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!

NSF Awards $10M to Extend Chameleon Cloud Testbed Project

September 19, 2017

The National Science Foundation has awarded a second phase, $10 million grant to the Chameleon cloud computing testbed project led by University of Chicago with partners at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), Ren Read more…

By John Russell

NERSC Simulations Shed Light on Fusion Reaction Turbulence

September 19, 2017

Understanding fusion reactions in detail – particularly plasma turbulence – is critical to the effort to bring fusion power to reality. Recent work including roughly 70 million hours of compute time at the National E Read more…

Kathy Yelick Charts the Promise and Progress of Exascale Science

September 15, 2017

On Friday, Sept. 8, Kathy Yelick of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the keynote address on “Breakthrough Science at the Exascale” at the ACM Europe Conferen Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Prepares Customers for Success with the HPC Software Portfolio

High performance computing (HPC) software is key to harnessing the full power of HPC environments. Development and management tools enable IT departments to streamline installation and maintenance of their systems as well as create, optimize, and run their HPC applications. Read more…

U of Illinois, NCSA Launch First US Nanomanufacturing Node

September 14, 2017

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign together with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) have launched the United States's first computational node aimed at the development of nanomanufactu Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Kathy Yelick Charts the Promise and Progress of Exascale Science

September 15, 2017

On Friday, Sept. 8, Kathy Yelick of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the keynote address on “Breakt Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Pledges Another $300 Million for Post-Moore’s Readiness

September 14, 2017

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a giant funding effort to ensure the United States can sustain the pace of electronic innovation vital to both a flourishing economy and a secure military. Under the banner of the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI), some $500-$800 million will be invested in post-Moore’s Law technologies. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Breaks Ground for Complex Quantum Chemistry

September 14, 2017

IBM has reported the use of a novel algorithm to simulate BeH2 (beryllium-hydride) on a quantum computer. This is the largest molecule so far simulated on a quantum computer. The technique, which used six qubits of a seven-qubit system, is an important step forward and may suggest an approach to simulating ever larger molecules. Read more…

By John Russell

Cubes, Culture, and a New Challenge: Trish Damkroger Talks about Life at Intel—and Why HPC Matters More Than Ever

September 13, 2017

Trish Damkroger wasn’t looking to change jobs when she attended SC15 in Austin, Texas. Capping a 15-year career within Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories, she was acting Associate Director for Computation at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Her mission was to equip the lab’s scientists and research partners with resources that would advance their cutting-edge work... Read more…

By Jan Rowell

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab Targets Algorithms, AI Physics

September 7, 2017

Investment continues to flow into artificial intelligence research, especially in key areas such as AI algorithms that promise to move the technology from speci Read more…

By George Leopold

Need Data Science CyberInfrastructure? Check with RENCI’s xDCI Concierge

September 6, 2017

For about a year the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) has been assembling best practices and open source components around data-driven scientific researc Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Advances Web-based Quantum Programming

September 5, 2017

IBM Research is pairing its Jupyter-based Data Science Experience notebook environment with its cloud-based quantum computer, IBM Q, in hopes of encouraging a new class of entrepreneurial user to solve intractable problems that even exceed the capabilities of the best AI systems. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD Read more…

By John Russell

Top500 Results: Latest List Trends and What’s in Store

June 19, 2017

Greetings from Frankfurt and the 2017 International Supercomputing Conference where the latest Top500 list has just been revealed. Although there were no major Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

IBM Clears Path to 5nm with Silicon Nanosheets

June 5, 2017

Two years since announcing the industry’s first 7nm node test chip, IBM and its research alliance partners GlobalFoundries and Samsung have developed a proces Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries: 7nm Chips Coming in 2018, EUV in 2019

June 13, 2017

GlobalFoundries has formally announced that its 7nm technology is ready for customer engagement with product tape outs expected for the first half of 2018. The Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This