Nimble Storage Takes On EMC, Pure Storage With First All-Flash Storage Array

Nimble Storage has expanded its storage line card with the introduction of its first-ever all-flash storage array, and is positioning its new solution against better-known all-flash arrays including EMC's XtremIO and Pure Storage's FlashArray//m.

The San Jose, Calif.-based vendor, best-known for its series of high-performance hybrid flash arrays and for a series of challenges pitting those arrays against competitors' all-flash arrays, on Tuesday climbed aboard the all-flash storage train itself with the introduction of the Nimble AF series of all-flash arrays.

The Nimble AF series comes with the technologies that have made Nimble Storage's hybrid flash arrays successful, including integration with the company's InfoSight predictive analysis technology, its Unified Flash Fabric to allow all-flash and hybrid arrays work together, and no need for future forklift upgrades, said Ajay Singh, Nimble's vice president of product management.

[Related: All-Flash Storage Vs. Hybrid Storage: Weighing Workload Against Cost]

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"We are leapfrogging the competition," Singh told CRN.

That may be true, said Dave Hiechel, president and CEO of Eagle Technologies, a Salina, Kan.-based solution provider whose storage business is split 50-50 between Nimble Storage and Dell.

"We've been holding off on signing with all-flash storage vendors like Pure Storage, Tegile and SolidFire, because I think Nimble and its file system would do well with all-flash storage," Hiechel told CRN. "I think we're going to get some amazing numbers from Nimble."

Nimble has an advantage over its smaller all-flash array competitors, thanks to its mature solution, Hiechel said. "Nimble tools work very well," he said. "The company has a very mature solution set. This new array will take off for us."

Hiechel said he is not surprised to see Nimble Storage finally enter the all-flash array market. "We've seen Dell be successful with all-flash arrays," he said. "The Pure Storages and SolidFires of the world are doing well. Nimble has been offering hybrid arrays as a cost-effective alternative, so it will be interesting to see how the new dynamic works."

Hiechel said Nimble Storage's entry into the all-flash storage array market could also help boost that company's hybrid flash array business.

As an analogy, Hiechel cited the case of EqualLogic before it was acquired by Dell. At one time, Hiechel said, his company sold a lot of EqualLogic E-series arrays with 7200-rpm hard drives, but sales fell when competitors offered iSCSI arrays with 10,000-rpm hard drives. But when EqualLogic later introduced its own 10,000-rpm hard drive arrays, his sales of arrays with 7,200-rpm drives grew because customers suddenly discovered they didn't need 10,000-rpm speed, he said.

"The new arrays validated what we were doing," Hiechel said. "Maybe the same will happen to Nimble Storage. Having all-flash arrays will validate their hybrid flash array strategy. In reality, most customers not need all-flash storage."

The Nimble AF-series all-flash arrays are available in four versions. The entry level AF3000 provides up to 50,000 IOPS of performance with up to 92 TBs of raw capacity and 335 TBs of effective capacity after deduplication and compression.

The AF5000 can be configured with up to 184 TBs of raw all-flash capacity or 680 TBs of effective capacity to provide up to 120,000 IOPS of performance.

The AF7000 fits up to 323 TBs of raw all-flash capacity or 1.2 petabytes of effective capacity in a 12U rack to provide up to 230,000 IOPS of performance.

At the high end, the AF9000 fits up to 553 TBs of raw capacity in a 12U rack, providing up to 2.0 petabytes of effective capacity and performance of up to 300,000 IOPs. In a scale-out cluster, that translates to up to 1.2 million IOPS, Singh said.

Singh said EMC XtremIO also scales to up to 1.2 million IOPS, but with a maximum of 1.6 petabytes of clustered capacity, compared with 8.2 petabytes for the Nimble AF-series. In a single-array configuration, the Pure Storage FlashArray//m also provides 300,000 IOPS, but with a maximum of 400 TBs of effective capacity, compared with the AF series 1.2 petabytes of effective capacity, he said.

Nimble Storage has built some key technologies into its AF series, Singh said.

The first is the company's InfoSight Predictive Analytics technology, which collects telemetry data on a continuous basis from customers' arrays, with their permission, he said. "This lets us maintain great support for customers," he said. "We've maintained five nines [99.999 percent] uptime for three years, and are now creeping towards six nines."

The second is Unified Flash Fabric, a new architecture that allows all-flash arrays to scale both performance and capacity separately, take advantage of the lowest-cost flash chips available, and replicate data between flash and hybrid arrays, Singh said.

"We're using vertical NAND flash," he said. "Samsung is the leader here, with technology that stacks flash chips on top of each other to increase density. We're taking the lowest-duration flash, but still offering a seven-year warranty on the flash."

The third is a new offering called Timeless Storage. Singh said that Nimble Storage has been providing an all-inclusive license for its software, and has ensured that support prices never increase during the life of the support contract.

New to Timeless Storage is an option to let customers purchase a new storage controller upgrade with a guaranteed minimum performance boost of 25 percent after three years. Nimble Storage is also now offering storage on demand, a part of the Timeless Storage program that lets customers pay according to how many TBs of data they use in a month instead of based on total raw capacity purchased.

"If use goes down, customers will pay less," he said. "We're making an accelerated bet. For most customers, use doesn't go down."

Leonard Iventosch, Nimble Storage's vice president of worldwide channels, told CRN that his company has made a strong commitment to the channel with the introduction of its all-flash arrays, and with all of its solutions.

Over the next 12 months, Nimble Storage plans to build out a program specific to large national partners, instead of treating such partners on a local basis like most startups do, Iventosch said. The company will also introduce a program to treat service provider partners like any channel partner, and will also introduce a program targeting systems integrators.

"We are a 100 percent channel company," he said. "Not 99 percent. The channel culture here is not broken. Our channel commitment is rock-solid."

Nimble's entry into the all-flash storage array market will make this a good time to take a second look at the vendor, Eagle's Hiechel said.

"Nimble for a long time challenged competitors' all-flash arrays against its hybrid arrays," he said. "We participated with Nimble in and won several of those challenges. Now imagine Nimble with its own all-flash array in the market."