Nimbus Goes After HPC Market with Disk-Priced Flash Array

By Michael Feldman

July 20, 2010

Nimbus Data Systems has unveiled its new high-density enterprise flash memory system, delivering 10 terabytes of solid state capacity per 2U shelf. The S1000 can scale up to 250 TB per system and is being priced to challenge spinning disk appliances head on. For HPC and other enterprise users looking to turbo-charge performance of terascale-sized data sets, Nimbus offers a compelling case for making the switch to flash technology.

Four-year old Nimbus is headquartered in San Francisco, Calif., and had been aggressively pursuing the emerging flash-based storage market with its S-class storage arrays. The company has managed to collect about 200 customers, the largest being the US Department of Defense. They’ve also corralled OEM wins with IBM Tivoli and AMCC. As a result, Nimbus says they’re profitable and debt free — not bad for a company that grew up during one of the worst economic downturns in modern times.

The general idea behind employing flash memory for I/O drives is to take advantage of Moore’s Law in order to close the performance gap between external storage and the other computer components. Over the past 10 years, hard drives have not become appreciably faster or more power efficient, while the performance of a computer’s solid state components has increased several-fold. “We believe storage is on an unsustainable trajectory in the datacenter,” says Nimbus CEO Tom Isakovich. “While CPU, memory and network performance have all grown exponentially, storage performance and storage efficiency really have not kept pace.”

External storage demand is escalating, though. Virtualization, data warehousing, and high performance computing are multiplying the need for more I/O, especially random-access I/O. Isakovich says more hard drives, storage tiering, and cache solutions are not the answer. According to him, while they may boost performance a bit, they’re really not addressing the underlying inefficiency of the spinning disk technology. “Drives have really run their course,” says Isakovich.

Nimbus’ mission to drive a stake through the heart of the hard drive was launched in April, with its first all-flash memory S-class storage arrays: the S250 and S500, which provided 2.5 TB and 5.0 TB per shelf, respectively. All of the S-class offerings use Micron’s Enterprise Multi-Level Cell (EMLC) NAND flash, which is five times more durable than vanilla MLC used in consumer devices and much less expensive than Single-Level Cell (SLC) NAND commonly used for most enterprise SSDs. SLC remains the more robust technology, but at about quadruple the cost and a quarter of the density of EMLC silicon.

Nimbus has managed to layer even more reliability on top of the EMLC silicon by incorporating write amplification, wear leveling and dual-parity RAID into its design. They also over-provision the storage by 28 percent to account for the inevitable degradation of the NAND devices over time. The S1000 employs the higher density 34 nm EMLC NAND from Micron, which makes it possible to offer 400 GB of storage per blade. (Because of the over-provisioning, there is actually 512 GB per blade.) The product comes with a one-year warranty, which is upgradeable to three or five years, although Isakovich believes the hardware will actually be just fine for up to 10 years.

Although S1000 performance may be less than the more expensive SLC-based flash memory products out there, the Nimbus offering easily outruns 15K RPM disk array technology typically found in tier 1 storage. Compared to disk, the S-class products deliver up to 24 times more IOPS (1.65 million), up to 16 times faster data transfer (7.2 GB/sec), and 95 percent lower latency (300 microseconds). Space-wise, a single S1000 2U shelf can deliver the same number of IOPS as in four racks of spinning disks.

Since no moving parts are involved, power savings are equally as impressive. Nimbus is claiming 90 percent lower energy usage — as low as 15 watts per terabyte — and a 70 percent reduction in BTU cooling demand. And since there is less heat generated and no motors to wear out, fewer replacements will be needed.

An S1000 shelf is made up of 24 hot-swappable storage blades. Up to 25 shelves can be stacked via 6G SAS ports, making it possible to deploy a 250 GB file system all in flash. A storage shelf is powered by two Intel quad-core Nehalem processors, although Isakovich says expansion shelves don’t require CPUs or the associated memory. According to him, the flash is so much faster than a disk that the CPUs are rarely tied up waiting for I/O to complete, so you just need less of them to manage the storage.

Since all S-class gear speaks iSCSI, NFS, and CIFS, the hardware can act as both a SAN device and a NAS device. Systems come standard with four 10GbE ports (SFP+ or 10GBASE-T) per appliance, which can auto-negotiate down to GbE when needed. Nimbus is also now offering an upgrade to twelve 10GbE ports, using a technology they’re calling “FlexConnect.” It employs triple active-active 10 GbE network controllers, and, in some cases, will eliminate the need for a standalone SAN switch.

The combination of off-the-shelf 10GbE components, Intel CPUs and EMLC NAND chips has enabled Nimbus to achieve cost parity with 15K disks products. All the S-class products, including the new S1000, are priced at $10,000 per terabyte, which is more or less in line with other tier 1 disk-based appliances.

Of course, any vendor could assemble similar hardware, but the S1000 is more than just flash-in-a-box. The real secret sauce is Nimbus’ HALO operating system, a full-featured software stack that comes standard in all S-class platforms. It includes snapshots, replication, mirroring, deduplication, compression, thin provisioning, real-time analytics, proactive notification, and a Web management interface. In late 2010, the company is planning to make a programmable API available as well. Because all this functionality is baked in, there is no need to purchase third-party software or hardware to make the system enterprise-capable. “We think that gives us a sustainable advantage since it has taken us five years to write all this software,” says Isakovich.

