Pure Unifies Storage With New File Capabilities At Accelerate Conference

By Patrick Moorhead - June 25, 2020

Sometimes a small number of little things can be taken together to become something impactful, exceeding the sum of its parts. That's what happened today when Pure Storage revealed the features in the latest update to Purity//FA, the software behind its FlashArray series of all-flash storage appliances.

Pure is a company that likes to refine and update its products continuously. Earlier this year, in addition to updating its FlashBlade system, we saw Pure Storage update its FlashArray controllers to use the latest generation of Intel Xeon processors. That update delivered a nice speedbump to its customers while giving its channel partners a tempting upgrade to sell into the installed base.

Today at Pure Accelerate, Pure's partner and customer conference, Pure Storage repositioned its FlashArray into something wholly new. No longer merely an all-flash block storage device, FlashArray is now a unified storage engine that can serve the needs of both block and file workloads – SAN and NAS – within a single platform.

There's a lot to unpack from this week's release of Purity//FA 6, the latest software update for Pure Storage's FlashArray lineup. I'm just going to focus one of the most impactful.

Pure File Storage

I misjudged Pure Storage's intentions when it acquired Compuverde just over a year ago. Compuverde was a small company laser-focused on delivering software to power cloud file services. It most famously provided the technology behind the software powering IBM's successful Spectrum NAS offering.

At the time of the Compuverde acquisition, NetApp was showing growth with its cloud-based filer for Microsoft Corporation's Azure, while Pure was demonstrating its success with its Cloud Block Store offering. I assumed that Compuverde would find a first home in a service that looked a lot like Azure NetApp Files or IBM Spectrum NAS. It would have been the easy play.

Instead of rushing out a cloud file service, as many of us expected, Pure Storage took its time and integrated Compuverde's technology directly into Purity//FA. The release of Purity//FA 6 brings those file services to all of Pure's FlashArray lineup. 

There isn't another product on the market that sits entirely within the same performance strata as the Pure Storage FlashArray that delivers a unified block and file service experience. These new capabilities open the door to the consolidation of both user and application file service needs while continuing to serve flash-backed block storage. File services bring a compelling addition that boosts the competitiveness of an already-great product.

Pure Storage's file services are now shipping, but it's essential to keep in mind that the technology is still in its early days. Purity//FA 6 is the first release integrating the new file services into FlashArray, and Pure is careful to manage expectations.

There is a long-term roadmap for file services, as Pure Storage will tell you, that addresses the real enterprise needs of an integrated block and file storage system. This roadmap contains things like anti-virus support, file-based replication and clone, quotas, full-featured disaster recovery, and a whole raft of similar features.

While the file service features will evolve, the performance is reliable from day one. Pure tells us that we should expect to see 1 GB/second write performance and 3 GB/second reads while servicing nearly 5,000 active clients, with 100,000 files per directory.

Pure Storage, with the introduction of one feature, has expanded its market potential, given its channel an excellent new capability, and delivered another piece of a strategic puzzle. The new file services aren't yet fully integrated into Pure's cloud offerings, but you can bet that they will be. 

The ultimate solution for enterprise storage and data management is a unified control and data plane that spans on-prem, as-a-service, and the public cloud. Pure Storage understands that, and with Purity//FA 6 there is no longer a protocol gap in that vision.

Competitive challenges

Pure Storage is a fascinating company. Its leadership has so far managed to successfully navigate the dangerous path that's often forced on technology innovators whose core differentiation becomes a commodity. There was a time when, if you wanted an all-flash storage array, Pure Storage was the only number that you could call. Those days are gone.

Today, Pure Storage has an expanded strategy. The company is delivering to a vision that others have only promised: providing a unified data fabric spanning an enterprise's infrastructure, whether core or cloud, all with a cohesive set of management capabilities.

Pure aims to deliver a unified storage experience, regardless of the location of your storage. It was an early pioneer in providing consumption-based storage-as-a-service. Its cloud block storage offers a nearly-unmatched level of integration with the rest of its portfolio. Pure is aggressive in delivering features that keep its products at the front of everyone's list.

Pure also sits in a dangerously precarious position. Dell Technologies and Hewlett Packard Enterprise are both hungry and aggressive competitors who will not sit by and let Pure Storage continue to take market share. These are competitors who will leverage their respective portfolios of full-stack infrastructure products to counter Pure's storage-focused play.

HPE, also today, announced a solid update to both its Nimble Storage and Primera high-end storage products. Dell Technologies is aggressively refreshing its product line, most recently delivering the long-awaited and well-received PowerStore into the midrange storage market. Both companies have also fully bought into a future where infrastructure-as-a-service and capacity-on-demand are core parts of every offering.

Concluding thoughts

Pure Storage's latest release looks deceptively light. Its entire feature list fits comfortably onto half of a PowerPoint slide. It is the sum of those features, anchored by a new ability to deliver a unified storage experience that gives us a FlashArray that's unlike any that has come before.

This puts Pure in a good place. The company has one of the most compelling performance-driven storage portfolios on the market. It also out-delivers the storage industry, delivering earnings over the last several quarters that have shown growth where its competitors have struggled.

At the same time, the storage industry continues to enjoy a period of rapid innovation and change. Dell Technologies is aggressively updating its entire storage portfolio with newfound vigor, NetApp is on a small acquisition spree aligned with its cloud storage vision, while HPE and IBM continue to evolve their competitive portfolios.

The storage market is a great one for IT buyers right now. There are almost no wrong choices facing an enterprise storage administrator. Pure Storage continues to sit in the middle of it all, instigating and goading its competitors, just as it did when it pushed the industry towards affordable flash storage. 

I sometimes worry about how the company will do now that it has the attention of the world. I worry, but I like its chances.

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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.