Pure Storage’s new FlashBlade solution doubles storage density, performance and efficiency

Pure Storage has been a pioneer in the world of flash-based storage for some time. It was front and center when all flash arrays appeared about a decade ago. In 2017, the company introduced FlashBlade as a unified, high-performance platform that combined file and object storage. Now, Pure Storage’s tool, FlashBlade//S, brings a more modular architecture that is designed to disaggregate compute from capacity. As a result, storage, compute and networking elements can be upgraded independently without causing disruption. This enables IT to customize the platform to the specific performance, capacity,  file and object needs of their workloads. 

Greg Schulz, an analyst with Server and StorageIO Group, an independent IT advisory and consulting firm, said Pure Storage is facing intense competition from the likes of Dell, HPE, IBM and Netapp as well as various software-based solutions that are stacked or packaged with partner hardware. Thus, the company needs to keep innovating to differentiate itself from others. 

“Pure is doing what it needs to do to stay competitive with offerings from others including flexible flash-based solutions, software-defined storage, along with in-place as-a-service upgrades,” said Schulz. “Likewise, with a focus on AI and other compute and graphics I/O intensive workloads, Pure and the industry in general are adding support for offload and specialized processing platforms like those from Nvidia.” 

Concurrent with this release, Pure announced the next generation of AIRI//S, which is characterized as artificial intelligence (AI)-ready infrastructure powered by Nvidia. This partnership between Pure Storage  and Nvidia adds to FlashBlade//S use cases in fields such as AI, machine learning analytics and others. 

AIRI//S is powered by Nvidia DGX A100 systems — featuring end-to-end networking, including Nvidia Quantum InfiniBand and Nvidia Spectrum networking. AIRI//S provides enterprises with a scalable AI infrastructure for all stages of the AI data pipeline. FlashBlade//S complements this Nvidia technology with non-disruptive performance, density, power efficiency and scale enhancements. 

FlashBlade//S and its differentiators

According to Pure Storage, the new family of flash-based products has a “nearly unlimited scalable metadata architecture, offering more than double the density, performance and power efficiency of previous versions.” 

“The new disaggregated architecture and deeply co-engineered software and hardware makes FlashBlade//S a highly attractive choice for customers looking for a high performance, scalable platform that also provides environmental efficiencies,” said Patrick Moorhead, founder of Moor Insights and Strategy. 

The FlashBlade//S family’s engineered hardware combined with Purity//FB 4.0 software makes it possible for Pure to steadily increase density and power efficiency while heading toward an exabyte-level scale. At the same time, the platform can cope with the multiple performance dimensions required for traditional as well as unstructured data workloads. This reduces storage silos and eliminates architectural and operational complexity.  

Rob Lee, CTO at Pure Storage, explained that the new FlashBlade family delivers performance and capacity optimization courtesy of Pure’s proprietary all-quad-level cell (QLC) architecture without the need for expensive caching solutions. 

“Because of the modular architecture, codesigned hardware and software, all-QLC technology and Evergreen subscriptions, FlashBlade//S is a platform that can be configured to meet the needs of some of the highest-performance demanding environments, the largest scale and capacity environments and provide the efficiency and cost-effectiveness needed to replace hybrid or disk-based solutions,” Lee said. 

Pure’s DirectFlash QLC technology avoids the need for complex caching layers and expensive storage-class memory media. The company sees this as another way to differentiate itself from the competition. Instead of the usual approach of building or tuning a storage array for specific workloads or access patterns, the platform can be easily adjusted to cope with any type of workload. Designed for high-concurrency, workload variation and for linear performance scaling, Pure’s software allows customers to combine and consolidate modern and traditional file and object storage on one array. 

According to Lee,  key uses cases for FlashBlade//S include acting as a home for unstructured data and modern application growth, as well as for modern analytics, AI and machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT) and manufacturing, commercial high-performance computing (HPC) and technical computing (such as simulation and exploratory data analysis or EDA), rapid restore and ransomware recovery and medical/enterprise imaging and genomics.

As well as the capacity, compute and AI features, this new FlashBlade solution has been designed with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) in mind. This is provided via raised performance on metrics such as capacity per watt, bandwidth per watt and capacity per rack-unit as a way to reduce the data center and carbon footprint. According to Pure, this was a major reason why Meta chose Pure to power its AI Research SuperCluster (RSC). Additionally, FlashBlade//S allows customers to consolidate many disparate file and object workloads onto fewer arrays, driving even greater energy efficiencies.

