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King’s College dumps legacy SAN for Nimble hybrid flash

Cambridge college triples storage capacity for VMware virtualised environment and adds Veeam backup. Nimble hybrid flash ensures rapid data access with Sata bulk storage behind

King’s College, Cambridge, has deployed more than 60TB hybrid flash capacity in a Nimble Storage (now HPE) array. The upgrade saw the college more than triple its storage capacity, potentially future-proofing it for the next five years.

King’s College is one of 31 Cambridge colleges and has around 100 IT users. Key applications in use include financials, email, web services and alumni records.

These run on more than 50 VMware virtual machines (VMs) that had previously been supported by around 17TB on an all-Sata spinning disk SAN array, which IT manager Mark Andrews preferred not to name.

“It was getting long in the tooth – it was six years old – and running out of capacity. We needed to refresh it for capacity and performance,” he said.

“The problems were mainly with capacity. We had the choice to change all the disks, but that would have left the underlying hardware which would still have been at the end of reasonable life.”

With the help of Nottinghamshire-based integrator Nexstor, King’s College’s IT team deployed a Nimble Storage CS300 hybrid flash storage array, which has four 600GB flash drives and 12 6TB Sata spinning disk drives.

Bulk storage is provided by the Sata spinning disk, but hot data is retained on flash for quick access.

“All I/O [input/output] goes through the flash drives. It is effectively caching. It’s an impressive way of dealing with I/O that makes it very quick,” said Andrews.

The project also saw existing backup software replaced by Veeam with backups targeted to an offsite location.

Read more about hybrid flash

  • When it comes to choosing between hybrid flash and all-flash storage, the question is increasingly not how much flash is enough, but whether you still need any disk at all.
  • Hybrid flash storage marries the performance of flash with the cost effectiveness of spinning disk. But products range from retrofits to an entire new category of array.

With regard to the Nimble hybrid flash array, Andrews said: “We have no concerns. It is supported well and the box maintains itself well and raises incidents itself. In terms of performance, all I can say is it is just instant, when you open and close a file.”

“In terms of maintenance and software updates, it’s massively easier than with the previous SAN. You had to download the software, apply it and it took some time. With Nimble it is just instant.”

HPE bought Nimble in early 2017 for $1.2bn. Nimble Storage was formed in 2008 and made its name initially with hybrid flash arrays that combined small amounts of Nand flash with spinning disk and used data reduction.

This is the CS family of hybrid boxes that scale from a few TB into the low 100s of TB. CS series arrays allow customers to specify that certain workloads can be pinned to flash storage for guaranteed performance.

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