My experience with Nimble Storage in a POC I did nearly 9 months ago

About this time last year I was part of a project where we were looking at replacing the primary storage systems in our infrastructure.

While we did not end up going with Nimble Storage at the time we did do a POC of the CS700 arrays (which has now been replaced by the more powerful CS7000).

Since we live on a small island in the north Atlantic, companies do not normally ship out a fully configured solution so when the Nimble reps actually asked me if I wanted to do a POC before I even asked them about availability of such a program I was pretty amazed. And when they were actually willing to ship a fully configured solution (two CS700 arrays) to us without any commitment I was even more amazed. Of course, since Nimble is a small company in the storage world this is probably the only way for them to get the larger companies to give them a chance when competing against the big dogs (EMC, HPE, NetApp).

When we were considering storage vendors we did not even think of Nimble Storage. I actually saw them at a VMMUG meeting here in Iceland where they had a presentation about the solution. The presentation was on a Thursday evening and I spent the days after wondering if the claims they laid out were actually true (X IOPS per array with 11 NLSAS disks and 4 SSDs).

I sent the sales guy who was at the presentation couple of emails over the weekend asking him questions about the solution. He got me in touch with a pre-sales technician who was able to answer my questions quickly and gave me lot of stuff to think about.

Well, long story short – we ended up testing the CS700 arrays with ~200TB usable space and ~7TB of SSD cache. The technician came on a Tuesday morning at ~09:00 and about 2 hours after we started installing the array in the first datacenter we were actually done installing both arrays in two different sites and could start migrating data to the arrays. The technician went through the basic stuff but since the interface is so simple (and well, the solution it self is just amazingly simple as whole) so he left us at ~14:00 if I am not mistaken. Nimble Storage shipped the arrays to us (and back) free of charge.

We moved loads of dev and test databases (and even some production ones later in the POC) on the system and started having some fun. It was obvious that even though the system only uses NLSAS drives as the backend storage they are capable of pushing some extreme IOPS/throughput in comparison to the traditional array with the Adaptive Flash/CASL secret sauce. Performance was pretty good. However – since our workload is not only IOPS based but also throughput based we did actually hit a small wall (please note that this was with the older CS generation, they have newer arrays out now that fix this somewhat). We actually have a window in our environment where we push more then ~1.6GB/sec (gigabytes) for quite a while (however, we were just maxing out the FC interfaces in the hosts/arrays – we later found out that we could push ~3GB/s on a faster array/faster network). And while the solution actually powered through things nicely we were not happy with the max throughput available at the time.

While we were doing the POC I interacted with the support team often, especially when we were looking at the throughput issue. I had access to Infosight during the POC and the information gathered there was very helpful. First we had a small latency issue – and the Nimble tech was able to point out that the issue was not in the Nimble array but in our VMware hosts. This ended up being a driver issue – so we got that fixed. After that the support technicians went through a lot of data analysis (we had multiple phone meetings with support during this case) and they helped us understand where the bottlenecks we were hitting and why the system did not perform in the way we were expecting.

After finding out that the product wasn’t a fit for us at the time they were understanding and didn’t hold any grudge against us, even thought they spent quite a lot of time trying to get things working. We packed the systems in the packaging they arrived in and got things shipped out.

The saddest part was that while the solution didn’t work out for us I have never had as pleasant support experience as I did during this ~30 day POC (and I have sadly had to deal with the support of multiple vendors and most of the time it can be quite tedious). When we were debugging the host (latency) related issue they never tried to argue that this was not there problem (but of course this was a POC and maybe they were just being extra nice, I don’t really know) but I never got the feeling they were trying to push the problem over to anyone else.

Thumbs up for Nimble – I hope they will keep up the good work!

Bgrds,
Finnur

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