Pure Storage Accelerate: Orange is the New Blue

The vendor's partner and customer event was the platform for the firm to reveal it is now a data company

Last week Pure Storage revealed its plans for growth with a new product set that it says reflects a new-found level of maturity in the market.

Keen to reinforce its position as a serious player in the competitive Flash space, the vendor used its second customer and partner event, Pure Accelerate 2017, to highlight concepts like deep learning, data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), and how they are driving customers’ data requirements.

“The message has changed and matured, particularly around our data platform,” James Petter, VP EMEA, Pure Storage, told Microscope. “We don’t want to be a storage company; we’re a data company, we’re an innovation company.”

The vendor has undertaken an intense 18-month period of product development, releasing its NVMe array, FlashArray//X, its FlashBlade storage platform, plus 25 new software features during Accelerate.

Other announcements last week included a new AI engine offering predictive intelligence, Meta, as well as enhancements to its flash array FlashBlade – now with 75-blades so it is faster to process big data and “unlock iterative real-time analytics, advanced AI and machine learning (ML), and rich simulation for data of any size”.

The clarification is good news, says Softcat solutions director, Sam Routledge, who thinks UK partners may have been confused as to how to position FlashBlade previously, having been billed as an object storage platform – despite its higher price point.

“It’s a subtle differentiation – like Apple, you make a premium product and you can charge a premium for it. I don’t think I had got that positioning [before],” he tells Microscope, adding that he welcomes any additional support and training that Pure provides.

Nevertheless, some partners questioned whether customer demand for AI, ML and other areas that demand high-performance storage is there yet.

“If they get it right, it could be very good. Right now, I think it’s a little early for them – it feels like they’ve created a market for a solution that’s not quite there yet,” Bill McGloin, chief technologist - information, at Computacenter tells Microscope. “The market will absolutely come, whether being first than gives them an advantage remains to be seen.”

Petter maintains that Pure will be working with the channel to develop a market for this next generation of products. “We’ve brought FlashBlade to market and we’re starting to build out or channel around that and we’re working out the relevant channel partners.

“Big Data, data analytics – they’re good buzzwords, they’ve been around a long time. I think some partners will naturally gravitate towards it, but we need to be very prescriptive and very laser-focused on those partners that show us preference, and secondly, they understand the market, and the use cases FlashBlade can have.”

“That world of AI and ML is just really starting to break,” says Routledge. “It’s hard for us because it’s a very specific market, so all support, channel enablement, will be really helpful, as that’s the brave new world. Enablement around that story will be key, as it’s a pretty untapped market for most of the generalist reseller population.”

International growth

Elsewhere the company says it wants to increase its revenues from outside the US from its current 80 / 20 percent breakdown with the Americas to a 70 / 30 percent split, and expects to hit its target “quickly”, according to Petter.

“Our European business started a year and a half after the Americas business so we’re not playing catch-up, we’re simply getting to that stage of market penetration,” said Alex McMullan, Pure’s VP EMEA field CTO.

Despite its 100 percent channel model, Pure says it will maintain its selective partner recruitment policy. When Petter joined Pure in 2015 he undertook a purge of partners, and is keen to keep the numbers low. “At the time we wanted to get scale and we wanted to sign everybody, and we thought that was the right thing to do. We’ve come to a point now where we’re incredibly selective about who we sell with and what they look like. Do they show preference to us? Do they understand what we do? And do they have access to markets we want to get into?

“And we’re going to be honest with them. If they’re not selling or doing what we want, there’s not this collaboration, we’ll say ‘thanks very much, we’ve enjoyed working with you, but it’s not working.’”

In the UK, the firm now has 20-25 ‘focused’ partners that it manages directly, with the remainder falling under distributors Arrow and CommTech.

Vendor rivalry

Accelerate 2017 was held in an old ironworks factory that was due for demolition, set to make way for the next generation of California’s tech companies. Draped in Pure’s bright orange branding, it could be viewed as a metaphor for the newer storage players like Pure, snapping at the heels of the legacy vendors.

The firm went so far as to remind attendees that historically no-one ever got fired for “buying blue”, referring to the likes of IBM and Dell-EMC. Now, Pure is aggressively targeting those firm’s market share, claiming that they’re struggling to adapt to the fast pace of technological change.

“All of our competitors are making acquisitions because they haven’t had the benefit of being of innovative from the ground up. Our competition has the incumbent advantage, but we’ve got the advantage of being a disruptor,” Ben Savage, head of channels and alliances in EMEA, tells Microscope.

However, the firm acknowledges it still has a way to go before it reaches the same magnitude of its rivals. But with the move into areas like AI, machine learning, analytics and multi-cloud management, Petter believes it is making good headway.

“The market hasn’t quite got us yet, but when the market truly understands what value we can bring around this data platform, the cost benefit, the speed of access, the simplicity, our path is looking very good,” he comments.

“We’re only just getting started. We’re going to do $1 billion run rate this year, and with the toolbox we’ve got, there’s no reason we won’t smash that.”

Pure’s partners seem to agree the vendor is on the right path. Says Computacenter’s McGloin: “Last year felt like a 1.0 conference, this year the messaging is quite good, the products they’re bringing to market, it’s like they’re filling out some of the gaps in their portfolio. The technology how’s them maturing as a company so that’s a very good thing for us.”

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