HPE's new Nimble flash arrays offer storage guarantee, NVMe and SCM support

With the Store More Guarantee, HPE tells users that capacity efficiency will be greater than its storage rivals.

HPE's new Nimble flash arrays offer storage guarantee, NVMe and SCM support
Hewlett Packard Enterprise

HPE is rolling out the next generation of its Nimble Storage platform, overhauled to better meet the ever-increasing performance demands on data-center workloads, including real-time web analytics, business intelligence, and mission-critical enterprise resource applications.

The new HPE Nimble Storage All Flash arrays as well as Nimble Adaptive Flash arrays for hybrid implementations (mixing solid state drives and hard disk drives, for example), are generally available from May 7 and have both been engineered to support NVMe (non-volatile memory express), an extremely fast communications protocol and controller designed to move data to and from SSDs via the PCIe bus standard. NVMe SSDs are expected to offer two orders of magnitude speed improvement over prior SSDs.

Both the all flash and adaptive flash arrays also support storage-class memory (SCM), or persistent memory, a hybrid memory/storage technology that offers a level of performance somewhere between today's flash SSDs and DRAM. SCM offers up to 10 times lower latency than NAND flash technology, HPE says.

Vendors are getting on board with NVMe

Smaller storage vendors such as Excelero, E8 Storage, Pavilion Data Systems and  Apeiron Data System have been shipping NVMe-ready storage products for specialized workloads like trading analysis for some time, and now the bigger vendors are stating to jump in, noted Eric Burgener, research vice president for storage at IDC. 

Pure Data last year announced support for NVMe, and just last week Dell Technologies announced PowerMax, the new high-end storage platform that is taking over where its VMAX line left off, and which also supports NVMe and SCM.

For its part, HPE is backing up its Nimble All-Flash array with a "Store More" guarantee, which assures users that they will be able to store more data per raw terabyte of storage than any competitor's all-flash array.

"If we fail in meeting that guarantee, the additional storage capacity to meet the guarantee is on us," said Milan Shetti, general manager of HPE Storage.

Milan Shetti HPE

Milan Shetti, general manger, HPE Storage

The new arrays incorporate the InfoSight predictive analytics platform for flash storage, which has been enhanced with an AI-based recommendations engine. InfoSight collects infrastructure information from sensors and runs analytics to detect patterns in order to predict, for example, when a user might run out of storage capacity. The sensors are in the storage devices but also collect network, compute and hypervisor data. HPE's 3Par storage line, generally aimed at higher-end enterprise use than Nimble, is also now shipping with InfoSight.

"The vision is to simplify and revolutionize the storage industry," Shetti said. "We are already revolutionizing the storage industry because we are delivering insights into data. We believe the future of the data center will be autonomous and powered by artificial intelligence — meanwhile, the Store More guarantee goes to the simplification part of the vision."

By engineering the storage arrays to support NVMe and SCM, HPE is trying to "future-proof" the storage technology for its users, Shetti said. In fact, though HPE does ship its Gen 10 servers with NVMe SSDs now, it does not plan to ship NVMe SSDs with the Nimble storage arrays just yet. Though the arrays have slots where NVMe SSDs can be plugged in, users scanning a price list for various options for the arrays won't notice NVMe SSDs listed.

Noting that the market for SSDs has been hit over the past year or so by shortages and high prices, Shetti said that mainstream use of NVMe SSDs and SCM drives is about 12 months out,.

"SCM and NVMe right now — in the supply chain and from the supply curve standpoint — are not mainstream scale," Shetti said. "I mean people could use them but the cost factor is still not there; the reality is most of the customers are going to wait for the price curve to hit."

Nimble All Flash Array HPE

The new HPE Nimble Storage All Flash Array now supports NVMe and storage class memory.

Flash storage technology know-how had existed for decades, but it took the advent of the iPhone and iPad for manufacturers to gear up to fabricate them at a scale where costs made sense to bring the technology  into mainstream enterprise storage, Shetti noted. The demand for NVMe and SCM for IoT systems over the next year will increase demand and bring costs down, Shetti said.

Users of the new Nimble systems will be able to add a new chassis or new storage  bays into the array and plug in the new NVMe SSDs, or swap out older drives. The Nimble platform will also support NVMe over fabric, Shetti said.

NVMe over fabric extends the same performance advantages of NVMe inside of an array to the network, so that users can get extremely low-latency, high-bandwidth capability from the servers to the array, over the network, said IDC's Burgener.  "That’s really when the full promise of the performance of NVME starts to take effect."

The new Nimble arrays "are targeted at existing customers who are maybe thinking about adding workloads that need more performance than what they can get out of their current platform, and they want to have a migration path to these future technologies like SCM and NVMe over fabric without having to go through a disruptive upgrade in the future — so when those technologies ship they can just connect that hardware in to those platforms, they don’t have to do another forklift upgrade or anything like that," Burgener said.

Both the all-flash and adaptive-flash arrays use the same compaction technologies, Shetti noted, offering 5-to-1data reduction from variable block in-line deduplication and compression. The all-flash arrays deliver up to 220 percent greater price–performance than the prior generation did, while the adaptive flash arrays deliver up to 150 percent greater price-performance, HPE claims. The  all flash arrays start with a 6TB, single, entry-level array, expected to carry a street price of about 20 percent less than the prior generation, which started at a little less than $50,000.

The all flash arrays scale out to a 4 petabyte, four-array cluster, with each array offering two all-flash shelves. Onboard ports are 10GbaseT. Optional ports are 1GBaseT, 10GBaseT or 10GbE SFP+.  More details are available on the HPE Nimble Storage page.

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