Pure Storage is one of several hot flash vendors in the market right now. Despite some negativity about their recent IPO, it actually shows that the market thinks they have got their product and execution right.
One challenge for every Flash vendor out there (and there are quite a few) is to be able to explain the why. Why my product and not another vendors?
One thing Pure Storage promote as a strong ‘why us‘ is their concept of Evergreen Storage, described here:
Fundamentally they are saying that as technology evolves, their modular physical design and stateless software design will allow you to upgrade components without having to move data or do any of these forklift upgrades. Here is an image from their brochure:
Even with Storage vMotion, the need to move data between storage arrays remains a major additional cost of replacing or upgrading storage hardware, and the ability to minimise or eliminate this work is definitely a huge plus.
But can they actually do it? Do we have working examples of other vendors achieving this?
There is actually a good working model of a product that has done exactly this since 2003: The IBM SAN Volume Controller. When IBM released the SVC in 2003, the first model (the 4F2), had only 4 GB of RAM per node with 2 Gbps FC adapters. Since then, IBM have released a succession of new models as Intel hardware has evolved, with the current nodes having at least 32 GB of RAM, dramatically more cores, and optional 16 Gbps FC adapters!
The neat thing is that clients who invested in licensing in 2003, have been able to upgrade their nodes, with data in place, over successive years. The cost of new nodes has been relatively low compared to the performance and functional benefits that each release has provided. So I know for a fact that this idea of an Evergreen storage product is not only possible, but positively demonstrated by IBM.
The challenge for any vendor trying to do this is three fold:
- The technology really has to support seamless upgrades. While the IBM SVC certainly did and does, there were some minor hiccups along the way. One example was that first model, the 4F2, could not support the later 64 bit firmware releases, which meant that if you held off upgrading for too long, upgrading to new hardware needed some special help or a double hop to get the upgrade going. Another example is bad racking: Racked and stacked badly, pulling one node out could result in a partner node being disturbed (something I sadly have seen).
- The vendor needs to remain committed to the product. While I laud IBM’s success with the SVC (now going even stronger with its Storwize brothers), a sister product released at the same time, the Storage File System (sometimes called Storage Tank), did not get market traction and did not progress very far before being replaced by GPFS (which was not exactly a one for one replacement). And while the DS8000 continues going strong (long after Chuck Hollis, in a classic piece of EMC FUD, declared it dead), its little sister, the DS6800, truly was dead within months of being released. Its early months were so drama laden (sometimes sadly referred to as a crit-sit in a box) that new models were never released, which was equally sad, as once the code stabilised it became a great product.
- The vendor needs to hang around. This one seems fairly obvious. Clearly if someone were to buy Pure Storage (if the structure of the company allowed someone to do this), they also need to support this strategy.
So can Pure Storage do it? Only time will tell, but they have made a great start and the industry has shown the concept is possible. I will watch their progress with great interest!