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Benjamin Craig, SVP and Chief Technology Officer of Northrim Bank posted the following message on the VMware Communities discussion board in response to the question, “Anyone using Nimble already and what has your experience been particularly with running VSphere on this SAN?”


Benjamin Craig
SVP, Chief Technology Officer
Northrim Bank

We are a “small enterprise” company (275 employees, 12 branches, $1B in assets). I’ve been an Equallogic customer since 2003 and have a lot of experience with Rocket Division, LeftHand, NetApp and EMC. When comparing FC and iSCSI I usually like to throw out the caveat that each technology has its merits and that your mileage will vary depending on the applications you’re hosting.  For instance, if the majority of your data is synchronous writes (such is the case with production video streaming) than FC or 10Gb FCOE may be a good fit for you as these are lossless (in the case of FC) or near lossless (depending on your switches’ capabilities) technologies.  Also, each vendor has its own merits – I’m happy to say I have close friends that work at each major storage vendor and they all have some interesting facet of their technology that may be a “buy criteria” for you.

Having said that, we recently put in a set of Nimble CS240Gs for a VDI project in favor of expanding our Equallogic footprint, and I could not be happier about that decision.  At my former company I was an early adopter of Equallogic, they were a game-changer at the time, and for years I could not have been happier with their solution.  In time, as they grew their support suffered – dramatically – and their firmware/software quality control went with it.  This left me with an admittedly negative perception of their ability to execute, so I was open to the idea of selecting a different vendor for our VDI project.  We looked at EMC’s and NetApp’s current offerings, and although they’ve added quite a lot of functionality and features (most of which are either licensed or charged in the next cycle of maintenance renewals), their underlying technology was not dramatically different from what I’ve experienced in the past.  Good companies, good technology, expensive, hit-or-miss with the support, but nowhere near as impressive as the Nimble storage we ultimately selected.

I reached out to a colleague of mine, formerly of DataDomain who left to join the Nimble team, for a product demonstration.  In short, if I didn’t have a lot of personal trust in this guy, I would have thought he was selling snake-oil – it sounded too good to be true.  He recognized my skepticism for what it was and ponied up a couple of CS240Gs for our evaluation.  I was blown away by their performance.  Here’s my 10,000 foot impressions of their solution:

  1. Setup – I didn’t think it possible, but their user interface is actually easier than Equallogic’s.  Drawback is that it depends on Flash objects for some graphs instead of HTML5.  I was able to get up and running with vSphere in about 20 minutes without the sales engineer’s help (in fact I intuitively setup 99% of it on my own).  The UI is a little sparse, but it does what I need of it and I expect they will be improving upon it in future releases.
  2. Snapshots – We have a secondary datacenter four-hundred miles away.  We replicate our data as frequently as every 5 minutes (for mission critical volumes) – this takes up a TON of space on the Equallogic.  For instance, our two Exchange servers and an Active Directory server take up only 240GB (thin provisioned) of actual space, but we were using a total of 8.5TB between both datacenters to take snapshots/replicas every other hour between 0500hrs and 2100hrs for a week.  Replicating the exact same data with the exact same frequency, we are only taking up 490GB on the Nimble arrays.  Also, adding protection to a Nimble volume is about as easy as it gets.  You can optionally do crash-consistent standard SAN snapshots, or you can directly communicate with Microsoft VSS, Oracle, or vSphere to incorporate application quiescent snapshots.  In the latter case the SAN directly communicates with vCenter or the ESXi hosts, leveraging the vBackup API to take VMware-aware snaps, then take SAN snaps, then releases the VMware snaps – all without the need for a separate appliance, module, or additive license option.
  3. Performance – So we figured we’d be sacrificing some performance for that awesome snapshot efficiency – imagine our surprise when our backup software (latest version of Symantec BackupExec) reported a consistent and re-creatable 500% improvement in backup times and throughput.  Considering we have two PS6510X 10Gb Equallogic members (48 drives each) configured in RAID 10 and only one CS240G (for now) – that’s pretty impressive.  I chose to be an early adopter of Equallogic almost a decade ago and wouldn’t have had it any other way, so gave the Nimble a shot, pounded on their solution for a solid month, and bought it before our trial was over.  We were seeing incredible performance with the Nimble arrays: We pushed them to their max with all that our servers could deliver and they never broke a sweat.  We even “vStorage Motioned” production databases onto it while running intense tests and actually saw a performance gain on those applications.
  4. Support – It’s true that Nimble is a relatively new player in the field, but their people are not; I know about ten of the people who joined Nimble from NetApp, DataDomain, and Equallogic – some of which I’ve worked with for over a decade.  I would say that Nimble’s product is the most stable “version 1.x” I’ve ever seen.  From what I’ve observed, they are committed to providing safe, frequent, and stable feature enhancements and have a solid roadmap for the next three years.  I have engaged their support department twice, both times my problem was resolved in minutes, not hours – when I spoke with their “level 1” support they were proficient and competent – when they needed to escalate my issue it was immediately escalated to an engineer who immediately resolved my problem.  Equallogic used to have service like this. Frankly the only reason I buy into the concept of a commercial SAN is because I value knowing the manufacturer has the tools, talent, and motivation to address my problems and take them as seriously as I do.  The way I see it, SAN technology is becoming more of a commodity as time goes on; what differentiates leaders from followers is their ability to service my needs, provide constantly innovative solutions, and strive to add value – in my opinion Nimble delivers on these traits.

Benjamin Craig
Northrim Bank

Benjamin Craig is SVP and Chief Technology Officer for Northrim Bank in Anchorage, Alaska, and has over thirteen years of executive technology-management experience in a wide variety of industries including sales, government, technology, and finance. Prior to Northrim Bank, Craig served for eight years as Vice President of Information Systems for River City Bank in Sacramento. He also worked as Director of Network Operations for a technology-driven government solutions company, and served overseas in the U.S. Air Force as a Communications and Computer Systems Specialist.