 323TB 23 - 553TB 2,212TB
Disk 19.6 - 90TB 39.2 - 176TB            
Max IOPS (70/30 R/W) 20,000 40,000 35,000 50,000 120,000 230,000 300,000 1,200,000
Effective Capacity 128 - 800TB 264 - 1,600TB 20 - 165TB 20 - 335TB 40 - 680TB 40 - 1,190TB 85 - 2,045TB 8,180TB

Veeam tells us the maximum write throughput of the SF10 is 400MB/sec while the SF300 is capable of 800MB/sec. Both the SF100 and SF300 can have two expansion shelves.

Nimble has a line of CS hybrid disk/flash arrays. They had 99.9997 per cent availability. Availability for the SF Series is not listed. The SF Series has always-on inline deduplication, with an up to 8:1 or more reduction ratio. HPE says it is optimised for backup, disaster recovery and secondary data storage.

They have data protection services including snapshots, replication, cloning, and encryption. HPE suggests the backed-up data can be used to "run real workloads with flash performance, such as Dev/Test, QA, Patch testing, Reporting and Analytics. Zero-copy clones let you reuse backup data and instantly spin up hundreds of application copies."

We should not view the SF Series as comparable to all-flash secondary storage products such as FlashBlade from Pure Storage or InfiniFlash from WDC. It is a classic hybrid disk/flash array instead, simply and well-positioned by Veeam as a backup target. ®


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