Nimble Storage offers NETprotocol All Flash Opportunity

Nimble Storage (NYSE: NMBL) has joined the ranks of storage vendors offering All Flash Arrays (AFAs), claiming the launch of its AF-Series will open up new opportunities for partners such as NETprotocol.

The San Jose-based vendor officially unveiled the long-anticipated addition to its existing Adaptive Flash product set last week, which will be available exclusively through its sales channel.

IDC says it “expects AFAs to dominate primary storage market spend by 2019,” and that sales of All-Flash systems grew 75.4 percent EMEA in 2015, with hybrid Flash arrays growing at only seven percent year-on-year.

As such, the space is a competitive one, with established vendors like EMC, NetApp and HP going head-to-head with next generation players like Pure Storage.

Nimble admits that it was not only losing valuable business because it was missing an AFA from its kitbag, but it was also limiting partners such as NETprotocol from meeting the individual needs of clients when an All-Flash proposition was required.

“The customer would request All-Flash and our partners would propose alternatives, or they had to walk away from the opportunity. They risked losing customers,” Leonard Iventosch, Nimble’s VP of worldwide channel sales, told Channel Pro at the AF-Series launch in San Francisco.

Iventosch says that now the AF-Series “puts partners in a position to create solutions they would never have been able to, giving them opportunities to work with customers that were not available before.”

Moreover, it will inevitably mean NETprotocol can design and support larger deployments as they can now address a broader set of customer pain points. The vendor actively traded with 80 partners in the UK last year and is set to form a more strategic alliance with NETprotocol following its recent product launch.

Dan Leary, the vendor’s VP of products, solutions and alliance concedes that while there are some IT suppliers that “don’t want to risk their established vendor relationships for an upstart” he points to the current disruption in the storage industry, such as Dell’s acquisition of EMC and “the massive swing in multimillion dollar product lines that are going away.”

Leary says that Nimble will “challenge many existing relationships with folks like NetApp and EMC, with prospects for partners who believe they need to have a relationship with us.”

Industry disruption

“The storage industry is in a strange place right now with EMC in the process of being bought by Dell and NetApp buying SolidFire. Plus, IBM and Oracle are looking increasingly specialised in terms of their storage line-ups, and focusing on their core customers,” observes storage industry expert and blogger, Stephen Foskett. “This leaves customers looking at Dell/EMC with uncertainty, and HP, HDS, and NetApp as the remaining big players for storage.

“The industry needs more sources for storage, and Pure and Nimble have emerged as contenders. Now that Pure has an All-Flash offering, they’re much more able to compete. In fact, since Pure lacks a disk/hybrid storage solution, Nimble might be alone with the big guys in some comparisons. That’s why this offering is so good for them – it makes them more competitive.”

Leary admits it wasn’t the world’s best kept secret that Nimble has had an All-Flash array, but “it was appreciated how much innovation was brought to bear.” Foskett agrees that Nimble could have done a simple SSD-for-disk swap “ages ago”. However he believes the vendor “waited to add some new special features here – deduplication/compression in particular – and that’s understandable. This is much more of a mature product than it might seem since it’s using so much existing code; always a good thing in storage.”

The AF-Series arrays will be offered in four models: AF3000, AF5000, AF7000 and AF9000. One of the key features being touted as important is its built-in InfoSight Predictive Analytics. InfoSight can predict when a customer is due to run out of capacity, and needs to expand their footprint. With customer permission, Nimble can make that data directly available to the partner, who can offer support with an upgrade at the right time.

“InfoSight lets the partner be that really smart consultant that can say, ‘by the way you need additional performance or additional capacity’; they see it well in advance and can predict what can happen,” says Iventosch.

This is confirmed by Mike Batters, technical director of Nimble partner, NETprotocol: “We have the visibility to predict when the customer will need more storage, more rack space, more performance certain workloads,” he explains. “We can say ‘you probably want to budget in, in 18 months to invest in expansion in Adaptive or All-Flash. That is hugely valuable, to predict spend that far out.”

The price is right

It’s thought the AF-Series will compete most closely with NetApp’s AFF series on price, on mature integrated features and because both have All-Flash and hybrid/disk arrays in the same cluster.

“Nimble does it better but NetApp is competitive with this,” says Foskett. “It’ll also compete with HP 3PAR and Dell Compellent on price. Pure and XtremIO are what Nimble is talking about but XtremIO is usually sold without any competitive products considered and Pure is at the same time a smaller-scale and more expensive product.”

While Nimble won’t reveal exact pricing, NETprotocol’s Batters also believes a lower price point of the AF-Series than that of its rivals “is going to make All-Flash a lot more accessible through smaller businesses that want that level of performance but doesn’t have the budget to go to a 3PAR All-Flash array, because it does get disproportionally expensive.”

So what of those other storage upstarts jostling for position in front of customers?

Iventosch dismisses many of them as not being as established enough to provide any real challenge in the channel, claiming “there’s only a few of us with critical mass.”

“There are at least 40, probably more, storage start-ups that have attracted multiple rounds of venture capital funding. But if I’m a partner, I’m going to look at them and say, ‘you’ve got 20 customers, you’ve got 40, you’ve got a couple of hundred…I’m not going to risk my customer relationships with that.’ But if you look at Nimble with close to 8000 customers, there’s a proven market demand for our technology.”

The channel exec says Nimble caught its first win even before officially announcing the product, explaining that the AF-Series has been tested by 50 beta customers, “we believe many of them will issue purchase orders in the next month or two.”

The AF-Series is available now through NETprotocol and will be particularly suited to diverse storage needs of their client base – who rely heavily on high performance storage solutions, which drive efficiency, are cost effective and include features such as replication, encryption and intelligent analytics as standard. 

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