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Nimble's 'Scale to Fit' Storage Architecture Can Scale Up or Scale Out

Enterprises are often forced to scale up storage to meet capacity needs rather than just scaling out. Nimble Storage is addressing the problem with what it calls a "scale to fit" approach, a storage architecture that allows customers to choose performance or capacity as required.

Nimble's new architecture gives enterprises the ability to scale the capacity and performance of their storage arrays individually based on immediate and near future requirements and budgets, says Dan Leary, the company's VP of marketing. Often, companies often have to predict capacity and performance needs several years in advance.

The company's new line of ES-Series storage expansion shelves allows enterprises to add capacity to the company's high-performance CS200 series arrays. Previously, customers could only buy additional arrays to expand capacity. The company also released a new line of extreme-performance CS400 arrays, which offers higher CPU performance. Customers can expect two to three times the rate of performance on the CS400 series compared with its predecessor, says Leary.

Nimble has also upgraded its software to support clustering, which wasn't available with the CS200 series arrays. Nimble 2.0, which comes free with Nimble's hardware, now enables customers to cluster both CS200 and CS400 controller arrays together into single pools of storage, says Leary. "It essentially gives you linear scaling of both performance and capacity. You don't lose anything because you are clustering."

The new offerings allow customers to extend their storage capacity without having to abandon their existing investments, he says. In addition to being able to cluster CS200 series and CS400 series arrays together, existing CS200 series array controllers can be upgraded to CS400 arrays. "It lets our customers scale their storage deployments exactly along the dimensions they need at the lowest possible cost, and do it all non-disruptively."

A new shelf or array can be added without affecting live applications, Leary adds. The software handles moves, adds and changes automatically behind the scenes without administrator intervention. It also balances storage space across the arrays. "You're not going to end up with one array almost full and one empty," he says. "A volume can also span multiple arrays." A cluster can be treated as one system, he adds. "It removes the complexity of having to manage a separate set of storage silos."

Mark Peters, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, says the ability to acquire capacity in the form of expansion shelves based on business requirements is appealing, especially to small and midsize businesses, but it's the flexibility and scalability of clustering that delivers value because it simplifies storage management through automatic configuration and provisioning. "There is no real reward in managing storage," he says. "The more the system can do that for you, the less you have to think about it, the better."

While this is particularly important for smaller enterprises that often don't have IT staff members dedicated to storage, even larger enterprises can benefit, says Peters.

Howard Marks, founder and chief scientist at DeepStorage, says introducing expansion shelves has moved Nimble away from being a fixed-performance, fixed-capacity system. Its storage architecture is now more flexible, he explains, giving customers the ability to add performance or capacity that scales out--two shelves can be added while still appearing as one device, for example. "That's the secret sauce," Marks says.

Next: A Hybrid Approach to Storage Architecture

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