NetApp's Flash Storage Guru Has Moved To Pure Storage, Stoking Fears About FlashRay

Brian Pawlowski

The father of NetApp's FlashRay all-flash storage array development has left the company to join Pure Storage, one of the hottest startups in the flash storage field, in a move that could shake up the flash storage business.

Brian Pawlowski, who this month left NetApp for what he termed "A New Venture" on his LinkedIn profile, is now at Pure Storage, a key competitor to NetApp and other legacy storage vendors who are also developing all-flash storage arrays.

A source close to Pure Storage told CRN that Pawlowski has joined the company.

[Related: NetApp's FlashRay Chief Pawlowski Departs, Partners Say Product Is Facing Uncertain Future]

Pawlowski has spent nearly three years as senior vice president and technical staff member at NetApp, and was the leader of the project to develop FlashRay. That project was characterized as a "Skunk Works" project using facilities outside the NetApp campus until NetApp first announced its FlashRay plans in March 2013.

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NetApp in September released FlashRay, its first storage solution built from the ground up as an all-flash storage array. Release of the NetApp FlashRay and its new Mars storage operating system had been expected for late 2013 or early 2014.

However, the first version of FlashRay missed many of the capabilities needed in an all-flash storage array. Pawlowski told CRN in November that NetApp planned to include data snapshot capabilities and a high-availability architecture in the near future, along with auto-tiering as a way to move older data onto less expensive storage media.

Pawlowski, known in the storage industry as "BP," was one of the earliest employees at NetApp when he started there in 1994, and helped set the tone early at a company that would later garner awards for its workplace culture, including the No. 3 spot on Entrepreneur magazine's list of the world's best places to work in 2014.

Pawlowski's move from NetApp to Pure Storage is a big loss for the former and a big gain for the latter, both in terms of technology and in terms of corporate culture, according to solution providers who work with both vendors.

Among Pawlowski's early moves at NetApp were starting the company's Friday "Bagel Days" and co-founding the "Engineering Beer Bash" with NetApp co-founder David Hitz.

Pawlowski was key to creating NetApp's corporate culture, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and channel partner to both companies.

"People loved working with him," Woodall told CRN. "He's bright, and passionate about what he does. He's as much of that company's foundation and success as anyone there. It's a loss for NetApp, and a huge coup for Pure."

Woodall said Pawlowski would not likely have gone to Pure Storage for the money. "He's probably doing it for the passion," he said. "And it's interesting he chose Pure. He'll bring that company some big benefits."

Pure Storage, when it started, had a pretty complete portfolio of what enterprises wanted in flash storage, said Mark Galyardt, executive vice president at XIOSS, an Atlanta-based solution provider and partner to both Pure and NetApp.

"It took time for the others to catch up," Galyardt told CRN. "But Pure came out of the box with a fully baked product."

While NetApp started with NAS technology, it soon became a software company with some of the best capabilities like Snap Mirror and Snap Clones, Galyardt said.

"Enterprises bought into NetApp's software," he said. "It works well. Now, if a company like Pure develops a flash array with software tools like NetApp has, it would be huge."

Pawlowski's departure does not mean the sky is falling for NetApp, Woodall said. However, he said, NetApp's loss is Pure Storage's gain.

"NetApp has to articulate about FlashRay and about flash storage in general," he said. "It's in NetApp's best interest to be clear with its messaging to customers and partners."