Nimble Storage raises $25M to bring flash to SMEs

Nimble Storage, a startup selling flash-equipped storage appliance to small businesses, has closed a $25 million Series D round. Artis Capital Management led the round, in which existing investors Accel Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Sequoia Capital also contributed. Nimble’s approach is interesting in that it pushes the use of flash memory almost more for convenience than for performance.

Nimble VP of Marketing Dan Leary explained the product to me as being a single appliance on which customers can do both primary storage and backup. Primary storage that’s accessed most often resides in the flash tier, moving to a higher-capacity disk tier when it’s no longer as important. Leary said a typical Nimble Storage deployment involve two appliances: one on-site and another off-site for disaster recovery.

Because of the relative low cost and high capacity of the Nimble product, Leary said customers are saved from the traditional backup model of moving data from disk to tape, then archiving that tape somewhere. And by backing up in the same appliance, that data can be accessed in seconds rather than the considerable time needed to dig through tape archives.

By using flash for just a fraction of the appliance’s storage — roughly one-twentieth on its high-end model — Nimble isn’t trying to compete with high-performance, all-flash products like those from Violin Memory. In fact, Leary said the company is doing very well selling to small- and medium-sized businesses enterprises that value cost as well as performance, and that it didn’t even need this round of funding.

It’s using the $25 million to help build its sales force and make a customer “landgrab” for the next year or so, Leary said, but Nimble had enough cash in the bank to sustain it through to profitability. It’s no wonder investors are lined up to give Nimble money, though. The business model almost seems too easy — selling a hot commodity like flash in an affordable manner to a huge potential customer base of SMEs — and the company’s founders have proven themselves in early-stage executive roles at NetApp (s ntap) and Data Domain (s emc).

Nimble raised a total of $33 million in its first three funding rounds.

For the flash market overall, companies like Nimble could be critical. While Violin and others bring high performance to top-tier customers, companies like Nimble will infiltrate the lower end with low-cost options. Large storage vendors bolting flash onto existing arrays, as well as specialized startups like IO Turbine, FlashSoft and SolidFire, will fill in the gaps. Before you know it, everyone is doing flash storage to some degree, and it just grows from there.

Image courtesy of Flickr user zzzack.