Pure Storage has been an unlikely leader in the storage industry. It came out of seemingly nowhere, introducing the industry to the power of all-flash arrays. IT shops responded and began adopting Pure Storage’s all-flash solutions into their performance applications. The entire storage industry scrambled to respond to the threat of all-flash arrays, and over just the past two years, all-flash arrays have become a standard part of every vendor’s catalog. This industry is littered with stories of one-hit wonders who drive new technology into the market, only to be stomped upon and demolished. Pure Storage isn’t one of those companies. Pure has a second act.
Pure shook things up yet again with its very high-performance FlashBlade product and architecture. We’ve written about the FlashBlade previously. FlashBlade challenges the way industry thinks about storage and high-performance computing. Pure Storage threw itself a party last month with an event called Pure//Accelerate. Accelerate celebrated Pure’s achievements, and demonstrated that it isn’t resting on its laurels. Pure is determined to keep the industry moving forward.
Storage is about balancing throughput with latency. The industry attacked both of these attributes with the introduction of NVMe, an interconnect technology that removes the overhead of the disk subsystem from the data-path. Processors can talk directly to flash memory. NVMe improves every aspect of disk subsystem performance for SSD-based storage systems.
NVMe is just beginning to take hold. Providers today are targeting the technology towards the very high-end of storage systems. Dell EMC announced its first NVMe-based storage platform, the PowerMax, last month at Dell Technology World. Dell EMC dubbed it the “world’s fastest storage array.” A few weeks later, NetApp announced its own “world’s fastest array,” the AFF A800.
Pure Storage doesn’t think about the market in the same way that its competitors do. Pure doesn’t view NVMe as a performance enabler at the high-end of the storage stack. Instead, Pure will tell you that it believes NVMe can change the performance equation for every storage array in production and that every storage array should be “the world’s fastest” within in its class.
With this in mind, Pure Storage recently released an all-new series of all-NVMe arrays, called FlashArray//X, that span the gamut of performance capacity curves, from entry-level to high-performance. The //X10 and //X20 are entry-level arrays which can be configured either with SATA or NVMe. The //X50 and //X70 hit the sweet spot of mid-range storage, with scalability to 650TBe and 1PBe respectively. The FlashArray//X90 is the beast of the bunch, providing up to 3PB effective in 6U, with performance more than double its predecessor. It’s an excellent line-up. More impressively, Pure Storage claims that there is a zero-premium for adopting NVMe into its arrays. The price-per-byte doesn’t budge.
Accompanying the new arrays is an updated management suite, Pure1. Pure1 supplements its existing predictive analytics and management capabilities with new functionality providing workload planning, workload analytics with full-stack visibility into VMware vSphere environments, and new abilities to manage fleets of storage arrays across the enterprise. Pure is keeping up, and in some cases beating, the competition with its management suite.
Pure Storage released its first NVMe-enabled flash array in 2017. Less than a year later, NVMe is enabled across its line. No other vendor has moved this quickly. This is a serious wake-up call for Pure’s competitors.
A hybrid world
Pure Storage stands with NetApp Inc. as one of the two strongest pure-play providers in the storage industry. This leadership position forces a reliance on strong partnerships to compete with full-stack providers such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise , Dell EMC, and IBM Corporation.
The tier-one technology providers are moving the world towards solutions that benefit the portfolios offered by those same technology providers. It’s becoming a software-defined world, full of convergence and composability. Servers, storage, and networking are becoming interconnected in ways that border on the proprietary.
The reality is that the future of enterprise data is one of hybrid solutions. Private and public cloud will co-exist. Hyper-converged infrastructure will sit next to traditional direct attached storage. Emergent workloads will appear, such as enterprise AI and machine learning, which resist traditional architectures.
It is in this hybrid world that the pure-play storage vendors will excel. Their success will depend on sound strategy, and sounder partnerships. The tier-one providers are in no danger of fading away, and solutions from each will co-exist with the other. However, there is an opportunity for the pure-play providers to make a difference.
Pure Storage announced several full-stack solutions at Pure//Accelerate that illustrate its resourcefulness in competing in this new world. The AIRI Mini shrinks the AIRI architecture engineered jointly by Pure Storage and NVIDIA , which we wrote about in April, into more accessible configurations for data scientists. The AIRI Mini combines two NVIDIA DGX-1 compute servers with the power of the Pure Storage FlashBlades to deliver two petaFLOPS of deep-learning performance. AIRI Mini is a converged solution targeted towards deep learning.
In this same converged vein, Pure Storage unveiled the FlashStack CI for Oracle which marries its FlashStack Cisco-powered convergence bundle with the ability to efficiently run and manage Oracle instances. This solution includes LicenseFortress capabilities to manage Oracle licenses, and copy automation tools that reduces Oracle copy times by up to 90%.
Lastly, Pure is the first storage vendor that we’re aware of that is reacting with a new offering to new financial accounting guidelines that will begin to impact how IT leases impact corporate budgeting. To oversimplify things, beginning in January 2019 equipment leases will no longer be considered as a budget-friendly operation expense (OpEx), but rather a wide-impacting capital expense (CapEx). What this means in practical terms is that your accounting department is going to begin paying a lot more attention to your equipment leases.
Pure Storage has responded to this new burden for enterprise IT with the introduction of its on-premises storage-as-a-service, which it is dubbing the Pure Evergreen Storage Service (ES2). ES2 is a simple concept: Pure Storage will install its equipment on a customer site, manage that equipment, and allow the customer access to data on a pay-as-you-go basis. ES2 provides the performance and security benefits of on-site leased equipment, with the budget-friendliness and manageability offered by a cloud services model. It’s a great solution.
Leaders, and followers
Less than a year ago, there was a swirl of rumors that Pure Storage was going to be acquired. Nimble Storage had just given up the fight and sold itself to Hewlett Packard Enterprise. EMC was a year into its new marriage with Dell. The age of the stand-alone storage company looked perilous. Those rumors have since quieted.
It is not easy being a pure-play technology provider. History hasn’t been kind to that business model. There is no question that Pure Storage will face challenges competing against its larger rivals. It will be increasingly dependent on strong partnerships, a technology vision that exceeds the average of the industry, and a fearlessness to take on seemingly insurmountable obstacles. So far, Pure has shown that it has all of those things.
The technology industry has always been a balance of leaders, pushing the boundaries of the status quo, and followers, who defend their entrenched positions before finally following those leaders. Pure Storage brought the storage world kicking and screaming into the age of the all-flash array. Now it is doing it again with NVMe and parallel storage. I have no idea where it will all end up, but it’s fun to watch.