Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Nimble Storage 2.0 Part 1 - Scale-To-Fit

This is the first in a series of blog posts focusing on the new Nimble OS 2.0 which has been made available in Release Candidate status to our customer & partner base.

Nimble Storage has hit a milestone in it's product development and feature set by hitting 2.0 of it's awarding winning Operating System based on the CASL file system (Cache Accelerated Sequential Layout). 2.0 introduces some nice features which i'll cover over a series of blog posts in the following weeks.

Scale-To-Fit - Nimble OS 1.4

Approximately 12-14 months ago Nimble launched a concept of "Scale-To-Fit" storage technology. The idea being that traditional storage systems had limited ways for expansion once the customer had deployed the environment; these typically being:
  1. Add lots more slow disk for capacity or fast disk for performance (very common, not much risk involved).
  2. Forklift replace controller headers for new generation controllers to allow for further disk expansion (very expensive, high risk due to potential data downtime or loss, lots of Professional Services involved, rarely done).

Scale-To-Fit was designed to break this mould and give the customer a choice in how to upgrade their investment as their environment evolves. This was released in firmware version 1.4 of the Nimble OS, and allowed any Nimble customer to do the following:

  1. Add additional shelves of high-capacity drives for extra storage capacity.
  2. Add bigger SSD drives into the array to allow for bigger working sets for random-read cache.
  3. Upgrade Nimble controllers from CS200 to CS400 series to add more IOPS in the array.

All of the above upgrades were (and still are) designed to be performed online, without any maintenance windows or downtime of data - and it worked without any hiccups, which is very impressive (especially number 2 & 3 - see here for how our very first production customer with a 3 year old system did it this year:

So what does 2.0 bring to Scale-To-Fit?

In Nimble OS 2.0 we complete the Scale-to-Fit strategy by bringing Scale-Out technology into the Nimble family!

Scale-Out is a technology which was mostly championed by EqualLogic (now Dell, my former employers) and Lefthand Networks (now HP) and is designed to allow customers to place multiple arrays into a "group" which allows volumes and/or datasets to be distributed, balanced and "live migrated" across different storage platforms without downtime. 

The downside to the two legacy technologies mentioned above was that scale-out is/was their only way of scaling. If a customer required just more capacity for their investment they had to buy a whole new array with controllers, networking and rack space just for a few more additional TB's of space - and these boxes were typically more expensive than their initial purchase due to less aggressive discounts offered (the age old sales ploy of discount high to win business then discount low to increase margin - seen it time and time again). One of my old EQL customers ended up with TWENTY THREE 3 or 5u arrays in their production site!

What Nimble offers is a full suite of scaling technologies without any gotchas; so if a customer just needs capacity they can buy additional shelves, but if they want to Scale-Out to group performance and capacity of their arrays together, they can do that too! All of this can be done live, without any downtime or any professional services work! Nice!

The beauty about scale-out is it does not limit customers to generations of gear; meaning that older arrays can be grouped together with newer, faster generations for seamless migration of data before evacuating the older array to repurpose for UAT, Disaster Recovery or other means (as one example).

On first release we are supporting up to FOUR Nimble arrays in a scale-out group. These can be of any capacity or generation, have any size of SSD, HDD or controller!

Note: This does NOT mean we are clustering arrays together - we do not need a special backend cluster fabric to handle array data which you may have seen with out vendors implementation of scale-out or cluster-mode. We also do not require downtime or any swing-kit to move data off an array to enable this new feature.

The new "Arrays/Groups" section of the Nimble GUI
Scale-Out is the last piece of the Nimble Scale-to-Fit strategy, meaning customers who started with a single 3u, 500w array can now add more capacity (an additional 96TB usable using 3TB drives), add bigger MLC SSD drives for bigger cache working sets (up to 2.4TB usable), add bigger controllers to take their array from 20K IOPS to 70K IOPS, and now add additional Nimble arrays for a single management point & more performance, capacity and scale!

Nimble OS 2.0 is currently in Release Candidate stage and is available for customers to upgrade via Support. The code & technology is fully production-ready and has been through extensive beta and QA testing. It is the same process to upgrade the firmware as previous updates; a software package is downloaded from Nimble Support then applied to the array controllers one at a time (so no downtime!). If you'd like to be a part of the RC rollout please contact Nimble Support for more information.

Alongside Scale-Out we are launching some new tools for VMware and Microsoft Windows platforms to simplify the overall integration of these solutions; stay tuned for my blog posts on these features!

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