It’s been a rough year in the enterprise IT market. The effects of a global pandemic have disrupted everyone’s plans, with spending down across nearly every segment. We have seen declines in both the server and storage markets. It takes a steady hand to guide a company through such an uncertain time.
Charlie Giancarlo, Pure Storage’s chief executive, seems to have just the steady hand required. Pure has delivered its fourth consecutive quarter of consensus-beating earnings. It closed its 2020 fiscal fourth quarter with $502.7M in top-line revenue, demonstrating growth of 2.2% quarter-over-quarter. More impressively, Pure Storage grew 2.5% for the year overall, bringing in just over $1.6B in revenue.
The earnings arrive on the heels of a broad set of product announcements. Over the past week, Pure Storage released updates to both its FlashArray and FlashBlade systems.
Moor Insights & Strategy President, Patrick Moorhead, and I talked to Giancarlo just after the earnings announcement about Pure Storage's position in the market and how the market overall is shifting. Giancarlo talked to us about what's fueling the on-going success at Pure Storage. He also hinted at how the overall environment may be improving as we all adapt to our new ways of doing business.
Fueling the Quarter
Pure Storage has come a long way from its days as just another disruptive startup peddling its newfangled flash storage array. Today the company’s strategy espouses the vision that data should be a utility for IT to provide and consume, much like networking has become.
Charlie Giancarlo will tell you that storage is about much more than just putting bits into NAND. Storage is about ensuring that data is available for the applications that consume it, delivered with the performance and protection needed to keep data flowing and safe. That’s what Pure Storage is trying to deliver.
It is a broad vision to sell in our current world of sprawling IT architectures, as nearly every enterprise today combines on-prem infrastructure with resources in a public or private cloud. There might even be consumption-based as-a-service in the mix. Application architectures are undergoing rapid transformation as containers take hold and become a permanent part of the IT landscape. You can’t just plug in a storage array and hope that it fits.
Pure Storage last year acquired Portworx, a company focused on data management for containers. We wrote about the Portworx acquisition when it happened, describing the unique requirements of providing persistent storage in a containerized environment. Giancarlo told us that, even though it’s still early days, Portworx is already making a positive contribution to Pure Storage’s business. It’s hitting all of its internal milestones.
Pure Storage doesn't break out the numbers on its consumption-based offering, Pure as-a-Service, but the company did say that it's a healthy business. Pure as-a-Service is performing precisely as Pure needs it to. That's a good sign in a market where Hewlett Packard Enterprise is making waves with its GreenLake offering and where Amazon is bringing its AWS cloud on-prem with AWS Outposts.
Even with these efforts, the core of Pure Storage’s business today is the one-two punch of its FlashArray and FlashBlade products. Both of these lines have seen recent updates (which Pure talked to us about on a recent podcast),
Updating the FlashArray
Pure Storage's FlashArray//C, announced just over a year ago, was the first mainstream array to deliver QLC NAND flash into the enterprise storage market. The FlashArray//C is a product targeted at the kinds of near-line storage applications that still rely on either hybrid-flash arrays or arrays populated by traditional mechanical hard drives.
The FlashArray//C is a market-expanding product for Pure and one that is making a difference to the bottom line. Charlie Giancarlo told us that it is Pure's product with the fastest growth in the company's history.
Pure last week updated the FlashArray//C line with two new models. The //C40 R3 and the //C60 R3. These arrays take direct aim at displacing hybrid storage arrays, with economics that provides consistently lower latency than a hybrid array for, according to Pure Storage, 30% of the cost. Charlie is proud that no other vendor is delivering an all-flash QLC solution at close to the same price/performance.
The FlashArray announcements weren’t just about an expanded FlashArray//C portfolio. Pure’s FlashArray operating system, Purity 6.1, brings a set of welcome updates to the FlashArray line.
Purity 6.1 now supports Pure’s ActiveCluster technology over fibre channel. This allows for continuous availability in existing fibre channel environments with a minimal amount of disruption. ActiveCluster can be deployed with no additional hardware or software.
Pure Storage is also supporting FC-NVMe with Purity 6.1. This feature allows low-latency NVMe-over-fabric to be deployed into existing fibre channel fabrics. Pure tells us that this will yield up to a 2.1x IOPS increase, up to 2.1x throughput improvement, and up to 55% latency reduction. The performance improvements available with recently available FC gen7 products will make this a very compelling feature.
Purity 6.1 also addresses the continuous challenge of cyber-attack-related downtime with the introduction of immutable snapshots with Purity SafeMode. SafeMode brings tunable snapshot retention to protect volumes, pods, protection groups, and files.
FlashBlade’s Unified Fast File & Object (UFFO)
Pure Storage’s FlashBlade provides all-flash fast file and object storage targeted at the growing unstructured data market. The company describes FlashBlade as a UFFO solution – Unified Fast File & Object.
UFFO combines Pure Storage’s best-of-breed file and object technology with Pure’s famously simple-to-operate management software, all targeted at an enterprise’s unstructured data needs. FlashBlade sees significant improvments with a major update to its operating system, Purity//FB 3.2.
Purity//FB 3.2 brings improved data security with the implementation of S3 user policies. This allows for a storage administrator user-granular access controls for buckets and objects stored on FlashBlade.
The new software also introduces support for sparse files, which allow for large logical file sizes while only space on the underlying media as needed. This reduces overall physical space consumption while enabling greater application-level efficiency. A great example of this is the use of sparse files as VMware virtual disks, where disk can be thin provisioned beyond what would be efficient to carve out from physical storage.
Purity//FB 3.2 also introduces a new set of management tools to help storage administrators understand what’s happening with the system. The new real-time insights capabilities provide insight into which users generate the most traffic, expose instantaneous IOPS and bandwidth metrics, and provide an expanded set of file system statistics. These capabilities are exposed both in the user interface and through a comprehensive REST API.
Pure Storage and its closest competitor, NetApp, released earnings on the same day. We've talked about Pure's performance. NetApp also had a good quarter. We won't have the full picture until Dell Technologies and Hewlett Packard Enterprise each report their earnings over the coming week, but early indications are that strength is returning to the storage market.
Charlie told us that he believes that enterprises have adapted to the new realities of the current environment. Digital transformation projects are moving forward. He expects the storage market to stabilize over the next two quarters.
Despite the uncertainty and the intense competitive environment, Pure Storage executes a strategy and vision that its customers appreciate. The company has beaten consensus estimates for four consecutive quarters and shown growth for the full year. That doesn’t happen by accident.
Pure Storage strategically targets the areas where IT is shifting its footprint, whether into cloud or containers. It's also maintaining restraint by staying focused on serving and storing data. Pure Storage believes that data is a utility. Everything that is does serves that vision, and that vision is clearly paying off.