Flash storage solutions from Nimble eliminate data delays that degrade application performance.

For most people, technology is all about the apps. From billing and payroll to inventory and email, we are reliant upon mushrooming numbers of business applications to perform essential tasks.

Virtualization has helped spawn the application-driven organization by allowing multiple apps to run on a single server. However, as organizations virtualize more workloads, they are finding that legacy storage architectures create performance bottlenecks that often result in slow or unusable applications.

“Mobile and cloud technologies have led to an explosion of new business-critical applications, and sizing storage for these applications has become a major challenge,” said Michael Hritz, Business Development Manager, ProSys. “Even if you’ve provisioned the right amount of storage, the mechanical limitations of hard-disk drives create latency issues that interfere with application performance. That’s a huge deal. If key applications become unavailable or unreliable, that’s a chokepoint for the entire business.”

According to research from Nimble Storage, 80 percent of U.S. business users say they regularly experience application delays that impact productivity because of the so-called “app-data gap” — storage latency that interrupts the delivery of data to applications. The firm estimates that companies may be losing as much as $7.5 billion of worker time annually due to these gaps.

Flash Appeal

Nimble Storage is eliminating the storage bottleneck with flash-based storage solutions that accelerate application response times and produce measurable operational and financial benefits. The firm’s portfolio of hybrid and all-flash storage arrays minimize the mechanical limitations of spinning magnetic disks to create read/write response times that are exponentially faster than the best hard-disk drives (HDDs). In real-world implementations, customers have used Nimble arrays to reduce total cost of ownership by 50 percent or more and shrink the overall storage footprint by as much as 85 percent.

“The beauty of flash is that it resolves some of the most vexing storage problems that we’ve faced for years,” said Hritz. “While processor clock rates have been getting faster all the time, the impact on storage performance has been minimal because seek times, operations per second and total bandwidth are limited by the speed of the disk. It creates a significant gap between the time an application seeks data and the moment that data is actually delivered.”

Not all flash storage is created equal, however. Many solutions on the market today involve existing array designs and controller architectures that were optimized for disk and retrofitted for flash. This approach doesn’t deliver the full capabilities of solid-state storage.

“That’s one of the things that sets Nimble apart — their solutions are architected from the ground up with flash in mind,” said Hritz. “They actually designed and patented an entirely new file system for the express purpose of using flash. It’s not a bolt-on feature.”

A New Approach

Nimble’s patented flash-optimized file system, Cache Accelerated Sequential Layout (CASL), is a CPU-driven architecture that eliminates dependence on disk spindles. Along with accelerated read and write performance, CASL includes deduplication, compression, replication, snapshots, thin provisioning, advanced data protection and storage scaling capabilities.

CASL’s capabilities are particularly evident in Nimble’s Adaptive Flash hybrid array portfolio, which was the firm’s exclusive market focus for several years. CASL is the cornerstone of a management platform that automates resource allocation to enable seamless distribution of data across flash and disk tiers.

This data distribution is problematic in other hybrid arrays. Typically, a caching algorithm tries to predict which data is most likely to be accessed by an application, and then decide whether that data should reside on flash or disk. A “cache miss” occurs if the algorithm guesses wrong and data is not on the flash tier when requested. The data then must be read from back-end storage, which dramatically increases latency for the operation and makes application performance unpredictable.

Adaptive Flash management skirts this issue through a dynamic caching strategy. All data is written to the flash tier first and then demoted as needed to the hard-disk tier. CASL uses 22 patented caching algorithms to evaluate and inspect data to determine data movement and to dramatically accelerate data reads.

Adding to the hybrid platform’s versatility, Nimble offers an all-flash expansion shelf for customers who want to add SSDs without taking up disk drive slots. With the All-Flash Shelf (AFS), organizations can add an additional 12.8 TB of SSD capacity to a hybrid array.

Power of Analytics

Data velocity remained a top priority as Nimble developed its AF-Series Predictive Flash portfolio of all-flash arrays, which launched in February. The platform draws its name from the use of InfoSight, Nimble’s groundbreaking data sciences-based approach to the storage lifecycle. InfoSight, in conjunction with CASL, enables application acceleration by using analytics to identify, diagnose and mitigate any factors impacting performance or latency in the storage environment.

The centralized InfoSight engine monitors all Nimble Storage assets collectively from the cloud, analyzing millions of data points every day to build a predictive model of the leading factors likely to impact performance or latency. InfoSight dashboards allow administrators to visualize what’s happening across the application-to-storage stack and the impact of virtual machines on storage.

“InfoSight provides insight into performance challenges, including details specific to host or network challenges, flash to disk ratio, and CPU utilization,” said Hritz. “It will automatically detect 90 percent of storage-related issues before they become apparent. That eliminates days or weeks spent manually collecting and analyzing data and keeps applications running at peak performance.”

Another innovative feature of the Nimble product line is its Unified Flash Fabric, which allows customers to unify hybrid and all-flash arrays into one managed entity with common data services. Organizations can deploy this single architecture across their entire portfolio of applications to meet performance and cost targets.

“Flexibility and scalability are among the characteristics that have made Nimble arrays a good fit for some of our customers,” said Hritz. “We’ve deployed Nimble solutions in situations where customers needed to speed applications, enable greater use of virtualization and simplify operations, and this platform has hit all those marks while also reducing the data center footprint and power, cooling and cabling requirements. Our customers say it has exceeded their expectations.”