During Virtualization Field Day 3 we visited the folks at Pure Storage in Mountain View.
Pure Storage are the guys with Orange colour-themed branding. See the gorgeous Lego-model Pure array on the table in the picture above just in front of Stephen Foskett.
They are also the guys who have received funding of $240 Million and borrowed Vaughn Stewart from Netapp. Somebody must think they’re pretty hot.
The Pure Vision
Pure Storage has a simple vision: to build something unique.
The key foundations of their strategy are to build an all-flash array that is high-performance, affordable, high-capacity, and back it up with outstanding support.
Before I visited Pure I didn’t really “get” the all-flash approach. I certainly would not have been convinced by it and this goes back to considering Texas Memory Systems 5/6 years ago. High-performance but uber-expensive solutions. Point solutions for problem applications, but out of reach for most.
Balancing performance and cost as usual
When I went to Pure I wondered how can they balance capacity, performance and cost, and what about wear levelling and Flash wearing out. If you don’t use Single Level Cell (SLC) Flash, will the quality be good enough to support the Enterprise. Many Questions.
And will they do it so well that EMC or another Big Iron guy won’t eat their lunch through sheer market dominance. My expectation was like a visit to a Porsche factory. Great for Top Gear geeks but not practical for the rest of us.
Sometimes it’s nice to be wrong.
Having visited Pure I was impressed by their approach.
!! They have made a commitment to Flash storage.
!! No tiering
!! All Flash.
!! Optimisation using Dedupe and Compression.
My favourite aspect is their pragmatic approach to the use of Flash, and the “lack” of tiering. I’m not sure about tiering. My misgivings relate to block size and frequency of promotion of blocks from lower to higher tiers. It’s like “This IS a panacea” – a perfect cure for all. Hmmm
Tiering is one of those solutions that involves a rule-of-thumb. Here’s an example:
10% SSD, 20% SAS, 70% SATA.
Not very scientific is it ?
My biggest concern is the block size. EMC FAST can use a 1GB “slice”, HDS used to use a 42MB page size on the VSP. How effective can these page sizes be ?. Despite the use of Flash we still write to array cache and it’s the speed of de-stage from cache to the fastest tier that benefits from Tier 0. So thinking tiering benefits front-end IOPS is a kind of ridiculous notion really.
Look at Pure’s data de-duplication algorithms which use 512-byte granularity. That’s a slightly different context but is higher overhead but ultimately better in terms of capacity optimisation.
Pure’s Flash Strategy
The starting point I suppose for Pure is the type of Flash we are talking about. In the available types on the market today, initial systems that were available from companies such as Texas Memory Systems were based on Single Cell NAND flash technology.
SLC is best in terms of read/write efficiency but the analogy that was provided was that this type of media is like CD-RW drives, to perform re-writes to it you have to it the whole thing and wipe again.
In terms of the ability to store data, MLC, eMLC and TLC are denser multi-level cells and allow more bits per cell to be stored. This means more cells and higher capacity. MLC are not as efficient and lead to writing to a tighter noise margin. Pure explained that MLC is actually higher quality than they need.
They made a point that really stuck with me. MLC flash is used widely in devices such as phones that we expect to work for 1-2-3 years. So their strategy is super-smart!. Rely on the reliability of products made in high unit-volumes and leverage the improvements in manufacturing quality and reliability that are inevitable.
A typical introduction
Pure did admit there are only 10s’ of customers that run all-flash datacenters.
Most customers have some kind of hybrid model where the requirement starts off for an individual project or difficult application. This is where Pure will be a perfect first use case. In this case it is likely that the application has a very specific business requirement for better performance. The constrained system could be preventing the rollout of a new business application.
This is where Pure’s mantra kicks in.. Flat line is good …… for example better than 1ms
Now for the technical features:
- 100% MLC flash
- inline dudupe and compression
- reliability … 99.999% achieved across all systems deployed
- All inclusive software pricing
- End-to-End guarantee
- All software developed in-house
- No training or PS services required
Pure are championing a better approach to storage acquisition cycles. From a 3-year refresh moving to a 5-7 year lifetime. Based on being able to reprice a contract as capacity is added, to leverage the reducing cost of storage and by association, the support costs. That’s smart too.
Storage Musical Chairs
Cisco acquires Whiptail. No big deal. Who knows Whiptail ?
Violin Memory systems shows limited use case ?
EMC XtremeIO has been slated by analysts.
The rest …. meh….
Pure are working away, growing market share and doing the right things. I did kind of disagree with Vaughn Stewart regarding SCM (Storage Class Memory) and even standard server memory configs of 4TB+. This is where primary storage will live pretty soon.
They are to my mind the most credible All-flash vendor in the market today. Just look at these figures … So they may just have found themselves to be the perfect acquisition target for the leading networking company on the planet maybe ?.
DISCLOSURE: Travel and expenses for Tech Field Day – Virtualization Field Day 3 were provided by the Tech Field Day organization. No compensation was received for attending the event. All content provided in my posts is of my own opinion based on independent research and information gathered during the sessions.