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Howard Marks
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Nimbus Goes All-In For SSD

In the venture-driven, "grow-faster-or-go-home" storage world, it's gratifying when a company is run like the small business that it is. Nimbus Data systems has been selling iSCSI disk arrays and unified storage systems for about five years, and they've been making money despite their low profile. Now, like Cortez burning his ships upon his arrival in the New World, Nimbus data CEO Tom Iskovich is betting the company that the market is ready for all SSD storage systems, discontinuing their curre

In the venture-driven, "grow-faster-or-go-home" storage world, it's gratifying when a company is run like the small business that it is. Nimbus Data systems has been selling iSCSI disk arrays and unified storage systems for about five years, and they've been making money despite their low profile. Now, like Cortez burning his ships upon his arrival in the New World, Nimbus data CEO Tom Iskovich is betting the company that the market is ready for all SSD storage systems, discontinuing their current models with spinning discs. I've written before how I thought an array of reasonably priced SSDs might be a better idea than a few STEC ZEUSiops at $10,000 or more a pop.  Now Nimbus has proven me right.

I haven't yet had a chance to bring an S-class -- which frankly sounds too much like a Mercedes-Benz for my taste -- into the lab to test Nimbus' claims of 500,000 IOPS for a base 2.5TB system and 1.3 million IOPS for the 100TB full rack version. But even if it turns out to be half as fast as Nimbus claims, that's still a bargain.

Nimbus is lowering the price by building their own solid state drives using Micron's extended-life MLC flash chips. While these devices don't deliver the 100,000 erase cycle lifetimes typical of the SLC flash typically used for enterprise storage, their 30,000 cycle projected lives are a big step up from the 10,000 cycles the MLC typically used in laptop SSds can deliver. To put things in perspective to run a 2.5TB S-class through 30,000 cycles a customer would have to write 41TB a day for five years. Nimbus further boosts flash-endurance by over provisioning the system by 28 percent to give wear-leveling algorithms in the controllers and their HALO OS some breathing room, as well as equipping the S-class with 48GB of RAM for caching so repeated writes never make it to the flash devices in the first place.

To put Nimbus's pricing in perspective, let's look at some of the other options that a mid-size company would consider. The base S-class costs $10/RAW GB or a nickel per IOP.  A Dell Equallogic PS600XV with 16 300GB 15K RPM drives costs about the same on a dollar per GB basis but delivers less than 1/10th the IOPS. Looking for flash performance?  $25,000 might get you three 200GB enterprise flash drives from EMC for your Clariion or an Equallogic PS6000s with eight 50GB SLC SSDs. Way less than 1/5th the capacity of the Nimbus.

But the S-class isn't just a dumb flash array. Nimbus's HALO OS -- shipping for years with spinning disks -- supports thin-provisioning, synchronous and async replication through a dedicated 1Gbps Ethernet port, multi-path I/O and all the IP storage protocols a sane person could want from CIFS and NFS to iSCSI. To top it all off, while Nimbus doesn't use ZFS they do include ZFS/WAFL data deduplication. Nimbus has even thought through the network interfaces, equipping the S-class with four 10Gbps Ethernet ports then providing 1000Base-T SFP+ transceivers so that users who haven't yet made the leap to 10Gbps Ethernet can use the system out of the box and just swap transceivers when they get a 10Gbps switch.

Howard Marks is founder and chief scientist at Deepstorage LLC, a storage consultancy and independent test lab based in Santa Fe, N.M. and concentrating on storage and data center networking. In more than 25 years of consulting, Marks has designed and implemented storage ... View Full Bio
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