Pure Storage — Has The All-Flash Data Center Arrived?

By Patrick Moorhead - March 29, 2023

Pure Storage, a producer of flash-memory-based enterprise storage products, posted fiscal fourth-quarter financial results on March 1, 2023. Pure also announced an all-flash unstructured data storage product called FlashBlade//E. As flash storage becomes more price-competitive with hard drives for data center storage, it’s time to ask, “Has the all-flash data center arrived?”

PURE STORAGE

Unstructured data is the last vestige of the hard disk

I wager that most of you have ever-growing unstructured data stores distributed across the data center and beyond. Most unstructured data is stored on disk, mainly because all other options have been cost-prohibitive in the past.

Across just about any business, employees, customers and vendors generate loads of unstructured data via email, images, social media posts, voice recordings, videos, PDFs and more. The good news is that, after analytics processing, unstructured data can deliver valuable business information.

Yet there are challenges, too. Unstructured data exists outside a database and uses file or object storage protocols. Expanding storage capacity is also a crucial requirement as unstructured data grows exponentially. With the expansion of data analytics, processing performance is becoming more of a necessity as well.

In this context, the spinning disk with file and object storage has traditionally been the most economical option.

FlashBlade//E: a TCO lower than disk drives

The Pure Storage FlashBlade//E (the E stands for efficiency) extends the company’s FlashBlade//S high-performance arrays. It has all the features of the //S, such as efficiency, density and unified file and object storage, but with improved economics and an implementation model that scales by adding more storage chassis.

The FlashBlade//S still fills out the top end of the performance axis for high-performance file and object data access. The S500 has the fastest access, while the S200 provides slower access, scaling up to 19.2PB with ten chassis.

FlashBlade//E will start with a capacity of 4PB and scale up in 2PB increments. The FlashBlade//E expands capacity and lowers cost by adding storage-only blades to the existing model of compute-plus-storage blades.

A sizing tool will determine capacity needs and recommend a configuration with an appropriate ratio of head-nodes to expansion storage chassis based on optimal performance and capacity.

PURE STORAGE

Pure announced that the FlashBlade//E would be available for under $0.20 per gigabyte at a system level, including the first three years of subscription.

The acquisition cost for the FlashBlade//E makes it competitive with lower-performing hard disk systems. Additionally, the operating costs for FlashBlade//E will be lower than hard disk systems; according to Pure, customers that use it can expect a 5x to 10x reduction in costs for power, space, cooling and labor. FlashBlade//E will ship late in Q1 2023.

Meeting ESG goals with an all-flash data center

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations for data centers are vital, given the impact of data centers on global energy demand and the ever-increasing demand for data storage.

Suppose we estimate that data storage power usage as a percentage of the overall data center today is 25%, with most data stored on hard disks. Flash-optimized systems use five to ten times less power than hard disk systems, so there is tremendous potential for power reduction. In addition to power savings, there are also reduced labor costs and increased reliability benefits.

According to Pure, product sustainability continues to grow in importance with its customers. In the fourth quarter, Pure saw more customers citing energy efficiency as a reason to choose Pure than in any previous quarter to date.

Environmental benefits aside, customers are also increasingly compelled to get more out of storage at a lower total cost of ownership (TCO), given the backdrop of increasing energy prices.

Avoiding painful data migration and forklift upgrades

Pure’s Evergreen services are the company’s answer for protection for storage investments, avoiding functionality loss over time and expensive data and hardware migrations. Pure has a range of Evergreen offerings that span different levels of hardware and software subscriptions.

Evergreen//Forever is a subscription service offering traditional appliance ownership, data services, tools, new features, upgraded controllers and blades, as well as flash when needed.

Evergreen//Flex can lower acquisition costs by up to 70% while providing ownership and pay-as-you-go capacity usage. Fleet-level management offers visibility across the entire hardware and subscription footprint. Site-level subscriptions allow storage capacity to be moved between arrays to better address changing needs.

Evergreen//One is a consumption-based service model for storage that delivers flexibility, transparency and simplicity with proactive monitoring and upgrades. With Evergreen//One, Pure takes responsibility for providing storage where required, which makes for an on-demand storage service that has the flexibility of on-premises deployment.

Wrapping up

The all-flash data center has arrived. The introduction of the FlashBlade//E is making the all-flash data center a reality. Large, unstructured data repositories remain dominated by 7,200 RPM disks, despite management challenges, relatively low reliability and substantial power, space and cooling needs.

With Pure's flash-optimized storage dipping below $0.20 per gigabyte, replacing hard disks with solid-state flash technology is now economically viable.

It may take time, but the FlashBlade//E will take on the hybrid disk array market for mainstream unstructured data, particularly for data that requires fast access and high capacity for file and object workloads like data lakes, image repositories and video surveillance records.

The advantages are compelling, including a larger capacity than a disk, lower energy requirements than a disk and greater reliability than a disk. This opportunity should resonate not only within data storage teams but also across the entire C-suite, including CIOs, CFOs and even CEOs.

Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.