“FlashBlade//S is not only the last scale-out platform organizations will ever need but also the right choice for meeting environmental and sustainability ambitions,” said Matt Burr, general manager, FlashBlade at Pure Storage.  

FlashBlade//S should be available in the third quarter of 2022. 

Evergreen subscriptions

Pure has offered Evergreen subscriptions for some time. They have been revamped in parallel with these FlashBlade//S developments. The idea is to dispense with any future worry over storage platforms becoming obsolete and having to once again go through disruptive data migrations and forklift upgrades. 

“Enterprises are continuing to look to modern, flexible storage consumption models that enable agility and adaptability as customer demands fluctuate,” said Eric Burgener, an analyst at IDC. “The growing Evergreen portfolio — and the addition of Evergreen//Flex — not only balances the need for flexibility and simplicity, but drives high performance and scalable, efficient outcomes to support customer growth.” 

The consumption-based, pay-as-you-use Evergreen//Flex model is the latest addition to its growing portfolio of Evergreen subscription-based services. Pure began the Evergreen Storage program back in 2015. Since then, the company has delivered over 10,000 non-disruptive controller upgrades to more than 3,000 customers. To add more flexibility, Pure launched a consumption-based version in 2018. Evergreen//Flex is the latest addition. 

Here is the new line-up:

  • Evergreen//Forever (formerly Evergreen Gold)organizations that prefer traditional appliance ownership can obtain a subscription to software and regularly modernized hardware instead of their appliances reaching end of life and having to replace. Pure takes care of all the upgrades for those paying the Forever subscription. 
  • Evergreen//Flex: This hybrid model means users can take out a software and services subscription while owning their storage hardware and consuming capacity in a pay-as-you-go basis. Users can take advantage of this approach to move performance and capacity to where their data and applications need it most.  

“Evergreen//Flex allows customers to acquire and hold title to hardware assets in a CapEx model and to then utilize a pay as you go subscription,” said Lee. “It is designed to be flexible, allowing customers to purchase as needs require, as opposed to being in a fixed configuration, where they have to buy ahead of schedule, without knowing exact needs.” 

  • Evergreen//One (formerly Pure as-a-Service)Evergreen//One offers organizations a consumption-based service model for storage on demand. Pure promises to add storage wherever it is needed, including on-premises deployment. 

“Pure offers the broadest procurement flexibility and choice across the storage industry today,” said Prakash Darji, General Manager, Digital Experience Business Unit, Pure Storage.

How does this tie in with FlashBlade? The modular architecture of FlashBlade//S extends the full benefits of Evergreen to FlashBlade. Customers can start at very small scales and sizes and grow in capacity and performance independently (or together) as their needs evolve.  

“With Evergreen//Forever, we can keep customers’ arrays constantly modernized across both hardware and software,” said Lee. “With Evergreen//One, Pure takes on the responsibility of delivering storage where it’s required, giving customers on-demand storage service with the utmost flexibility and optionality in future deployment, scale and growth plans.” 

Lee is bullish about the benefits of Evergreen and its leadership over the competition. Evergreen, he said, is an engineering program. It has been imitated, but never been matched by industry peers. It forms the basis of how Pure delivers storage-as-a-service (STaaS). Not only that, but it includes monitoring, service-level objectives (SLOs) and service-level agreements (SLAs), a capacity management guarantee and more.  

“A true as-a-service experience can’t be delivered without the underlying technology,” said Lee. “Without the ability to scale and grow smoothly and non-disruptively, without forward-looking future-proof designs and without the proven reliability of six 9’s-level availability, it’s not possible to deliver a true Evergreen-like service. 

Is STaaS the Future?

Looking ahead, is Pure looking at the business transitioning more and more to STaaS and away from enterprises buying arrays and blades? No. The company sees STaaS as a robust trend. Many are embracing flexible, consumption-based operating models. 

This is evidenced by the strong demand for Pure’s Evergreen portfolio. The company reports that its subscription services revenue made up 33% of total revenue, exceeding $738 million and representing 37% year-over-year growth in fiscal year 2022. But that still means 63% of revenue is in more traditional storage. “Ultimately, it’s about customer choice and needs,” said Lee. “While the market is growing for STaaS, there will always be room for customers buying hardware through a capex model for many reasons, ranging from regulatory, operational to financial.”