Pure Storage is one of the interesting new storage vendors at vmworld 2011. A new entrant into the flash-only networked storage marketplace, just out of stealth mode, with a strong team, it is creating differentiation around high-availability (HA) capabilities.
Pure Storage has active-active clustered controllers over InfiniBand, with Samsung SSDs attached (hopefully it will rid itself of the form-factor constraints before too long). It is focusing on enterprise data centers that want consistent shared data with good response times (~1 millisecond access times) with high availability, for a cost/GB that is competitive with high performance enterprise disk.
Storage high availability is claimed by all vendors, but storage professionals trust few suppliers for true Tier 1 storage -- very large-scale, high-value applications that have aggressive consistent performance and aggressive RPO & RTO requirements. Storage that takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'.
It is not just products but includes:
- The supporting implementation services;
- The supporting maintenance infrastructure;
- World class "dial-home" capabilities;
- Feet on the street, every street;
- World-wide spare-part logistics;
- Has installed the hardware and software necessary to do regression testing of updates very quickly;
- Quality controls with real teeth;
- A profound quality ethos in the company as a whole.
A company where availability comes first, performance second, and bells and whistles a distant third. The quality of support has to be consistent country-wide and worldwide. The war stories told at company and customer meetings by true evangelists are about how customers were saved from the brink of disaster.
The three current suppliers in this rarefied but profitable marketplace are:
- EMC VMAX - with world-class products, testing, quality control and feedback. If something goes wrong, the sky is darkened by support engineers parachuting in.
- IBM DS8000 - with its mainframe heritage, focusing on complete integrated infrastructure stacks, software, and the broadest possible services to implement high availability in it's broadest definition.
- Hitachi VSP - with a reputation for product reliability that is unmatched in the industry, a data-loss guarantee, and a track-record of never having lost any data from any customer.
It takes many years to achieve this level of confidence with these customers, many of them in the financial sector. HP, with it's 3PAR acquisition, is knocking at the door and a potential new member. It can take a decade to achieve brand recognition; it takes a day to destroy it.
However, the biggest threat to this trilogy of Tier 1 vendors and traditional aspiring entrants are the flash-only suppliers. The performance side of the equation is already superior, with much better, more consistent data access times. The product availability should also be there in principle, as rotating mechanical disk has definite limitations.
Pure Storage will have to prove that it has the infrastructure, dedication, and absolute company commitment to high-availability. It will need deep pockets focused on establishing both the HA product and the HA infrastructure to earn the trust of Tier 1 application owners. A key Pure Storage partner is Samsung, with whom Pure Storage claim to have close engineering collaboration. Given Samsung's reputation and history of competing with its customers, this could be a difficult relationship to manage.
Action Item: High Availability is a difficult area to address, and new entrants will need time to establish reputation and trust from buyers. Senior IT managers and CTOs should keep an eye on Pure Storage, and consider testing its performance and availability characteristics.