Putting More Flex Into Flash Storage Arrays

In a cloud-based, highly distributed, and data-centric world, flexibility in what a piece of hardware and its systems software can do, where it can run, and how it can be configured is a critical differentiator for picky enterprises.

For several years, Pure Storage has been talking about flexibility and choice in its all-flash storage offerings, particularly since launching its Evergreen as-a-service subscription program several years ago, giving organizations a cloud-like pay-as-you-go consumption model for its block, file and object storage and the chance to leverage an OPEX rather than a CAPEX strategy. The company has been tweaking the as-a-service model ever since. In the most recent quarter, 33 percent of Pure Storage’s revenues come through subscriptions, according to Angad Narang, the vendor’s vice president of product marketing and management.

The focus on giving enterprises options is continuing at this week’s Pure//Accelerate techfest22 show, where the vendor is unveiling an expanded – and rebranded – Evergreen portfolio and a new FlashBlade product family, called FlashBlade//S, built with a modular architecture and co-designed hardware and software. Each in their own way gives organizations broader options in the technology they choose and how they consume it.

“The biggest impact long term that we will have with the FlashBlade//S platform is the modularity, the future proofing, certainly that we can bring Evergreen Gold – now Evergreen//Forever – to FlashBlade as an offering,” Rob Lee, chief technology officer at Pure Storage, tells The Next Platform. “But really the flexibility and investment protection we’re giving the customer over time with the more configurable, more mix-to-match hardware aspects of the platform.”

On the product side, the FlashBlade//S is a significant step forward for the FlashBlade portfolio, which launched in 2017 as a scale-out and unified file and object storage platform. The introduction of the new systems shifts FlashBlade from a single product to a family of configurations. In the hardware, FlashBlade//S comes with an all-QLC flash media layer. At the same time, the company is decoupling the storage modules from the compute blades, making each independently configurable, which in turn offers more options to enterprises and makes FlashBlade a better fit with Evergreen.

“If we look at the architecture of Evergreen, FlashBlade always had a lot of the core elements – non-disruptive upgrades, the idea that we were going to constantly improve software in the system, that the hardware was designed with the hardware down the line coming in mind,” Lee says. “We’ve showed that in how we’ve evolved the generations of blades and the existing system over time, but we stopped short of completing the Evergreen vision in the current generation FlashBlade because of the tightly coupled compute-storage design that limited the ways that we could deliver Evergreen. With this new hardware platform and with the software flexibility that we’re adding to take advantage of that, we can now bring those elements of the Evergreen program into FlashBlade.”

On the software side, the top layers – such as the file systems, namespace, data protection, snapshots and replication – remain the same, though it will perform better because it’s running on improved hardware, he says. That said, the software in the Purity//FB 4.0 package for the new system is highly scalable – up to billions of files and objects and dozens of petabytes of data – can run critical workloads and makes managing the storage easier.

With FlashBlade//S and its modular design along with the enhanced software, Pure Storage has a platform that can run a broader range of workloads, Lee says.

“We are seeing an increasing variety of demands from customers in terms of their unstructured data workloads,” he says. “Today we serve customers in a wide range of use cases – data protection, where they want more capacity but don’t need a lot of performance. We have customers doing analytics who are higher performance on the scale. They love more performance. What we’re seeing is customers stretching us in both directions. There are use cases that want even greater capacity and greater cost efficiencies and there are use cases at the high-performance end of that that want even better performance. That dynamic range is significantly increasing. That’s something that we’ve really focused on solving with this new platform.”

FlashBlade//S comes in two models, the S200 for about 95 percent of the workloads Pure Storage is asked to address, while the S500 brings more compute and performance-per-terabyte for higher performance. The blades are housed in a 5U chassis with up to 10 blades per chassis – down from the 15 in the current FlashBlade – and the new blades are about 25 percent taller and 50 percent wider. This enabled Pure Storage to use more powerful Intel chips from the “Ice Lake” Xeon SP line and to fit four DirectFlash Modules (DFMs) into the blades. The system can scale by adding blades or DFMs, either 24 TB or 38 TB.

Here is the new chassis:

And here is the new blade:

The DFMs are key to the co-innovation of hardware and software, Lee says.

“The idea here is very simple: It’s to unlock all the power of flash,” he says. “We want the individual flash modules – the DFMs in this case – to be as simple, as fast, as good at moving data in and out of the flash as possible and we want to move all of that flash management sophistication and logic and smarts and background work into the higher level software. By doing that, we unlock a couple of things. We unlock a tremendous amount of efficiency in the drives. We also enable much higher densities, which goes hand-in-hand with efficiency and more predictable performance.”

The expanded Evergreen program also was designed to give enterprises more options, in this case giving greater flexibility to what they want to own and how to manage it. Like other as-a-service offerings – think Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s GreenLake and Dell Technologies’ Apex – Evergreen offers a way for organization to adopt Pure Storage’s products via subscriptions and to modernize and upgrade their hardware and software in a non-disruptive fashion.

With Evergreen Gold – now called Evergreen//Forever, under the new branding – organizations own the hardware and the software that runs on it, paying for it via subscriptions. In Pure-As-A-Service – now Evergreen//One – Pure owns the hardware and software and it comes with a pay-per-use model.

However, enterprises are running into a couple of problems that neither program could address, according to Narang. One concern is stranded capacity when an organization is running multiple storage arrays.

“They know what applications they want to put on and they have an idea about performance requirements and how much capacity they want to require, but you can never be certain about it,” Narang says. “What ends up happening and what we see in our customers’ fleets is they have some areas that they utilize a lot more than the others and the utilization could be in terms of capacity or in performance. The one which is not being utilized, the customer has paid a lot of money for it and seeing an array that is not being utilized is really painful.”

In addition, some enterprises want the usage-based model of Evergreen//One but want to own the hardware, either for regulatory purposes, stringent change management issues or a desire to own specific hardware and set the capacity. Others can’t yet adapt to a full as-a-service model.

Evergreen//Flex enables enterprises to easily move capacity from one array that is not being used much to another where capacity is being stretched. By not having to buy another array, an enterprise can avoid downtime and the need to migrate data from one to another, Narang says. With Evergreen//Flex, organizations own the arrays while paying for the capacity they use and can move that capacity where it’s needed.

“When a customer buys a subscription, they generally commit to what’s called a reserve commit,” he says. “They commit to using a certain amount of it. In the case of Evergreen//Flex, they commit to using 30 percent of it. There are going to be times when, let’s say a customer that has five arrays, one array might get to its reserve. They can always increase their reserve commit. That’s not an issue. But an array might be getting to this reserve commit while another is not. We are allowing our customers to have reserve commit across the fleet of arrays.”

Also, unlike Evergreen//Forever, with Evergreen//Flex, the software is separated from the software, enabling the hardware to be available at a lower price.

“We removed the software piece, combined it with our Evergreen subscription and made that available as a user subscription,” he says. “Now the customer owns the hardware and then they can buy exactly what they want. They can buy the model they want, they can buy the amount of capacity they want and then they pay for usage of that hardware. You get the usage-based subscription piece and you get the hardware ownership. It fills that gap.”

 

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