Pure Storage Takes On Tier 1 Storage With FlashArray//XL

Since its inception in 2009 as a provider of all-flash systems, Pure Storage has carefully put together a portfolio that has many of the storage bases in the datacenter covered. Its FlashArray//C appliances take aim at the capacity needs of enterprises while the FlashArray//X systems are designed to address the performance needs of latency-sensitive workloads. FlashBlades offer high capacity object storage.

The company even offers an as-a-service, pay-as-you-go model with its Evergreen Storge subscriptions and over the past few years has made a push into the cloud, including with Cloud Block Store cloud-based software-defined storage offering. It partners with Microsoft to run EDA applications on the Azure cloud of FlashArray systems and, as we noted earlier this month, apparently has made its first significant deal to one of the top 10 hyperscalers, though right now it’s unclear which of the hyperscalers it was.

Despite all that, there was still a hole in the portfolio at the high end for the most mission-critical applications, a hole that enterprises had to fill with such products as Dell EMC’s VMAX or PowerMax systems or appliances from the likes of Western Digital and Hitachi Vantara.

“We started with enterprise-grade flash products, but mostly we were selling into upper mid-market type of businesses when we first started the company,” Dan Kogan, vice president of product and marketing at Pure, tells The Next Platform. “That makes sense as a new storage startup. It’s tough to displace enterprise incumbents and [there are] lots of features to build and whatnot. As that platform has grown out, our business more and more is increasingly coming from the larger accounts in the enterprise, and we’ve moved in two directions with the platform.”

The FlashArray//C appliances took aim at Tier 2 applications and secondary workloads, hitting on scenarios around data protection and backup and recovery for organizations that still are being served by hybrids and spinning disks, Kogan says. The FlashArray//X systems were for higher-end workloads, with the X90 being the top performance appliance.

Pure this week made a move to plug that upper level and challenge Dell EMC and other vendors in the top tier of the storage market, where enterprises are running huge databases like SAP HANA, Micrsosoft SQL Server or Oracle, or containerized or cloud-native applications. In addition, the FlashArray//XL family of systems – currently the XL130 and XL170 – are designed to give organizations the cloud-like scale and – through the Evergreen Storage program – flexibility in their on-premises datacenters.


The ambition to bring a cloud environment into the datacenter dovetails with the vendor’s Pure Fusion initiative, unveiled in September as a self-service and autonomous storage platform that the company said combines enterprise storage with the agility and scalability of the cloud. The platform includes a software-as-a-service (SaaS) management feature that pools storage arrays into availability zone and drives automation into such tasks as workload placements and mobility and fleet balancing. An API framework brings a storage-as-code model that work with modern developer tools.

“In the world of Fusion, the model of the storage array is invisible and largely irrelevant to the application developer,” Kogan says. “Our customers, the people who buy Pure Storage and work with the storage arrays, are the IT providers. Their end customers internally – the lines of business, the application teams they support – honestly don’t care much about the storage array. They care about meeting their performance requirements and SLAs for their application. They expect the storage team to deliver that. Fusion gets them out of that world of where they are working project by project trying to find the right array for it and giving those people a self-service catalog based on different policies and requirements that they published out.”

Adding the FlashArray//XL line to the mix enables the storage teams to build a higher tier of storage, even if the people using the application don’t necessarily see it, he adds.

“When you have someone building something with a ton of transactions and high data capacity requirements, potentially unpredictable bursts of workloads or spikes, that’s the kind of thing you’re going to want to put XL behind,” Kogan says. “Now there really isn’t a use case that can’t be met with that storage portfolio, from test-dev scenarios, secondary scenarios, even working on the cloud – Cloud Block Store – to the FlashArray//C lineup for the secondary ones, the FlashArray//X covering the vast majority of your database and VMware workloads to XL for those really high-performance applications or just multiple consolidation projects. Every option is now available to the IT to serve up to their end users.”

The ability to scale to the point where it rivals what enterprises can get from the cloud is important for such organizations as massive global banks and similarly large institutions, which can’t or won’t move their entire businesses to the cloud for cost or security and compliance reasons but still want an on-premises cloud-like experience, he says.

“Going all-in on the cloud is never an option for some of these [larger] customers,” Kogan says. “It’s never a reality, so if you’re going to build out a datacenter that rivals a scale that you get from an AWS [Amazon Web Services] or Azure or GCP [Google Cloud Platform], that’s a very, very capital-intensive, high-cost item,” Kogan says. “Being able to blow this up with highly dense, highly efficient storage has a pretty marked impact on their overall TCO and bottom line. It’s another key piece of the equation.”

According to Pure, the FlashArray//XL appliances deliver almost an 80 percent improvement in IOPS over the FlashArray//X systems, along with as much as 5.78 petabytes of effective capacity, latency as low as 150 microseconds and throughput that can reach 36 Gb/s. The company also is claiming a 20 percent improvement in density and an average reduction of data of 5:1.

The XL170 provides up to 5.5 PB of effective capacity and the XL130 up to 3.53 PB. The DirectFlash Shelves come with up to 1.9 PB.

Much of this comes from the all-new design of the XL appliances, Kogan says. They are 5U but can grow to 11U with expansion shelves. However, there were key changes to the DirectFlash Modules and the hardware itself, Kogan says. In the C and X models, the DirectFlash Module and NVRAM were separate, which used up another slot in the chassis. With the XL appliances, the NVRAM was put onto the DirectFlash Module, opening up space for more capacity to increase density as well as more fans for cooling, all of which improved efficiency and made it more cost-effective to run them in the datacenter, he says.

The company says it already is seeing demand for the FlashArray//XL systems. They’re available now, but as customers heard about the appliances during executive briefings, sales calls and similar meetings in November, pre-release orders began coming in.

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  1. Hi! As a former EMC employee I have no dog in this fight anymore but plenty of industry experience. Enterprise-class storage arrays differentiate not necessarily by performance, except that they guarantee certain SLAs at ridiculously large capacities, but rather by the rich functionality and ecosystem. I’ll give a few examples:
    – complex copy data management and replication such as multi-hop. Can you create a clone from a snapshot from the fourth array in a replication chain and guarantee bitlevel consistency? No? Then you are not a fit for Credit Suisse or similar corporations.
    – rock solid support for mainframe, mini-computers, and non-x86 open systems: zOS, AS400, HP-UX, AIX, Solaris.
    – custom ASIC based storage controllers capable of microcode upgrade without loss of data in transit and multiple parallel controllers. A Hitachi or EMC Symm/PowerMax has multiple parallel controllers which can be upgraded while the data is still in memory. The upgrade takes less than 10 seconds and is well within SCSI timeouts. An x86 dual controller architecture is a toy compared to that.

    I have great respect for Pure and the products they are building but Enterprise is a completely different kind of animal and IMHO Pure does not and probably never will have the technology for that. Happy to elaborate but there are plenty of folks more knowledgeable than me.


  2. “According to Pure, the FlashArray//XL appliances deliver almost an 80 percent improvement in IOPS over the FlashArray//X systems, along with as much as 5.78 petabytes of effective capacity, latency as low as 150 microseconds and throughput that can reach 36 Gb/s.”

    Is this a typo or can it only peak at 36Gb/s? I would have expected it to be able to push 8 times more than this.

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