Archives For Nimble

2014 has been a busy year for me for many reasons but I thought I would briefly summerise some of the highlights for me over the year as well as some musings with regard to the future of the industry.

Events

I have been lucky enough to attend a number of events this year, including BriForum, vForum and IPExpo in London, vForum in Manchester,  the Dell Enterprise Forum in Frankfurt, VMworld in Barcelona as well as a number of VMware User Group events. These events for me offer a great opportunity to meet individuals from the communities and the technical deep-dive sessions at these events really offer a valuable opportunity to get a better understanding on particular subjects from industry experts. I am looking forward to many events in the coming year including hopefully BriForum and VMworld again, I would also like to get a better understanding of Microsoft, Amazon and Google direction in the industry.

End User Computing

This year has been a year of improvement and maturity for end user computing, we have seen VMware acquire AirWatch for $1.54 billion, the aqcuistion of cloud volumes as well as the release of Horizon 6. The subject of end user computing is becoming ever more defined and mature, we should no longer be awaiting the year of VDI and the focus should be firmley around the user. There is no single right answer to end user computing, we should be concentrating on the users, their use cases and needs, what can we do to make our users more productive? This will be a hybrid mix of many technologies from desktop PC’s to VDI, Mobiles and tablets and more. From a user perspective we need to ensure they can easily access their applications and data on whatever platform and wherever they are. From an administrator perspective we need to ensure this can be done in a secure way that will meet the user’s needs, it needs to easy to manage, monitor and upgrade. For me I like to practice what I preach and my business processes and personal life is spread between a mix of devices and operating systems, I use a Mac Book Pro as my main business device but also use an iPad mini, Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 and a Windows 8.1 VDI desktop. For me the device should no longer matter and it doesn’t, but it is imperative that the applications and data are where I need them when I need them.

Applications

We are starting to see the ever growing importance of applications within the IT infrastructure, whilst they have always been important the focus of IT Administrators and consultants maybe hasn’t always been focused purely on the applications but the infrastructure used to run the applications. During 2014 it has become increasingly obvious that this is where the future of the IT industry lies, focusing on not keeping the cogs turning but ensuring our applications are meeting our business needs. Integration and automation not necessarily between infrastructure components but applications will be key in the software defined world, how are you going to get SaaS application A talking to SaaS application B? With the focus on the applications we are seeing growth in the areas that focus on the applications like Docker and Openstack, DevOps is key.

Hybrid Cloud

2014 for me was the year of the hybrid cloud, we saw VMware launch their first and second UK datacenter as well as a number of datacenters across the globe. From a customer perspective vCloud Air offers an easy way to understand how cloud will work within their business, with data residency guarantees that will suit their business needs, the ability to use the same tools they use to manage their existing private cloud as well as the ability to move workloads between private and public clouds when ever required. We have seen customers trial and start to move production workloads to the cloud using vCloud Air.
For me the future of the hybrid cloud is more than simply your private and public infrastructures, SaaS will make a big part of your infrastructure and moving forward will be ever increasing.  We are seeing Office 365 becoming the norm for many Exchange upgrades and new software installations will focus on SaaS first. Until we are able to replace all of our applications with SaaS alternatives, infrastructure is still going to be a key requirement and this is where vCloud Air offers the flexibility that businesses need.

I think it is going to be interesting to see what the next Server OS from Microsoft is going to bring, you would assume that cloud integration will be baked in as standard,  when deploying new roles you will get the choice to decide whether you want to deploy on premise or in Azure.  We will have to wait and see. I think they is particularly going to be a lot of power in a Dropbox alternative baked directly into to the Widows OS, imagine the simplicity of being able to access all your business shares that are on you Windows files servers from any device, anywhere without a VPN or similar technology but the power will have to be in data security.

Shared Storage Choice

As ever a focus this year has been on shared storage, no matter which way the industry is going there is always going to be a growing demand for storage, whilst at present that is largely on premise in the future we are going to see cloud storage options be ever increasing and important to our businesses.

We have seen the growth of many next generation storage vendors such as Nimble and Pure Storage, we have see the hyper-converged market become ever matured with Nutantix and Simplivity alongside the launch of VMware Evo:Rail and the announcement of Evo:Rack.

For me Nimble Storage has been really standout and we have seen some great reactions from customers when deployed in their infrastructures, it brings together simplicity and high performance with large capacity at a suitable price. Next year I am going to be interested to see how the adoption of Hyper-converged infrastructures grows, particularly with Nutantix and Evo:Rail / VSAN solutions within my customers.

