Hybrid is Hot: Nimble Storage Soars on IPO

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Shares of Nimble Storage soared nearly 50 percent today after going public with an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange.

LAS VEGAS – Storage has been a hot topic in 2013, with the demand for storage only on the increase. One of the hot names has been Nimble Storage, which went public this morning, raising $168 million in an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. Shares of Nimble (NIMBL) soared 60 percent in their first trading session, closing at $33.60 a share after pricing at $21.

The Silicon Valley-based company is a leader in the market for hybrid storage, using both flash and disk in a broad-based platform, with a management layer. The hybrid approach has the benefit of increased performance and capacity, with data protection and monitoring in the mix also. That’s why hybrid storage has captured the attention of both customers and investors.

Radhika Krishnan, Vice President of Product Marketing and Alliances for Nimble, said the company has “huge momentum” and now has 2,100 customers of its storage products. The company started at the mid-market with customers with 50TB of data, and is adding large enterprise customers now, as well as cloud and service providers. The company is still relatively new, first shipping product in 2010.

“We have a 3U box with levels of storage from 10 Terabytes to 100s of Terabytes,” said Krishnan, who discussed the company’s success at this week’s Gartner Data Center Conference. “We vary the amount of flash, changing the ratio of disk to flash depending on the need.”

Differing Storage Products in the Market

In the storage market, there are the traditional providers of disk storage. such as EMC or NetApp, providers of flash-only storage. such as Fusion-IO or Violin Memory, and the ones who combine flash and disk in one unit, such as Nimble does.

Within the flash market, there are three ways to consume flash today. Companies such as Fusion-IO have server-side flash storage, which is extremely fast and can scale to a large amount of storage in a small footprint. (Fusion-IO recently introduced some hybrid solutions as well.) There are flash-only arrays, such as Nimbus and XtremeIO (purchased by EMC last year), which provide arrays of flash-only units. And there is Nimble, which hybridizes arrays with flash and disk, where the price difference is 15 to 30 times less, according to Krishnan.

Why wouldn’t clients use a flash-only solution? “Flash has endurance issues,” Krishnan said. “How frequently you write to flash wears flash out.” And it is known to be a more expensive option. If you bring down the price of flash, the endurance challenge becomes worse.

“So you want to minimize the number of writes to flash,” said Krishnan. ”There are players – Dell, EMC, NetApp – who are retrofitting flash on top of the file system. They don’t get the value of the flash that way.”.

Architecting From the Ground Up

Nimble Storage stared from the ground up, architecting its product differently, and using the disk for sequential IO, and using flash to dynamically cache hot data to accelerate reads. “So we use each for what it’s best at,” she said. “That way we get more capacity and more performance. We look at metrics such as capacity per dollar invested.”

Nimble Storage uses Cache Accelerated Sequential Layout (CASL), as its foundation for high performance and capacity savings, integrated data protection, and lifecycle management. CASL enables flash-bashed dynamic cache, which accelerates read access to application data by holding a copy of active “hot” data in flash (leading to high read throughput and low latency) and write-optimized data layout (data written by a host is first aggregated or coalesced, then written sequentially as a full stripe to a pool of disk). CASL’s sweeping process also consolidates freed up disk space for future writes. There is also inline universal compression, at 30 to 75 percent with no added latency.

The data protection is handled through the data management system, where we use snapshots and replication, which addresses the back up window problem. You can recover fairly easily with this method. The snapshots are the most efficient. We also have partnered with back up provider CommVault, so you can store the snapshots off-premise.

Service and Support

Krishnan explained that support service for storage can be a “very painful, onerous process.” So Nimble added a system called Infosight that proactively monitors the arrays and flags issues proactively. “There are millions of sensors of the data, and they are being analyzed continually. So users not only know something is wrong, they have a correlation of what’s gone wrong,” she said, noting that 90 percent of our support cases are proactively managed with this system. The monitoring also allows customers to understand capacity trends, performance, or remedial actions before failures.

“For 2014, scale is the big thing,” Krishnan said. “Within the last year, we’ve achieved the ability to scale the customers’ environment including 100s of TBs, 1000s of IOPs, and so on. This coming year, we will continue to focus on large enterprises’ specific requirements.”

About the Author

Colleen Miller is a journalist and social media specialist. She has more than two decades of writing and editing experience, with her most recent work dedicated to the online space. Colleen covers the data center industry, including topics such as modular, cloud and storage/big data.

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