Nimble Storage Announces Predictive Flash Platform

Disclaimer: I was recently a guest at Nimble Storage‘s Predictive Flash Platform announcement.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Nimble Storage. 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.

Nimble Storage recently invited me to attend their Predictive Flash Platform launch event (2016.02.23) in San Francisco. You can download a copy of my raw notes here. I’ll be doing a more detailed disclaimer post in the near future [update – you can find that here], and I hope to be diving into some of the tech behind this announcement in further detail in the next little while.


Nimble Predictive Flash Platform

The Nimble Storage Predictive Flash Platform is comprised of three components:

  • InfoSight – provides predictive analytics;
  • Unified Flash Fabric – provides the ability to manage adaptive arrays and AFAs as one platform; and
  • Timeless Storage – Nimble Storage aims to deliver extremely high levels of customer satisfaction.



I’ve waxed lyrical about InfoSight previously, and remain a big fan of the product. My favourite quote comes from Rod Bagg – “InfoSight collects and analyses more sensor data points every four hours, than there are starts in the galaxy”. Which is pretty cool stuff. Nimble Storage uses InfoSight to

  • Prevent issues and downtime;
  • Deliver cross-stack root cause analysis of issues; and
  • Predict future needs and future planning.

Nimble Storage tell me that 9/10 issues are detected by them before customers know about them. They also say that it’s less than 1 minute of hold time before you get to speak to a Level 3 support engineer when there is a problem. I’ve spoken to a few customers over time, and all of them have told me that the customer experience has been nothing but stellar.


Unified Flash Fabric

I had a chance to talk to Dan Leary, VP of Products, Solutions and Alliances, about what Unified Flash Fabric really was. The key element of the solution is that it provides a logical mechanism to tie together up to four All Flash and Adaptive Flash arrays into a single architecture with common data services. The key here is that NimbleOS is common across the platforms, so you can mix and match.This also provides the ability to “Scale-to-fit” – providing the customer with flexible and non-disruptive scalability. In terms of scale up, you can add disk as required, whilst also adding the ability to non-disruptively upgrade the controllers to add CPU and memory as required. You can also scale out with up to 4 arrays managed as one. In my opinion, the most interesting use case here is data mobility, with Nimble Storage providing the capability to move data from an adaptive system to the all flash system in the same cluster, then remove the adaptive system from the cluster without downtime. Here’s an image from the Nimble Storage website that provides an illustration of how you might want to move your applications about.


If anyone has real-world experience with this data mobility technology (sure, it’s probably a bit early) I’d be happy to buy you a beverage to learn more about how it’s worked for you.


Timeless Storage

Timeless Storage sounds a little like Pure Storage’s Evergreen Storage approach. Customers seem to be fed up with bleeding cash every few years, so it’s nice to see the likes of Pure Storage and Nimble Storage coming up with these types of new approaches.

Nimble Storage state that the “Timeless Guarantee provides investment protection and upgrade certainty”. The crux of the programme is:

  • All-inclusive software licensing
  • Flat support prices in years 4 and 5
  • Option for new controller after 3 years
  • Capex or storage-on-demand
  • Only pay for the storage you use
  • Scale up or down to meet demand



Yep. Four new models, to be precise. You can view a PDF of the data sheet here. Here’s a photo of Suresh Vasudevan and Varun Mehta unveiling the array at the launch. I love that Varun looks so happy. If you ever get a chance to sit down with him, take the time. He’s wonderful to talk to, super smart and a mad gadget guy in his spare time.

Nimble_Storage - Varun Mehta

Here’s a picture of what one of the new arrays looks like.


And here’re some speeds and feeds (taken from the Nimble Storage website).

Specifications AF3000 AF5000 AF7000 AF9000 4X AF9000
Raw Capacity (TB) 6-92 / 5-83 11-184 / 10-167 11-323 / 10-293 23-553 / 20-503 2212 / 2012
Usable Capacity (TB)(TiB) 4-67 / 3-61 8-136 / 7-123 8-238 / 7-217 17-409 / 15-372 1636 / 1488
Effective Capacity (TB)(TiB) 20-335 / 15-305 40-680 / 35-615 40-1190 / 35-1085 85-2045 / 75-1860 8180 / 7440
Max # of Expansion Shelves 1 1 2 2 8
Raid Level Triple+ Parity RAID Triple+ Parity RAID Triple+ Parity RAID Triple+ Parity RAID Triple+ Parity RAID
Max IOPS 4k 100% Read 60,000 140,000 270,000 350,000 1,400,000
Max IOPS 4k 70% Read/30% Write 50,000 120,000 230,000 300,000 1,200,000
iSCSI/Mgmt 1Gb/10Gb ports per array 4 4 4 4 16
Optional iSCSI 1Gb/10Gb ports per array 4 or 8 4 or 8 4 or 8 4 or 8 Up to 32
Optional FC 8Gb/16Gb ports per array 4 or 8 4 or 8 4, 8 or 12 4, 8 or 12 Up to 48
Power Requirement (Watts) 600W / 0.667kVA 700W / 0.778kVA 800w / 0.889kVA 900W / 1kVA 3600W / 4kVA
Thermal (BTU) 1,965 2,293 2,620 2,948 11,792


New features?


The new arrays have been designed for cost-optimised 3D-NAND through the use of advanced flash endurance management, large-scale coalescing and integrated hot-sparing. You can read more about the Samsung PM863 Series SSDs here. As a result of this approach, Nimble Storage claims that it provides for:

  • A 7 year SSD lifespan;
  • Increased performance; and
  • 20% more useable capacity (relative to other systems on the market).


Dual-flash Carrier

One of the cool things that has been introduced as part of the AF-series array is the new Nimble Storage Dual-Flash Carrier (DFC), with the capacity of each slot doubled to a total of 48 SSDs per array and expansion shelf. Each individual SSD is hot swappable and can be installed or removed from the DFC independently. Nimble Storage has also “qualified five Samsung PM863 Series SSDs, ranging in capacity from 240GB to 4TB” across the AF-Series.


Data Reduction

Nimble Storage were careful to use the term “effective capacity” a number of times, with arrays shipping with 503TB of RAW storage being positioned as having 2PB of (marketing) capacity. The good news is that Nimble have worked in a number of data reduction features (variable block deduplication, variable block compression, zero pattern elimination) that they say leads to 5x or more data reduction. I spoke to one of their customers, Justin Giardina (CTO of iland) and he confirmed that their beta testing of the platform had yielded some very positive results. As always, there are a tonne of variables that can impact your success with deduplication, so if you’re betting the farm on this, it’s best to be conservative, and talk to your local Nimble Storage folks or partner about what you really need to get the job done.


Non-stop Availability

Nimble Storage have been pretty focussed on “non-stop availability”, and have introduced a couple of new features to support this goal:

  • Triple+ parity RAID – tolerates three simultaneous drive failures plus intra-drive protection and integrated sparing
  • Integrated data protection – SmartSnap and SmartReplicate
  • SmartSecure Encryption – application-granular encryption and secure data shredding


Further Reading and Final Thoughts

You can read Vipin’s thoughts on the announcement here, while Stephen has a comprehensive write-up here, and El Reg covered it here. You can read a good blog post by Suresh that summarises it all nicely here. A few press releases have been made available as well, and you can check them out here, here, and here. A common reaction to the news of Nimble Storage’s announcement has been “well, it’s about time”. There’s a lot of noise in the AFA market, which is why I think that software like InfoSight makes the Nimble Storage solution a lot more interesting. If you’re in the market for an AFA (even if you don’t need it), I recommend having a chat to Nimble Storage.