Pure says users can upgrade the same all-flash array for a decade

The company says it can eliminate rip-and-replace upgrades

Enterprise storage is a long-term bet. Pure Storage, a growing maker of all-flash arrays, is reshuffling the deck on that gamble in a way that might save IT departments time and money.

Pure's plan is to let customers keep the same system for a decade, upgrading various components as improved versions come out but never having to migrate the data from an older array to a new one. For some organizations, this could eliminate an expensive and time-consuming effort every few years.

The elements of the new approach have been coming together for a while. But the company formally introduced the strategy and gave it a name -- Evergreen Storage -- as it unveiled its fourth-generation product on Monday. Evergreen Storage applies to all generations of Pure hardware already shipped as well as versions yet to come.

Introducing a decade-long upgrade strategy may help the six-year-old company make enterprises start thinking about Pure and all-flash storage in a strategic way, a key objective in an industry where well-established, broad-based giants like EMC still hold sway in many IT shops, according to Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Scott Sinclair.

IDC expects the all-flash array market to reach more than $3.3 billion in revenue by 2018, growing at nearly 50 percent per year. But with hybrid disk-and-flash architectures still the norm, all-flash players like Pure may be at a disadvantage, Sinclair at ESG said.

But it's also a genuinely new approach to upgrading storage systems over time, one that's much more far-reaching than past offers by vendors to swap out controllers in existing arrays, Sinclair said. Most of those have been limited to one generational change and are more of a marketing tool, he said.

Pure's approach makes modular upgrades the basis of the company's hardware architecture. It's an approach that's already used with some networking products, such as Cisco's Catalyst series of switches, and in some cases with blade server systems. But it's relatively unknown in storage, a field where so-called "rip and replace" upgrades can have serious implications for an enterprise. Data that's critical to an organization needs to be moved safely from one storage system to the next while remaining available to run the business.

These migrations can require large teams and a lengthy process. Pure says one of its customers, an investment bank, has a team of 30 just to do data migrations for its hundreds of arrays as they are cycled out for the next generation. Keeping old systems running with the company's applications while staging the transfer of data could take months when hundreds of terabytes are involved, IDC analyst Eric Burgener said.

"Generational updates of storage systems with the resulting data migration is a constant and challenging pain point for IT and storage administrators," ESG's Sinclair said.

Pure gets around having to make customers do this because its arrays are software-defined, said Matt Kixmoeller, the company's vice president of products. It builds new generations of controllers, the computing elements that operate the underlying flash drives, from commodity components like the latest Intel processors.

The way Pure sells this approach is with Forever Flash, a software and service plan that includes new controller upgrades every three years. Forever Flash is designed to work like SaaS (software as a service) with regular, predictable payments instead of periodic hardware purchases, Kixmoeller said. It costs about what a typical software and service plan for a storage array would, roughly 8 percent to 10 percent of the system's purchase price, he said.

On Monday, the company introduced another wrinkle in its maintenance offerings, this one designed for users who need to upgrade their hardware performance more often than every three years. Called Upgrade Flex Bundles, it gives customers credit for the controllers they swap out early.

The new array that Pure introduced Monday, called FlashArray//m, takes advantage of the ever-increasing performance of Intel processors. Its two controllers are based on the Haswell generation of chips, and the system delivers 50 percent higher performance, 2.6 times the density of storage and 2.4 times the power efficiency per terabyte, compared with the previous Pure array, the company says. There are three versions of controllers available, with the top model able to handle more than 400TB of usable storage and 300,000 IOPS (in/out operations per second).

The FlashArray//m is expected to become generally available in the third quarter.

Also on Monday, the company introduced Pure1, a cloud-based management and support platform that lets customers, Pure support staff and partners collaborate in managing and supporting storage systems.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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