Pure Storage Elevates FlashArray To Storage’s Top Tier


Enterprise IT is in the throes of an information explosion. Every prediction over the past decade about the year-over-year exponential explosion of data has come true. The big side-effect of digital transformation is that we are all awash in data, all waiting to provide business value. 

Enterprise workloads with high capacity and performance requirements often need the consistency of a single storage platform that can provide a single point of manageability. This leads to enterprises moving to consolidate more workloads or support more users per array. 

Beyond operational efficiency, consolidation delivers savings. For example, consolidating storage reduces power and cooling, often an enterprise datacenter’s most significant operating expense. This is the sort of benefit that helps organizations deliver its sustainability promises. 

The challenge of consolidating storage at the highest level is delivering a solution that can deliver the performance required to the vast array of applications consuming its stored data while seamlessly integrating with the overall storage architecture. It’s a complicated problem to solve. Unfortunately, nearly every mainstream technology provider playing in the top echelons of storage solutions does so with isolated products that don’t integrate well with an organization’s existing mid-range and cloud storage solutions. 

Pure Storage this week attempts to address all these challenges with its new FlashArray//XL. The FlashArray//XL is Pure’s entry into the highest level of storage products. Pure is doing this by extending its well-proven FlashArray architecture, powered by its Purity FA operating system, into a new storage tier. 

Pure Storage’s New FlashArray//XL

Pure’s new FlashArray//XL is a new product that feels very familiar. This familiarity comes from Pure’s taking its existing Purity FA operating system, already well-known for its combination of power and simplicity, and extending it to service the needs of a high-end storage array. 

The new FlashArray//XL is built on a new all-in-one 5U chassis populated with a pair of newly designed controllers powered by the latest generation Intel Xeon processor. The redundant controllers are powered by four power supplies wired in an N+2 configuration for high reliability. In addition, the chassis is equipped with nine PCIe 4.0 slots to provide as much host connectivity as needed. The machine is also equipped with Pure’s DirectMemory Cache, which leverages Intel Optane SCM for very high-performance caching. 

These hardware features come together to bring a level of performance and functionality that we’ve never seen from Pure. The new array delivers 36 GB/s throughput with latencies as low as 150 microseconds. In addition, the array supports up to 40 DirectFlash Modules, while also accepting up to 2 DirectFlash Shelves for capacity expansion. All this capacity adds up to 96 total drives. 

Beyond a re-engineered chassis, Pure Storage has worked some magic into its flash module, DirectFlash. The updated DirectFlash modules now include distributed NVRAM. This removes the need for separate NVRAM modules. Pure’s approach benefits that both capacity and write bandwidth scales with the number of modules added. This lifts the limit on write throughput that many competing products suffer. 

The new array supports Pure’s DirectMemory Cache and Direct Memory Modules (DMM), powered by Intel Optane. The strategic use of these modules allows Pure to deliver latencies as low as 150 microseconds. In addition, the updated Purity operating system, Purity 6.2, takes advantage of DirectMemory Modules to allow specific volumes and volume groups to be prioritized to the DMM. This is a significant benefit, especially given that Pure allows up to 6TB of DMM in the FlashArray//XL.

Purity 6.2

Pure Storage didn’t just roll out a new storage array, it also updated the operating system that powers all its FlashArray products. Purity 6.2 supports the FlashArray//XL hardware, but it also delivers some notable new features. 

Data protection is top-of-mind for every IT administrator, so it’s no surprise that Pure continues to evolve its data protection and security capabilities rapidly. For example, purity 6.2 strengthens Pure’s SafeMode ransomware protection, extending SafeMode to Active DR and FlashArray File Services. Pure has also made it easier to manage ransomware protections, with several new controls for things like retention limits, fleet-scale SafeMode assessments, and tunable snapshots. 

Purity 6.2 enables multi-factor authentication and single sign-on with SAML 2.0. The new software also provides proof of encryption for compliance. 

Pure has increased the maximum volume count for VMware Virtual Volumes (vVols). Purity 6.2 doubles the maximum number of volumes available for any FlashArray, allowing up to 20,000 volumes and 5,000 volume groups. This is a big deal for dense VM environments, including VDI. This makes the FlashArray//XL even more attractive for large deployments. 

Finally, Purity 6.2 beefs up Pure’s business continuity capabilities. There is now support for FC- based asynchronous replication, support for Fibre Channel on ActiveDR for near-zero RPO. Pure has also tuned its ActiveDR to prioritize application performance over replication tasks. All of this serves to both increase and simplify disaster recovery using Pure Storage’s FlashArray products. 

The Analyst Take 

Pure Storage has been an aggressive competitor in the mid-range of the storage market, delivering some of the best products in that category. This is the sweet spot for the storage industry, one where Pure stepped in and first delivered all-flash storage. 

Moving Pure’s performance-optimized architecture up the stack into the highest echelons of enterprise storage is a natural progression for the company. That segment is expanding overall as data grows and enterprises adopt consolidated infrastructure to both simplify and accommodate expansion. 

The FlashArray//XL is a compelling entrant into the competitive top-tier storage market. If you place the FlashArray//XL170 head-to-head against the Dell EMC PowerMax 8000, you’ll see that the FlashArray//XL delivers the same 5.47PB while consuming 86% less space than the Dell offering, while using 62% less flash storage.

The competitive strength of the FlashArray//XL is broader than just the capabilities delivered by the array. While long-term storage vendors, such as Dell Technologies and NetApp, segregate their high-end products into siloed architectures, Pure takes a different approach. Pure delivers a consistent operating experience across its block storage products, including its Pure-as-a-Service and Pure Cloud Block Storage offerings. No other tier-one storage provider has one platform with this overarching reach. 

A storage solution defined by software and enabled by best-in-class storage hardware provides a tremendous amount of benefit to any size IT organization. The needs of IT shift over time, with applications scaling with the requirements of an organization. Storage should not inhibit that, yet that is what happens time and again when deploying legacy architectures. 

Pure Storage offers a storage architecture that is simple, scalable, and flexible. Pure Storage’s Purity FA software allows IT to deploy storage that meets today’s needs and is ready for tomorrow’s. The FlashArray//XL extends Pure’s reach within the enterprise. Pure Storage’s updated portfolio, and overarching value proposition, is very compelling. The company will do well with the new XL.