Pure Storage outlines growth momentum, bolsters cloud play

Pure Storage CEO talks up the storage supplier’s competitive edge in a largely stagnant market dominated by larger rivals

At a time when growth in the commoditised storage market has been flat or declining, Pure Storage has defied the odds thanks to its strong investments in R&D and an aggressive sales force.

That is the view of Pure Storage CEO Charles Giancarlo, who outlined the company’s competitive edge on the sidelines of Pure Accelerate 2019 in Austin. During the second quarter of its fiscal year 2020, Pure Storage’s revenues grew by 28% to reach $396.3m.

“The reason why I think we continue to grow is largely because we’ve developed a sales and marketing operation that is very competitive,” said Giancarlo, describing his sales teams as hunters rather than farmers.

As Pure Storage did not start off with a customer base that it could farm, Giancarlo said the company’s sales force has had to aggressively go after its rivals’ customers. “So even in a stable market that’s not growing, we continue to grow.”

The other ingredient in Pure Storage’s success has been its investments in R&D, which Giancarlo said was necessary to take the storage industry to the next level.

“I think it’s very hard for dominant and legacy players to change from a 4% to 5% R&D model to what is needed to transform the industry,” he said, adding that Pure Storage would spend 18% of its revenue on R&D this year.

“We’re clearly a technology-focused company, and not one that just resells rebranded gear made by third parties.”

New offerings

The company’s earlier R&D investments bore fruit this week when it unveiled new offerings to address the needs of enterprises that are consuming more storage on the cloud, and to make flash storage more viable for tier-two applications.

But rather than stash all-flash arrays into co-location datacentres and connecting them to the cloud, or run a storage operating system on Amazon’s Elastic Block Store (EBS) without optimising it for cloud, Pure Storage took nearly two years to rewrite significant portions of its software to make storage arrays on Amazon infrastructure more reliable.

The result is Cloud Block Store, an enterprise-grade block storage service delivered natively in the public cloud, with access to the same protocols, snapshots and replication capabilities of Pure’s storage software.

Matt Kixmoeller, vice-president for strategy at Pure Storage, said to meet the reliability requirements of tier-one applications, and to avoid problems around coordinated failures with EBS, the company rearchitected the backend layer of its software to run natively on Amazon S3, the most reliable cloud storage that offers high levels of durability.

“We use EBS as a cache to deliver high performance and persist data on S3,” said Kixmoeller. “Most customers treat S3 as their cloud storage, so [Cloud Block Store] becomes a way for us to bring a tier-one block storage experience to S3.”

Kixmoeller said during a beta programme for Cloud Block Store, Pure Storage customers found several use cases, such as migrating tier-one workloads including Oracle databases and SAP applications to the cloud, disaster recovery, as well as development and testing.

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It also had customers that developed and tested applications on-premise for deployment on the cloud. Conversely, there were those that did testing on the cloud before deploying applications to an on-premise datacentre, said Kixmoeller. “Part of our goal is to enable workloads to easily move into production to and from cloud.”

In an interview with Computer Weekly, James Governor, co-founder of analyst firm RedMonk, said Cloud Block Store is what enterprises are looking for as they embark on their hybrid cloud journey. “We’re also seeing broader support from Pure for various cloud platforms like AWS and Azure.”

To extend the benefits of all-flash arrays to tier-two applications that typically run on slower disk-based storage, Pure Storage also introduced the new FlashArray//C, a capacity-optimised storage based on QLC (quad level cell) flash memory.

But as QLC memory can wear out more quickly than other NAND flash memory such as SLC (single level cell), Pure Storage has deeply integrated its software with the QLC flash memory in FlashArray//C to improve storage lifespan.

Kixmoeller noted that potential use cases for FlashArray//C include deploying lower performance virtual machines using policy-based automation, replicating production applications from on-premise environments in disaster recovery and consolidating snapshots for retention purposes.

In terms of gaps, Governor said while Pure Storage has a satisfied customer base, the company needs to build an ecosystem of partners, and try to win support among developers.

“It’s not so much of a technical gap – the products are good, and their customers are happy,” Governor said. “But the partnerships are going to be crucial to make sure their customers don’t go for an alternative.”

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