All-Flash Storage Maker Nimbus Declares War on Hybrids

These are the first arrays to utilize 1x-nanometer MLC  flash, directly challenging hybrid arrays on cost-per-gigabyte for various deployments.

Solid-state storage maker Nimbus Data Systems has declared war on hybrid storage systems, claiming many of them are limited in scalability, "lumpy" in performance and simply out of date.

This is a pretty big battlefield to try to conquer. There are a lot of hybrid-type storage systems in use at the moment, thanks to the fact that many older hard-disk systems are now being supplemented with NAND flash drives for specific workloads.

Nimbus CEO Thomas Isakovich on Aug. 12 went into attack mode on all these systems by launching his company's fourth-generation, unified all-flash storage systems for enterprise and cloud environments: the Gemini F400 and F600.

Isakovich said that these are the first arrays to utilize 1x-nanometer MLC (multi-level) flash, directly challenging hybrid HDD/SSD arrays on cost-per-gigabyte for server virtualization and VDI (virtual desktop) deployments.

All-Flash Arrays Smooth Out 'Lumps'

The Gemini F400 and F600 also set new performance records in testing by beta customers, delivering up to five times greater IOPs and lower latency than competing offerings, Isakovich said. Housed in 2U boxes, the fully redundant F400 and F600 provide 3TB to 48TB of flash using hot-swappable, industry-standard form factor drive modules. Combined with Nimbus Data's inline data reduction software, one Gemini system can hold up to 385TB of data, Isakovich said.

"Nimbus is geared toward solving a problem hybrid and tiered arrays have been trying to solve in the midrange market but haven't been able to," Isakovich told eWEEK. "Virtualization, VDI (virtual desktop) databases--they all need a lot of I/O and very low latency. At times, users need to expand usable capacity, without increasing their operating costs.

"Data center space is limited and power budgets are limited; storage solutions that meet these goals have got to be affordable. Unfortunately, the hybrid and tiering approach hasn't really solved this problem."

Isakovich was talking about systems that supplement hard disk storage with NAND flash for selected workloads.

"The difficulty with these [hybrids] is that they deliver very erratic performance. If the data happens to be in the SSD, performance is good, but many times it's not, and the performance is 100 times slower," Isakovich said. "So users get very lumpy, kind of roller-coaster performance."

The key to reducing the cost of all-flash systems is reducing the cost of the flash silicon itself, Isakovich said. This is accomplished by reducing the lithography of flash. By using the potential of 1x nanometer MLC (multi-level) flash, the Gemini systems offer a 35 percent cost reduction per gigabyte over Nimbus's prior generation.

Nimbus's Secret Sauce

Isakovich said Nimbus achieved this through three advancements:

--A powerful hardware digital signal processor in each enterprise flash drive that provides the perfect amount electrical current based on the age of the flash, minimizing flash wear;

--New Nimbus Data software that reforms random small-block writes into sequential large-block writes, reducing write amplification, and

--Cell-level, rather than chip-level, wear-leveling algorithms that detect variations in flash endurance and adapt write patterns accordingly, eliminating hot spots.

By reforming small block random writes into sequential writes, the new systems put up the following numbers in beta testing, Isakovich said: Up to 1 million 100 percent write IOPs at 4KB; up to 2 million 100 percent read IOPs at 4KB; and as low as 50 usec latency at 4KB.

The new Nimbus systems feature the following connectivity options: up to 56 Gb FDR Infiniband, 40 Gigabit Ethernet, and 16 Gb Fibre Channel, with backward-compatibility to slower speeds. As a unified platform, SAN and NAS protocols are natively supported, including FC, iSCSI, NFS, SRP, and CIFS. Using RDMA technology, Gemini systems are aimed primarily at compute-intensive database use cases.

Availability and Pricing

The new Gemini F400 and F600 all-flash arrays will be generally available in Q4 2013. The F400, which features eight ports, supports 16Gb Fibre Channel and 10Gb Ethernet; a starter system costs $60,000. The F600, which features eight ports for ultra-fast Infiniband and 40Gb Ethernet, is priced at about $80,000.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 10 years and more than 3,500 stories at eWEEK, he has distinguished...