Data Protection

As ever we have seen Veeam build upon their fantastic backup and recovery product with the release of V8, this see’s improved methods of recovery and replication amongst other new features. Next year I would love to see them be able to offer a product that allows you to back up your VMs no matter if they are on premise or in the cloud with vCloud Air, Azure or Amazon EC2. But for me the biggest challenge moving into a SaaS world is data protection. Many people seem to forget about data protection when moving their applications and data to the cloud, but is this correct? Should we be trusting these important assets with one provider, who ever they maybe, or is having 3 copies of your data ever more important? I think the challenge of data protection in the cloud era is having a platform that will allow you to backup, protect and recover your data from a variety or resources to a different set of resources. Let’s say you are storing important business information with SaaS provider A, what happens if they go bust or have a massive data breach or business continuity issue? Maybe you are taking a regular dump of data to a CSV file or similar, but what use is this to your business unless you can convert and recover your data to SaaS provider B? Without global standards between similar providers this is where protecting SaaS applications will become difficult and in my opinion a big challenge for our industry. Maybe until this is solved outside of the main players like Microsoft and Google etc companies will choose to turn to IaaS solutions and protect their data in a more traditional way or will they just take the risk and trust the providers?

Personal Achievements

I have really enjoyed taking part in a number of industry interview opportunities this year, I love sharing a my thoughts and visions for the industry as well as getting to discuss these subjects with others. I have presented at a number of events including the UKVMUG and my companies own events with a record number attending our most recent VMware event that is growing year on year. The biggest challenge for me this year has been working on a second book, this time with co-author Peter von Oven, we are nearing the end now and are hoping that our book Mastering Horizon 6 will be published prior to April by Packt publishing. my biggest achievement was to be made a director of the company I work for, I will be concentrating on pre-sales and operations for my business and this gives me a great opportunity to continue learning and evangalising about technology as well as getting involved with the internal processes and procedures within the business and understanding how modern applications will help our business. I am looking forward to helping the business grow and be better known within the technology industry as well as working on some exciting projects.

That’s all for now, there are so many more areas I could talk about, 2015 is going to be an exciting year for many reasons. I hope to be able to catchup with many of you in the new year.

Happy new year.

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The doodle below aims at giving you a quick overview of the different models within Nimble Storage’s range, rough performance, capacity and expansion options.

Nimble Models

This is a blog post that has been long overdue, I have blogged about Nimble Storage a couple of times when at VMworld and Devin Hamilton (Director of Storage Architecture & Nimble’s first ever customer-facing engineer) was also on one of the HandsonVirtualization podcasts that we recorded in the past. I sat down with a good friend of mine Nick Dyer around 6 months ago, Nick at the time had been with Nimble for only a few months after previously being at Xsigo and Dell EqualLogic, we discussed who Nimble were and what made them different to everyone else in the market place, Nick also gave me a tour of its features and functionality.

Very recently Nimble have announced Nimble OS 2.0, which this walkthrough is based on and big thanks to Nick for helping me up date this from 1.X to 2.X

Home Screen

The home screen shows you a good overview of what is happening within your storage array. On the left we can see a breakdown of the storage usage including snapshots, below this we can see what our space saving is, utilising the in-line compression technology for both primary and snapshot data. In the middle we have a breakdown of throughput in MB/Sec and IOPS broken down by Reads and Writes. Finally on the left we have a breakdown of events over the last 24 hours.


Array Management


Prior to Nimble OS 2.0, the architecture worked with a frame / scale up based design where you start with a head unit that contains 2 controllers, 12 high-capacity spinning disks and a number of high-performance SSDs. You then can increase capacity by attaching up to a further 3 shelves of high-capacity drives using the SAS connectors on the controllers, or you can scale performance by upgrading the controllers or swapping for larger SSDs. What is different about Nimble is the architecture is not based on drive spindles to deliver performance as like traditional storage arrays, rather using multiple Intel Xeon processors to drive IOPS from the array. Nimble have now released version 2.0 of their software, meaning that scale-out is now available as a third scaling method for any Nimble array. This now forms part of a Nimble Storage array “Group”. Today Nimble supports up to 4 arrays in a group – each array supporting 3 shelves of additional disk. The theoretical maximums are thus ~280,000 IOPS & 508TB usable storage in a scale out cluster!

We can see on the screenshot below on a different system that there are a number of shelves configured and that we have active and hot standby controllers configured.

Nimble use an architecture called CASL (Cache Accelerated Storage Architecture) This is made up of a number of components, SSDs are utilised as a Random Read Cache for Hot Blocks in utilisation within the systems, random writes are coalesced through NVRAM to the array, and it compresses them and writes them sequentially to the RAID 6 near line SAS spinning disks resulting in write operations that Nimble claim can be up to 100x faster than traditional disk alone.

The compression within the Nimble storage array happens inline with no performance loss and can offer between 30-75 percent saving depending on the workload.

Check out the following page for more information on CASL – http://www.nimblestorage.com/products/architecture.php

One of the nice feature in the GUI is when you hover over a port in the array screen it will then highlight which port it corresponds to on the array and display the IP address and status on screen.

When configuring the array with your ESXi or Windows servers you will use the target IP address shown below to configure your storage connectivity.

The network configuration on the array is easily configured. Nimble has now dedicated “Networking” tab available in the administration menu where the Group or individual arrays can be changed. From here we can also configure a new technology Nimble call “Virtual Target IP addresses” as well as creating “Network Zones” to stop traversing and saturating Inter-Switch Links for Multipath configurations. Both of these topics are an individual blog post on their own! It is now also possible to create multiple routes on the array to allow for replication traffic, for example.


