Pure Flash: Catching Up Or Racing Ahead?

SAN FRANCISCO: There were a number of product announcements, some fascinating market research, and insights into the future provided at, and leading up to, this week’s Pure//Accelerate 2017, the second annual customer/partner event from enterprise storage market light-heavyweight Pure Storage, Nearing the $1-billion revenue mark, the company is comfortably in the top five flash vendors and offers an interesting perspective on where the market is, and where it might be going.

The company’s marketing slogan — or at least one of them — is software-driven, hardware-accelerated, so it’s appropriate that there were more than 25 software announcements, all delivered in evergreen, all seamless upgrades. “Our core DNA is software,” said Scott ‘Dietz’ Dietzen, CEO of . The announcements included: Pure1 META, it’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform for delivering on the vision of self-driving storage; its vision for the data platform for the cloud era; major updates to its flagship software, Purity, Purity for FlashArray 5.0, and Purity for FlashBlade 2.0; and Purity CloudSnap, which extends Purity’s Snapshots to FlashBlade, NFS, and the public cloud.

In April Pure announced FlashArray//X, the first mainstream all-NVMe FlashArray,  a new protocol for communicating with flash that provides the ‘low-latency and parallelism that promises to take the potential of flash to new heights,’ blogged Max Kixmoeller, Pure’s VP, Products. A month later it launched the NVMe Now promotion, an extension to the company’s TB-for-TB trade-in program Evergreen Storage. Through October 31, 2017, organizations using VMAX and XtremIO can upgrade to FlashArray//X, providing customers a “total cost of ownership savings of close to 50 percent over six years.”

When asked how Pure’s portfolio now compares to the competition, storage guru Mark Peters, ESG Practice Director and Senior Analyst (Storage), Enterprise Strategy Group, gave them a solid ‘B’ and said they are now comparable, with the following caveats. It depends on how your define their competition and how you define their portfolio, he explained.

“Assuming you are comparing to other AFA folks and just on the product rather than all the consumption and support choices, then they are now (at last) at least on par… maybe even with some nice advanced differentiators. If you compare to a broader storage, HCI or IT provider, clearly they have a long way to go.”

If you assume it’s by how you define their portfolio, he views it as an iceberg. “To date we are only seeing a small % above the water (hence the solid “B”….but their architecture and approach means that their portfolio has immense extensibility — we are just not exposed to it all yet (so maybe an A’).”

At least one competitor appears concerned about Pure’s rapid growth, although they’re positioning it as separating fact from fiction. ‘They seem to focus instead on “raising the bar” on their marketing claims faster than their products can keep up.’ according to a new blog from Dell EMC. This was followed a day later with ‘Pure Nonsense’, their take on Pure’s misleading ‘facts’ about .

In addition to the product announcements, Pure also unveiled the results of a global study — more than 9,000 businesses spanning twenty-four countries — with some surprising results: digital solutions drive around half of revenue (47% on average) for organizations, whether through customer facing applications or more back-office functionality; and 40% of businesses that have moved workloads to public cloud have moved them back on-premise. “Emerging technologies have started to drive true digital transformation, but businesses remain in a cycle of lure and regret when it comes to public cloud,” said Dietz.

Still, the research supported the overwhelming move to the cloud: while businesses average 41% of their apps on-prem, as opposed to public cloud (26%) and private cloud (24%), 61% indicated that their use of public cloud will increase in the next 18-24 months, and 87% of respondents see their use of either private cloud (52%) or traditional on-premises (35%) accelerating.

Cloud growth is good, as that’s one of three areas making up Pure’s $35-billion total addressable market:

-500 leading clouds (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS) — 22% 5-year CAGR;

-next-generation data (AI storage market) — 78% 5-year CAGR;

-cloudification of IT (AFA growth) — 22% 5-year CAGR.

Another company marketing slogan, ’The New Possible’, was the theme of this year’s conference. Pure doesn’t see itself as a storage company, but as a data company, said Dietz in his keynote. “Leveraging data to improve your organizations is why we’re all here today.”

Kixmoeller said he’s excited to be referred to as a data company, not a storage company, and found a major example of the value of data in its own operations. Pure was generating too much data through IoT and the telemetry in their customers’ storage systems, and had to figure out what the right data was. “The real opportunity here is to be able to store as much data as possible… but give people the tools to discover relationships.”

Those tools include the new AI platform, Meta, he said. We wanted to figure out what workloads would fit on an array: “that’s easy to do from a capacity perspective, not so easy from a performance perspective.”

Pure’s engineers had a lot of ideas, but Meta examined the data and relationships and came up with a completely different answer. “It just wouldn’t have been possible with human intervention.”

Kixmoeller also highlighted another critical success factor for Pure: “In that world of big and fast data… people see the value, and are less price sensitive. That’s why Pure is so focused on going after the high-value use cases.”

As for a peek into the R&D lab, Pure has a number of developments in the works, including: a proactive support capability that identifies system problems and resolves them before they impact the customer, what they’re calling the Zero Impact Fingerprint; advances in flash technology, i.e. ZLC BiCS flash, courtesy of their partner, Toshiba; and deep learning in the cloud, in part to mitigate the massive streams of data that IoT is creating, and that will quickly overwhelm the Internet if they’re not handled at the edge.

DISCLAIMER: Pure Storage looked after airfare and hotel, and while I do not own any shares in the company, I do of a number of others mentioned in this article.

Author: Steve Wexler

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