Because the company has been able to solve the acquisition cost penalty for flash, while at the same time offering a feature-rich enterprise storage platform, it may be carving a unique home for itself in the IT landscape. Competitors like NetApp, EqualLogic (Dell) and EMC all offer SSD capabilities to one extent or another, but there are no pure flash offerings to match the Nimbus S-class. On the other hand, pure flash array vendors may offer better performance with SLC NAND, but typically bundle little if any software with their systems. And because those systems are based on the more expensive SLC technology, they come at a price premium.

With the S-class platform, Nimbus is looking to go after IOPS-critical storage applications, especially virtualization, traditional database processing, and On-Line Transaction Processing (OLTP). Now, with the higher capacity S1000, they have a credible entry for the HPC market. Data-intensive applications like seismic analysis, image rendering, and many science codes are I/O bound and thus ideally suited for flash-based storage. Isakovich says they have a proof of concept deployment at one of the big supercomputing centers and also have a couple of oil and gas companies looking at systems. He expects to see some customer deployments by the end of the quarter.

The new platform currently tops out at 250 TB per system, but the dedupe and compression technology can boost the effective storage by a factor of 3 to 10, pushing the S1000 into the petascale realm. According to Isakovich, they’re planning to expand system capacity even further later this year. “The demand we’re seeing from the HPC community is rather significant and we think we can continue to push the density envelope even more,” he says.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Supercomputer Research Reveals Star Cluster Born Outside Our Galaxy

July 11, 2020

The Milky Way is our galactic home, containing our solar system and continuing into a giant band of densely packed stars that stretches across clear night skies around the world – but, it turns out, not all of those st Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Max Planck Society Begins Installation of Liquid-Cooled Supercomputer from Lenovo

July 9, 2020

Lenovo announced today that it is supplying a new high performance computer to the Max Planck Society, one of Germany's premier research organizations. Comprised of Intel Xeon processors and Nvidia A100 GPUs, and featuri Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Xilinx Announces First Adaptive Computing Challenge

July 9, 2020

A new contest is challenging the computing world. Xilinx has announced the first Xilinx Adaptive Computing Challenge, a competition that will task developers and startups with finding creative workload acceleration solutions. Xilinx is running the Adaptive Computing Challenge in partnership with Hackster.io, a developing community... Read more…

By Staff report

Reviving Moore’s Law? LBNL Researchers See Promise in Heterostructure Oxides

July 9, 2020

The reality of Moore’s law’s decline is no longer doubted for good empirical reasons. That said, never say never. Recent work by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers suggests heterostructure oxides may b Read more…

By John Russell

President’s Council Targets AI, Quantum, STEM; Recommends Spending Growth

July 9, 2020

Last week the President Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met (webinar) to review policy recommendations around three sub-committee reports: 1) Industries of the Future (IotF), chaired be Dario Gil (d Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Solution Channel

Best Practices for Running Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) Workloads on AWS

The scalable nature and variable demand of CFD workloads makes them well-suited for a cloud computing environment. Many of the AWS instance types, such as the compute family instance types, are designed to include support for this type of workload.  Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

Penguin Computing Brings Cascade Lake-AP to OCP Form Factor

July 7, 2020

Penguin Computing, a subsidiary of SMART Global Holdings, Inc., announced yesterday (July 6) a new Tundra server, Tundra AP, that is the first to implement the Intel Xeon Scalable 9200 series processors (codenamed Cascad Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Max Planck Society Begins Installation of Liquid-Cooled Supercomputer from Lenovo

July 9, 2020

Lenovo announced today that it is supplying a new high performance computer to the Max Planck Society, one of Germany's premier research organizations. Comprise Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

President’s Council Targets AI, Quantum, STEM; Recommends Spending Growth

July 9, 2020

Last week the President Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met (webinar) to review policy recommendations around three sub-committee reports: Read more…

By John Russell

Google Cloud Debuts 16-GPU Ampere A100 Instances

July 7, 2020

On the heels of the Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU launch in May, Google Cloud is announcing alpha availability of the A100 “Accelerator Optimized” VM A2 instance family on Google Compute Engine. The instances are powered by the HGX A100 16-GPU platform, which combines two HGX A100 8-GPU baseboards using... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Q&A: HLRS’s Bastian Koller Tackles HPC and Industry in Germany and Europe

July 6, 2020

In this exclusive interview for HPCwire – sadly not face to face – Steve Conway, senior advisor for Hyperion Research, talks with Dr.-Ing Bastian Koller about the state of HPC and its collaboration with Industry in Europe. Koller is a familiar figure in HPC. He is the managing director at High Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS) and also serves... Read more…

By Steve Conway, Hyperion

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This yea Read more…

By John Russell

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Re Read more…

Top500 Trends: Movement on Top, but Record Low Turnover

June 25, 2020

The 55th installment of the Top500 list saw strong activity in the leadership segment with four new systems in the top ten and a crowning achievement from the f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

$100B Plan Submitted for Massive Remake and Expansion of NSF

May 27, 2020

Legislation to reshape, expand - and rename - the National Science Foundation has been submitted in both the U.S. House and Senate. The proposal, which seems to Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This