Any individual port can be configured to either be on the management, data or both networks.


It’s now also possible to save your network changes as “Draft”, but also to revert your network settings back to your previously applied configuration – very handy in case something went wrong!

Adding Arrays to Group

To deploy a Nimble array into the group, it is now as simple as clicking a button in the Nimble GUI under the “Arrays” page. We did this on a pair of fully-functional Nimble VMs.

The Group will then detect the unconfigured Nimble array (which must be on the same layer 2 broadcast domain). It is also where it is possible to merge two Groups together in this screen!

From here all that’s required are the physical network IP addresses for the new array data ports. It will enherit all other configuration from the Group (ie Replication, Email Alerts, Autosupport, Performance Policies, Initiator Groups and more). This is a non-disruptive process, too!

Once IP addresses are configured, the new array is provisioned in the Group in the “default” storage pool.

Initiator Groups

Initiator groups are used to manage access to the volumes, you start off by creating an initiator group for servers that will require access to the same volumes, in this example ESXi hosts, you will then map your volume to the initiator group.


Performance Policies

Performance policies are used to handle the cache, compression and block sizes for the volumes to tune the metrics to suit the use case. Out of the box there are a number already configured for the most frequent use cases, however it is entirely possible to create your own with your own requirements (ie creating a volume which will never be cache-worthy, which is very useful for backup-to-disk volumes). This is useful as traditional storage arrays which utilize flash as a tier or cache very rarely have the intelligence to specify or keep dirty-data away from these very expensive resources.


Snapshots

Volume collections are utilised for replicating and snapshotting volumes, volume collection may contain multiple volumes that will allow you to synchronise snapshots and or replications over multiple linked volumes, this maybe useful for VMFS volumes that contain multiple related VMs for example. Another example maybe your SQL-Logs and DB volumes.


Snapshots and replicas are able to be made fully consistent with the use of VSS integration direct from the array without the need to install additional software.


As Nimble uses a variable block size of 4/8/16/32KB snapshots and replication are generally very space efficient when compared too other arrays utilising larger block sizes. Also all snapshots are using compressed blocks and thus it is not uncommon to see snapshots taken and retained for longer than 30 days on the array.

As snapshots are so granular and do not take any performance overhead, the limitation of snapshots is currently 10,000 per array group, and 1000 per volume.

The image below shows the average snapshot change rate as a daily percentage that Nimble customers see for key use cases.


Volumes

Within the volumes view under the manage menu you are able to see at a glance the performance and compression on each volume over the last 5 minutes by selecting the performance tab.


Individual Volume Breakdown

By selecting an individual volume in this view you get a more detailed breakdown of the configuration and performance utilisation of that individual volume. We are also able to edit the volume, set it offline and delete the volume from this same screen.


Individual Volume Snapshot Tab

By selecting the snapshot or replication tabs in the individual volume view you get a detail breakdown of the usage including the date and name of the snapshot / replica, its origin and schedule but also information regarding how much new data is kept within the snapshot and what compression ratio was achieved.


Replication Partner

Replication Partners are easily configured via a simple wizard accessed under Manage > Protection > Replication Partners, the replication is configurable to take place either over the data or management network to give you flexibility. What you can also see here is Nimble give you the ability to decide where your replication traffic gets presented; over the management or data networks you have!


What I really liked about the replication configuration was the built in quality of service that allows you to tune the replication, this could be extremely important for a small business utilising a single line for replication and other business traffic.


After configuring the replication you get a very clear view of the policies configured and the volume collections replicating, you also see what the lag is between production and DR.


Administration

The Nimble arrays contain a dial home support functionality called Infosight. Each array contains 30million sensors, when enabled every 5 minutes the results from those sensors are rolled up into a log bundle and is transmitted to Nimble support. Nimble’s systems are then are able to detect issues, failures and auto raise cases prior to the customer knowing in many cases. Today over 90% of all support cases raised by Nimble are automatically generated and resolved, according to Nick.


Firmware updates are easily handled within the array themselves allowing you to check version information, download the latest firmware and upgrade the unit.


By default all volume and snapshot space on the Nimble array is thin provisioned, this can be customised for new volumes by configuring the volumes reserve seen above.


Monitoring

There are a number of monitoring options within the Nimble array, these can all be found under the Monitor tab on the top menu. The example shows the performance across the array, you can customise this view to see performance across a time period from the last 5minutes to the last 90 days as standard and also focus on an individual volumes.



Conclusions

That’s it for my Nimble array walkthrough I intend on delving a little deeper when possible in the future. I really like what Nimble are doing in this space as they appear to be doing something different to most and when digging deeper all the technical design decisions certainly make a lot of sense, based on the results I am hearing customers seem to be very happy. Of course there are a huge amount of ways to deliver the IO for your infrastructure but Nimble are certainly cementing their space as a validated disruptive technology in this arena.

Something that interests me greatly is its use cases in VDI. Speaking to Devin the arrays even love mixed VDI and Server workloads due to the way the writes are coalesced through the NVRAM random workloads aren’t a problem. I