Nebulon – It’s Server Storage Jim, But Not As We Know It

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 20.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

Nebulon recently presented at Storage Field Day 20. You can see videos of the presentation here, and download my rough notes from here. I’d also like to thank Siamak Nazari (CEO), Craig Nunes (COO), and the team for taking the time to do a follow-up briefing with me after the event. I think I took a lot more in when it was done during waking hours.

 

What Is It?

Nebulon defines its offering as “cloud-defined storage (CDS)”. It’s basically an add-in card that delivers “on-premises, server-based enterprise-class storage that consumes no server CPU / memory resources and is defined and managed through the cloud”. This is achieved via a combination of nebulon ON (the cloud management plane) and the Nebulon Services Processing Unit (SPU).

 

The SPU

The SPU is the gateway to the solution, and

  • Runs in any 2RU / 24 drive server;
  • Connects to server SSDs like any RAID card; and
  • Presents local or shared volumes to the application.

A group of SPU-equipped servers is called an “nPod”.

The SPU is built in such a fashion as to deliver some features you may not traditionally associate with host-side storage, including:

  • All-flash performance via a high perfromance 8-core 3GHz CPU and 32GB NVRAM for tier-1 performance with all-flash latencies; and
  • Zero-trust security using hardware-accelerated encryption engines, a token-based “security triangle”, and crypto-authentication chip.

The Nebulon solution is designed to scale out, with support for up to 32 heterogeneous, SPU-enabled servers per nPod connected by 2x 25Gb Ethernet ports. Note that you can scale out your compute independently of your storage needs.

 

[image courtesy of Nebulon]

Key Features

Offloads the full storage software stack from the server.

Enterprise data services

  • Data efficiency: deduplication, compression, thin provisioning
  • Data protection: encryption, erasure coding, snapshots, replication

No software dependencies

  • In-box drivers for all hypervisors and operating systems without managing multi-pathing or firmware dependencies

1.3x more performance from each server

  • Application / VM density advantage vs “restrictive” SDS

isolated fault domain

  • Storage and data services are not impacted by operating system or hypervisor reboots

 

It’s Not On, nebulon ON

Always Up-to-Date Software

The cool thing is the nebulon ON cloud control plane is always being updated and delivered as a service. You can leverage new features instantly, and there’s scope for some AI stuff to be done there too. The SPU runs a lightweight storage OS: nebOS. Nebulon says it’s fast, with infrequent updates and no disruption to service, and scheduling updates is also apparently easy.

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

I tried to come up with a witty title for this post, because the name Nebulon makes me think of Star Trek. But I’ll admit my knowledge of Star Trek runs to “Star Trekkin’” by The Firm, so I can’t really say whether that’s a valid thing. In any case, I didn’t immediately get the value that Nebulon offered, and it wasn’t until the team took me through the offering for a second time (and it wasn’t the middle of the night for me) that I think I started to get the value proposition. Perhaps it was because I’m still working with “traditional” storage vendors on a more regular basis – the exact solution that Nebulon is looking to remove from environments.

“Server storage” is an interesting thing. There are a lot of reasons why it’s a good thing, and well suited to a number of workloads. When coupled with a robust management plane and “enterprise” resilience features, server storage can have a lot of appeal, particularly if you need to scale up or down quickly. One thing that makes the Nebulon solution super interesting is the fact that the management is done primarily from the cloud offering. I confirmed with the team that nothing went bad with the storage itself when the management plane was unavailable for a period of time. I also confirmed that the typical objection handling they were seeing in the field regarding security came down to the need to do a workshop and run through the solution with the security folks to get it over the line.

This solution has a lot of appeal, depending on how you’re consuming your storage resources today. If you’re already down the track of server storage, this may not be as exciting, because you might have already done a lot of the heavy lifting and gotten things working just so. But if you’re still using a traditional storage solution and looking to change things up, Nebulon could have some appeal, particularly as it provides some cloud-based management and some level of grunt on the SPUs. The ability to couple this with your preferred server vendor will also have appeal to the bigger shops looking to leverage their buying power with the bigger server slingers. Enrico covered Nebulon here, and you can read more on cloud-defined storage here.

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