Newcomer Nimble Storage Packs Primary, Backup into One Appliance

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2010-07-27

Convergence continues to be a natural evolution in enterprise IT, whether it's about entire data center systems or single units within those systems.

Newcomer Nimble Storage marked an important day in its corporate life earlier this month (July 15) when it announced two things: its own launch as a startup and the fact that it is shipping the industry's first completely converged primary iSCSI storage, backup and disaster appliance for midrange or larger enterprises.

Many companies have separate systems for all those functions. In fact, a good number of them have separate suppliers for each function.

Nimble is a newbie in the storage world, but that newness is tempered by the longtime experience of its founders-former NetApp and Data Domain executives Varun Mehta and Umesh Maheshwari, who designed the systems.

Nimble accomplished its in-the-box convergence by putting to work a new architecture called Cache-Accelerated Sequential Layout (CASL) that combines high-performance NAND flash and high-capacity, low-cost SATA disks.

The CASL architecture deduplicates and compresses data at the gateway, producing variable-sized data blocks that are reconstructed when the file is accessed. A number of companies provide deduplication at the gateway, but Nimble is the first to add compression.

The resulting data blocks are combined into larger data bundles and written to Tier 1 (flash memory) storage for access by high-performance applications, such as Oracle and SAP databases, SQL servers, and proprietary industry apps.

Dan Leary, vice president of marketing for Nimble Storage, told eWEEK that "by combining deduped and compressed data blocks into larger sequential sets, write performance to both flash memory and to SATA drives is increased tremendously."

All data is written first to the SATA drives. But the "intelligent" CASL scheme sets itself apart by being able to identify which files are accessed most frequently, then maintaining copies of those files in flash memory for faster access until they become not-so-in-demand, Leary said.

The SATA drives also can maintain up to 90 days of snapshots without the need for a separate disk-based backup device, Leary said.

Nimble Storage's CS220 appliance (750GB of NAND flash) can supply 9TB of deduped, compressed primary storage (SSD) capacity and a whopping 108TB of backup capacity on SATA drives. Nimble's CS240 appliance (1.5TB of flash) provides 18TB of Tier 1 storage and 216TB of backup.

Leary said Nimble will use best practices to configure the necessary block sizes and other policies during the initial setup. Users can make changes any time they want, he added.

"Nimble Storage's approach of utilizing flash and SATA in a way that combines primary storage and snapshot-based backup in a single solution dramatically lowers equipment costs, reduces backup and restore times from hours to seconds, and streamlines processes," said Lauren Whitehouse, senior analyst with analyst firm Enterprise Strategy Group.

eWEEK featured Nimble Storage July 14 in a slideshow on storage companies running "under the radar."

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