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Today, I am thrilled to see us extend the Nimble Storage vision with two major announcements:

  • InfoSight transforms the paradigm for how storage systems have been traditionally monitored and supported, by introducing the notion of “cloud managed storage infrastructure”.
  • NimbleConnect is our new community site, where storage and IT pros can share InfoSight data and leverage the collective insights of their peers to answer their questions and optimize their storage systems..

The foundation for InfoSight and NimbleConnect was laid very early – from a realization that in addition to our groundbreaking storage architecture, scaling the company to tens of thousands of global customers would also require a disruptive and innovative approach to scaling customer support.

The Cloud Allows Us to Rethink Traditional Ways of Monitoring Infrastructure

The traditional support process starts with a customer being alerted to a problem either because of a service disruption to their internal end-users or because on-site monitoring software points to an error condition.  The customer then calls the vendor’s support center where a level-one support engineer asks basic questions and gathers configuration information. For any serious problem, the customer’s call typically gets escalated to a level-two support engineer who then asks the customer to gather and upload an enormous amount of diagnostic information.  This part of the support process can leave the customer frustrated and anxious that too much time has been has been spent on information gathering rather than on problem solving.

InfoSight challenges this traditional process by applying the following basic beliefs to the process:

  1. Connectivity.  In a connected world, there is no reason why we cannot monitor our customer-deployed systems like they do.  Therefore, we should know when our systems face a support incident at the same time as a customer does.
  2. Comprehensive database with extensive health information gathered proactively.  In a connected world, instead of reactively asking a customer for information when a problem occurs, we should be gathering a wealth of information proactively from our customer-deployed systems – system health information, meta-data, system logs and so on.  What is critical though is to gather information on a frequent basis, since the industry practice of gathering nightly logs and daily phone-home capabilities is too coarse in time.

Today, InfoSight allows us to monitor heartbeats and gather system health information securely from our customer deployed systems every few minutes, resulting in ~30 million sensor values per system, per day in our database!

Deep Data Analytics Can Help Transform Support into a Predictive Process

Going back to the traditional support process, even after all the diagnostic information has been gathered, it takes support organizations a long time to bring the right expertise to bear on the specific customer problem.  What is altogether too frequent and frustrating to a customer is when they are told that the specific problem they encountered is from a known defect, and are then provided a software patch that they need to apply.  The customer is left wondering why they were not informed ahead of time about the potential problem.

In rethinking this process, InfoSight leverages another core belief:

  1. Deep Data Analytics Can Predict Problems.  We have a team of data scientists and support engineers that apply advanced analytics and statistical modeling to the wealth of near-real-time information to predict when things could go wrong.  We look for early warnings that can point to potential problems.  When one customer encounters an issue, we immediately query our database to identify other potentially vulnerable customers.  We look for customer implementations that do not adhere to best practices.  The support database and the algorithms and data models that we use to query the database have become a core operational process within our engineering and support organizations.

The best proof-point of the efficiency of this approach is in the fact over 80% of all our support cases are ones where we call a customer to either address an impending issue or prevent an issue!

Going Beyond Support: Cloud-Based Monitoring with InfoSight

We have been leveraging the capabilities of InfoSight to deliver superior support for the last two years.  The next logical evolution of InfoSight was to put the power of all the information and the analytical capabilities in the hands of our customers.

When we looked at the on-site monitoring applications that most customers deploy from incumbent storage vendors, the approach that such software applications use is to poll storage systems on a frequent basis to create an event database which is then transformed into visual graphs – trending information, capacity forecasts, performance monitors, etc.

Leveraging the deep data that we gather from all our customer-installed systems, the InfoSight Portal is a Cloud-based application that allows customers to monitor their infrastructure without the complexity of on-premise software, licenses and agents.

More than 200 customers have already deployed the InfoSight service to generate real-time alerts, forecast their capacity requirements, size their system upgrade needs, monitor application backups, report on the success of their disaster recovery implementations and more.  Every day we continue to hear from our customers on how the InfoSight portal saved the day for them:

  • The service provider customer who kept adding more and more workloads and used InfoSight to gauge exactly how much CPU, cache and capacity they needed to keep their applications running in top condition.
  • The enterprise customer who had strict policies tied to data protection, who was able to detect the one time his VMware snapshot failed causing his RPO (recovery point objective) and RTO (recovery time objective) goals to be missed, and was able to immediately rectify it.
  • The retail customer with arrays in multiple data centers who regularly uses the capacity usage and change rates to compute how much bandwidth she needs to provision to replicate her snapshots across sites.

The list goes on and on.

NimbleConnect: A Community Centered around Real-World Insights from InfoSight

When we shared the InfoSight vision with the industry’s most prominent analysts and influencers, the feedback was overwhelming.  Why restrict this to just Nimble customers, these experts asked.  Why not share these insights with the broader storage community who can benefit from access to this type of information? And thus was born Nimble Connect – the Nimble storage community.

At Nimble, we believe that our single most important asset is our customer base, and our single most important priority is to foster a satisfied customer community.  NimbleConnect provides a platform for these customers to share their stories, best practices, tips and tricks, scripts, and other valuable technical resources.

Furthermore, it takes the insights gleaned from the installed base through InfoSight and returns them back to our customers, where they can be discussed and enhanced. A customer in a particular vertical market looking to deploy VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) for the first time can now learn what their peers in other institutions are doing with regards to size of the virtual desktop. Microsoft Exchange admins can learn what the installed base is doing when it came to protecting their Exchange environments with snapshots. The NimbleConnect portal uses the richness of InfoSight to provide these and many other insights.

InfoSight and NimbleConnect are the first steps in a vision around how we can transform a customer’s support experience and a customer’s access to peer insights.  The vision was made possible by leveraging the cloud for unprecedented near-real-time information about how our customers use their systems, and by leveraging deep data analytics to transform that information into predictive actions and insights.  We are merely at the beginning of what we believe is possible.  We welcome you to sign up on NimbleConnect and help us make it better.

Suresh Vasudevan
Written by:
Suresh Vasudevan