Nimble Storage currently offers a four different storage appliances under their CS product line, including the CS220, CS220G, CS240 and the CS240G - the primary differences across the appliances are raw storage capacity, flash capacity and connectivity speed. The CS220 offers 12Tbytes of raw storage capacity, while the CS240 offers 24Tbytes of raw capacity, adding a G to the model number changes the port count from six Gbe ports to a pair of 10Gbe ports and a pair of Gbe ports.
However, it is what the units share in common that sets Nimble Storage’s products apart from the competition - that commonality can be summed by two advanced technologies, The Nimble Protection Manager and CASL (Cache Accelerated Sequential Layout). It is those two technologies that transform what would be a Typical iSCSI SAN product into something that is much more than the sum of its parts. In other words, CASL supercharges performance, while The Nimble Protection Manger creates an application-aware, protected storage paradigm that combines both tier 1 and tier 2 storage in a single appliance, that incorporates integrated backup, snapshot capabilities and offsite replication.
A Closer Look at the CS Series:
I was able to put a few of Nimble Storage’s CS appliances through some hands on testing at their San Jose Offices. There, Nimble Storage had a test lab that consisted of several CS devices, along with the associated connectivity hardware and several enterprise level servers. A multitude of OSes (virtual and physical derivatives) were running in the testing environment on enterprise level server hardware. Connectivity provided included both 10G and 1G Ethernet.
I primarily focused on the CS220G and CS240G models during setup, provisioning and testing. First and foremost, I was impressed with the quality of the physical appliances, which are based upon industry standard hardware from a major server hardware vendor - the rack mountable enclosures were made of quality components, featuring a relatively thick case that resists flexing and a tool less design using heavy duty latches and bays.
The units also incorporated fail-over capabilities, such as redundant, hot swappable power supplies, multiple cooling fans and drive bays. In other words, these units are built to last and if they were to fail, repair should be quick and easy.
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 incorporated into the appliances.
The CS series prove to be feature rich and incorporate several capabilities that set it apart from other storage appliances. For example, the devices include:
- 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, Microsoft SharePoint and other performance sensitive VMs.
- Instant Backups and Restores: The devices incorporate high-density drives, which feature 20x capacity optimization, providing for cost effective 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 VM 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 20x faster than typical SAN replication which greatly reduces WAN TCO.
- Simplified Management: Nimble’s intuitive UI 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 those above features and some others that turn Nimble’s devices into multi-tiered 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 3rd party software and hardware to support tier 2 requirements.
I found initial installation and configuration of the CS-Series to be quite easy, thanks to the enhanced UI, which features wizards and templates to make getting started easy. When it came to provisioning new storage, the process proved incredibly easy, just requiring 3 steps to make it happen. One really innovative feature is the availability of “pre-tuned” storage profiles to maximize performance and resiliency for particular applications. 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 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 - here you can pick a predefined snapshot schedule to occur at predetermined intervals. For example, you can select a schedule that triggers snapshots automatically every five minutes for a busy SQL database, and replicates them hourly - providing 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 to ensure proper quiescence, to prevent corruption or improper synchronization of logs, tables and database records.
Most would think taking a snapshot every five minutes would waste countless gigabytes of storage space, and for most products that assumption would be correct - however, Nimble Storage uses a different methodology to store snapshots, one that reduces storage space significantly. A combination of compression, variable block length and storage algorithms reduce the amount of space needed by a snapshot significantly. That allows administrators to easily store as much as 90 days worth of snapshots on the device. Also, the architecture involved allows snapshots to be completed almost instantaneously.
Volume cloning is another feature that proves to be quite valuable. Nimble Storage calls the process a “zero-copy clone”, because the cloning process works hand in hand with snapshots and uses snapshot data to create a new, cloned volume - that eliminates the lengthy process of copying all of the data off of an active volume to build a clone. Volume cloning could potentially save hundreds of gigabytes and 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 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 - minimizing interruption to operations, turning from a disaster recovery scenario to a business continuity scenario with just a few simple commands.
All things considered, I found Nimble Storage’s take on SAN technology refreshing, and I found the ease of use and flexibility to be just what the typical enterprise is looking for.Tags: Cloud Computing, compliance, fast ethernet, 10Gbe, web, GUI, Nimble, BC, Disater Recovery, Backup, virtualization, Storage, SAN