Around the Storage Block

A Look Under the Hood of the HPE Nimble Storage All Flash Arrays

In June of 2018, HPE received notification from SAP that the new HPE Nimble AF40, AF60, and AF80 All Flash Storage arrays passed all the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to certify as SAP HANA TDI storage.   And last month, the HPE Nimble HF20, HF40, HF60 Hybrid Flash Arrays certified as well. SAP HANA TDI Certified Hardwarenimble sap TDI cert.png

Unfortunately, the demand for these new arrays has prevented our Storage Solutions team from getting some of these arrays for our solutions lab.  For month’s I waited.  The anticipation grew as I looked forward to the day when I could play with a couple of these arrays in our SAP HANA Storage Solutions Lab. Well, I couldn’t wait any longer.

Don’t tell anyone, but we got a little creative and re-routed an AF heading to a convention so we could get a peek under the hood.  Watch the unboxing during my “Under the Hood” video of this AF40.

Out of the box, a standard HPE Nimble AF array weighs in at just over 115 lbs; so, ensure you have someone to help you unbox and rack this little guy.

Unboxing the AF40 with Mike SchneiderUnboxing the AF40 with Mike SchneiderThe standard Nimble all flash AF40 Storage array comes in an 11.5TB or a 23TB version using 24 480 GB or 960 GB SSD drives.  These can be upgrade to 1.9TB or 3.8 TB SSD drives.

Each array has four columns or storage - called quadrants. On the AF series, each slot contains a dual flash carrier called a DFC.  The 24 SSDs are distributed evenly across each of the 4 quadrants. And each quadrant supporting up to 6 DFCs.AF40oncart.png

Nimble all flash arrays are designed with two drive banks – Bank A and Bank B – You can think of these as drive groups. Each DFC holds 2 SSD drives. One for each bank.  Slot A is the default bank and slot b is used to expand the capacity of the array. This dual flash carrier design allows for an independent removal of a single SSD without impacting the functioning of the other drive in the carrier. Each bank in the array creates its own RAID group.

AF40closeup.pngThe Nimble OS supports a Triple+ parity RAID schema that tolerates three simultaneous drive failures per bank.  That’s a total of 6 SSDs in a fully populated array using both banks. This Triple+ Parity requires each bank to have matching drives.

Nimble arrays are designed with an active/standby controller configuration.  If a controller fails, the other controller takes over.  This allows the array to function at its full performance even during the event of a controller failure. To support this active failover model, there are dual redundant 10Gb Ethernet interfaces for out of band management, 16Gb Fibre Channel HBAs or 10 Gb Ethernet cards for iSCSI.  Each controller also comes with a SAS expansion port that can connect up to six extra drive shelves to expand the capacity of the array.AF40Controller.png

Another feature of the Nimble Arrays is the ability to manage the array individually or as a group. Each controller has a dual 10GB Ethernet network interface card. This allows the management ports to be connected in a redundant path to two different Ethernet switches.  Most of our customers configure these ports to use one port for management and the other for grouping or replication. 

 The Nimble OS allows up to 4 arrays to be grouped together and managed as a cluster. Think of this as your virtual storage array cluster and just like a cluster of ESX hosts. The Nimble OS allows you to manage your storage in a very similar way.  You can move your volumes to the array that is best suited for the workload.  That is why the Nimble All Flash Arrays are so highly desired for integrated storage with server virtualizations.AF40back.png

The active/standby failover of the Nimble Array allows for modification and replacement of controller hardware without impacting the disks in the array.  Pulling the standby controller allows you to replace a bad controller or perform an in-place upgrade without impacting the operation of the array.

Since the SAP HANA TDI certifications stipulate fibre channel, our AF40 has dual, quad port16 GB Fibre Channel HBAs – well that was true for the arrays we ordered!  The array we captured in route to the tradeshow was actually an iSCSI configuration with quad port Ethernet network interface cards.

During the video shoot of the Under The Hood Nimble video, we found nine AF and Hybrid Flash (HF) arrays had come in and were already racked for us in the Lab.  What luck!  So we changed our focus to those arrays for the balance of the video.  AFRackpointing.png

Here’s what we found during the video shoot.

By removing the bezels of the four arrays in one of our racks, we found an HF and three AF series arrays. The first one we determined was a hybrid array because there are three Dual Flash Carriers with SSDs and twenty-one, 1TB spinning hard disks populating the rest of the array drive bays.AFandHFcloseup.png

The other three arrays are All Flash Arrays because they have 24 Dual Flash Carriers in each array.  However, from the front we couldn’t tell if they were AF20, AF40, AF60, or AF80s. A quick look at the controller SKU tags on the back helped us identify what models we had in the rack.

Looking at the third tag from the top, on controller A of the first array, we found this array was built at the factory as an HF 60.  This tag also indicates it was installed with 2 quad fibre channel HBAs.AFHFSKU.png

The second array in this group is an AF60 and the bottom two arrays are both AF40s.  You might question why there isn’t a better way of determining the differences of models on the arrays; however, one of the design objectives of the Nimble team was to make these arrays easy to upgrade in the field.  So they designed them so if you need more horsepower, you can upgrade controllers without having to change any of the disks in the array.


The Nimble All Flash and Hybrid Storage arrays are TDI certified for SAP HANA. HPE SAPTDI Certified Storage.png

The AF40 supports up to 8 production SAP nodes.  The AF60 supports 12 nodes. And the AF80 support 16 nodes. Using the Nimble OS Group management option to cluster 4 of these arrays and you can support up to 64 production SAP HANA nodes using the AF80s. In a non-production configuration, HPE recommends a conservative 2 to 1 non-production to production workload ratio.  This means if you are using the AF80 in a non-production configuration you could support up to 32 SAP HANA database nodes. You can also combine production and non-production SAP HANA workloads. Just make sure you don’t exceed the performance capabilities by keeping that 2 to 1 ratio in mind during sizing.

 So, there you have it!  Another quick look of another set of great products from Hewlett Packard Enterprise that are TDI Certified for SAP HANA.  The HPE Nimble AF40, AF60, and AF80 and the HF20, HF40, and HF60 hybrid flash storage arrays. 

If you are interested in test driving any of these storage array systems, contact your HPE solutions partner or a HPE Pointnext representative.

I will be presenting two sessions at SAP Tech Ed that will be held in Las Vegas, NV from October 2 – 5.  Both sessions will be at HPE Booth 555: 

  • HANA in a Flash: the right storage infrastructure for your SAP HANA deployment - Tuesday, October 2. 1:30 – 2:00 p.m.
  • SAP HANA Storage Replication and System Copy using HPE 3PAR Remote Copy – Wednesday, October 3. 3:00 – 3:30 p.m.

 I will also be available to talk with you throughout the event at the HPE Booth about the technology/ business challenges you face, and the many ways HPE All Flash can help you respond to them when they are part of an HPE – SAP solution. Stop by the booth and say “hello.”  


About the Author


HPE Storage Solutions Engineer specializing in servers, storage, infrastructure design, solution architecture and implementation.