Ease of Use Sets It Apart
Although the hardware proves to be very important, the real story behind Nimble Storage's products comes down to ease of use, provisioning, features, performance, reliability and management-all of which are based upon Nimble Storage's firmware and software, which are incorporated into the appliances. The CS series proves to be feature-rich and incorporates several capabilities that set it apart from other storage appliances. For example, the devices include:I found initial installation and configuration of the CS-Series to be quite easy, thanks to the enhanced UI, which features wizards and templates. When it came to provisioning new storage, the process proved incredibly easy, just requiring three steps to make it happen. One really innovative feature is the ability to "pre-tune" defined storage to maximize performance and resiliency for a particular application. For example, let's say you are creating a data store for an exchange database. You can select from a list of predefined policies that set parameters critical to performance and reliability. In other words, Nimble Storage has done all of the experimentation for you, offering optimized settings that eliminate the need for an administrator to tune a storage environment. That capability proves to be quite advantageous when working with a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) or other types of virtual machines that use virtual hard drives. Here, virtual hard drives can be created almost instantly and optimized for use with a virtual machine. What's more, the unit's ability to instantly clone volumes and trigger Tier 2 backups further speeds virtual machine operations. That same ease of configuration applies to most of the other capabilities offered by the devices, including cloning and snapshots. Snapshots are used to create "instantaneous" backups, and the IT administrator can define the snapshots to occur at predetermined intervals or manually. In one scenario, you can set up a snapshot to occur automatically every five minutes for a busy SQL database, which provides a high level of protection. What's more, the device is intelligent about how to perform a snapshot that may have file dependencies. Snapshots can contain grouped-together volumes as a single logical unit, which ensures proper quiescence and prevents corruption or improper synchronization of logs, tables and database records. Many IT pros think taking a snapshot every five minutes would waste countless gigabytes of storage space. For most backup and storage products, that's correct. However, Nimble Storage uses a different methodology to store snapshots, which significantly reduces storage space. A combination of compression, variable block length and storage algorithms reduce the amount of space needed by a snapshot significantly. This combination allows administrators to store as much as 90 days' worth of snapshots on the device. Also, the architecture allows for the instantaneous creation of manual snapshots. Volume cloning is another valuable feature. Nimble Storage calls the process a "zero-copy clone" since the cloning process works hand-in-hand with snapshots. It also uses the snapshot data to create a new, cloned volume, which eliminates the lengthy process of copying all of the data off an active volume to build a clone. Volume cloning could potentially save hours for those deploying virtual servers or other virtualization technologies, allowing a volume for each new instance to be created without delay, on demand. I also took a look at the CS-Series fail-over and continuity capabilities, and I was most impressed with the site-to-site fail-over capabilities. Here, I created a SQL database, which was replicated on a second unit separated by a virtual LAN (VLAN) used to mimic a remote site. After disabling the "on-site" unit, I was able to, in a matter of minutes, mount and run the replicated volume on the remote site. Under this scenario, the interruption to the regular workflow was minimized and a few simple commands later, I was able to turn back from the disaster test to a regular business operation.
- Flash-Accelerated Primary Storage Performance: The Nimble CS-Series uses intelligent flash memory management and application-optimized performance profiles to accelerate I/O and reduce latency. That makes the CS-Series arrays ideal for primary storage applications such as Microsoft Exchange, business-critical databases, and Microsoft SharePoint.
- Instant Backups and Restores: The devices incorporate high-density drives, which feature 20X capacity optimization, providing for data retention of as much as 90 days on a single array. Backups and restores are almost instantaneous, and there is no need to move data to or from tape or other backup media.
- Application-Integrated Data Protection: Nimble Protection Manager (NPM) manages application-consistent backups for all application data residing on Nimble arrays, as well as virtual machine system-consistent backups and replicas for virtualized environments. With NPM, data can be instantly restored from any available backup, accelerating and simplifying application recovery.
- Fast Offsite Disaster Recovery: Nimble's DR solution is powered by WAN-efficient replication to an offsite Nimble array, making it up to 20 times faster than typical SAN replication.
- Simplified Management: Nimble's intuitive user interface simplifies managing separate storage, backup, and disaster recovery devices by using predefined application and data protection policies.
- Enhanced Reliability: Nimble Storage arrays are designed for high availability and meet the demands of today's business-critical applications. Nimble arrays feature fully redundant hardware components, plus high-availability software and support features such as comprehensive checksums, proactive data scrubbing, autosupport (email home) and hardware monitoring.
It is these features and some others that turn Nimble's devices into multitiered storage solutions, which meet Tier 1 and Tier 2 (primary storage and archival storage) definitions. Most other SAN products only meet the Tier 1 definition and need the addition of third-party software and hardware to support Tier 2 requirements.