Pure Storage Unveils First Custom-Built Hardware For Its All-Flash Arrays

All-flash storage array specialist Pure Storage on Monday said it has for the first time designed the hardware for the latest in its line of flash arrays in a move to improve storage performance and density by moving away from a dependence on industry-standard hardware.

Pure Storage also introduced Evergreen Storage, a new model that lets customers upgrade their arrays nondisruptively for several new generations, and unveiled Pure1, a new solution for active monitoring and managing of multiple flash arrays.

Taken together, the changes to the Pure Storage product line and service model represent a fundamental transformation in how the company works with channel partners and clients, said Luanne Dauber, vice president of marketing for the Mountain View, Calif.-based vendor.

[Related: NetApp's Flash Storage Guru Has Moved To Pure Storage, Stoking Fears About FlashRay]

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"We're transitioning to make IT more efficient," Dauber told CRN. "It's a big transition to help our customers grow their business."

Pure Storage also is showing how much it has matured from being an all-flash storage array startup, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems (IAS), a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and Pure Storage channel partner.

"The company has a new channel chief, a new CFO, a new vice president on the technology side and IPO plans," Woodall told CRN. "It all shows the company is starting to mature beyond the startup stage."

New to the Pure Storage lineup is the FlashArray//m, the first model featuring a hardware platform designed by the vendor specifically for use as a flash storage array.

The prior three generations of the Pure Storage FlashArray family featured commodity hardware, Dauber said.

"In our first phase, we were focused on software," she said. "Now we've invested in a hardware team, which is looking at storage density and the efficiency of custom hardware. This is a big change for us."

The Pure Storage FlashArray//m fits 120 TB of usable flash storage in a 3U enclosure using only 1 kWh of power, Dauber said. This provides up to 300,000 IOPS using 32-Kb blocks instead of the typical 4-Kb blocks used in most flash storage arrays, she said.

Inside are custom modules that put two MLC-based SSDs with 2 TB of raw capacity in each slot. Density of the array is 40 TB per rack U of space, compared to 15 TB per U with the company's current FlashArray 400, Dauber said.

It also features a modular design to allow easy swapping out of controllers and SSDs, she said. The FlashArray//m can expand to 500 TB of capacity with expansion shelves, and yet each enclosure requires only six cables because of the custom hardware, she said.

"This is fully optimized hardware and software," she said. "We believe this is the first time anyone has done this."

Customers who purchased the company's previous FA-400 family after Feb. 1 can receive a FlashArray//m upgrade with their next capacity expansion, said Michael Sotnick, Pure Storage's vice president of global channels and alliances.

"Partners can stand in front of customers and say they are getting leading performance today," Sotnick told CRN. "And when they need more storage, and they will need more storage, with the capacity upgrade come the benefits of the FlashArray//m."

Having its own hardware platform is a true sign that Pure Storage has grown up, Woodall said.

"This gives the company control of its own destiny," he said. "Control is very important. It allows independence from another company's architecture Pure Storage might otherwise have to adapt to."

The FlashArray//m has been in large-scale beta testing since the first quarter, and directed availability is expected to start in July, Dauber said. General availability is slated to start sometime between August and October, she said.

To go with its FlashArray//m, Pure Storage also unveiled its new Evergreen Storage, a program designed to make it easier to upgrade the company's all-flash arrays on an ongoing basis without having to make full replacements on a regular basis.

Traditional arrays require "forklift upgrades," or the need to replace an existing system with a new one, every three years or so to take advantage of new processors on controllers, Dauber said.

"This requires a massive migration of data to the new system," Dauber said. "With Evergreen Storage, customers buy and deploy the solution once, and it stays in place. New capacity, storage controllers and software upgrades can be done without the storage going offline. So customers never have to use a forklift, never have to plan data migration."

Prior to the introduction of Evergreen Storage, Pure Storage offered its partners an upgrade program called Forever Flash.

Forever Flash gives customers the option of either getting free controller upgrades as part of their maintenance and service contracts, or of preventing increases in fees related to those contracts by upgrading controllers or capacity, which then resets the maintenance contracts.

Evergreen Storage is now the umbrella program for Forever Flash, Woodall said.

"This changes the economics of ownership over time," he said. "Customers get free controllers every three years, or other benefits of upgrades. Programs like this will push more traditional vendors to respond and adapt in order to avoid creative destruction."

Also new from Pure Storage is Pure1, a new cloud-based management support solution that goes beyond the company's existing CloudAssist support tool.

Pure1 adds cloud-based management of the arrays from anywhere and via any device, including iOS and Android devices, Dauber said.

The Pure1 management interface lets users and partners check the data reduction, capacity, latency and bandwidth for every Pure Storage array that is deployed, as well as configure the arrays and set up and manage LUNs, Dauber said.

Pure1 is the same tool Pure Storage uses to manage its customer support system, and plays well in the vendor's story about simplicity, Woodall said.

"Pure1 makes it very easy to see what's going on in all the arrays," he said. "Customers not only can get data about their arrays, but also information about what's going on with them. Traditional support and monitoring tools do not have the granularity of Pure1. Those tools collect data, but require another tool to analyze it. Pure1 does it all. It's a more crisp and elegant solution."

Nathan Reynolds, executive vice president and co-founder of Clearpath Solutions Group, a Herndon, Va.-based solution provider and Pure Storage partner, said the vendor is moving in the right direction with its software and management focuses.

However, the proof will be in how well Pure Storage itself will perform going forward, Reynolds told CRN.

"Pure Storage is a well-funded startup," he said. "But it's still a startup. I would ask, can they get to a financially stable model fast enough? Or if there's an industry stumble, can they survive? They will have to do an IPO or get acquired."

The launch of the Pure Storage FlashArray//m, Evergreen Storage and Pure1 will be done via a 40-city tour, Pure Storage's Sotnick said.

"This is gearing up to be the biggest investment we ever made," he said. "We'll be offering 90-minute partner sessions in advance of a series of webinars to help partners understand upgrades, commissions and competitive positioning."