Pure Storage looks to mainstream NVMe with FlashArray//X

The NVMe offering will complement the existing Pure //M array, for higher performance at what Pure promises will be a modest price premium.

Pure Storage is making a major addition to its product portfolio with the announcement of FlashArray//X, their first all-NVMe, enterprise-class all-flash array.

NVMe technology has created considerable buzz in the industry, which has not translated into financial success. The high-profile item here was DSSD, which EMC acquired in 2014, long before it would be able to ship product. When it did begin to ship last year, it delivered stunning high-end performance, but its high-end price and lack of services limited its adoption, and a month ago Dell EMC end-of-lifed the standalone product and will instead integrate the NVMe technology into its platforms.

Matt Kixmoeller, VP of Product at Pure Storage, said that Pure has taken a very different approach with the NVMe technology, which should give it much broader appeal.

“This major update to our flash array to make it 100 per cent NVMe capable makes it the first mainstream all-NVMe array,” he said. “We democratized flash for broad market use, and we see NVMe as similar. The market has been limited by vendors building super-expensive product with no features.”

Kixmoeller said that mainstreaming NVMe requires that the price premium not be out of line.

“We are trying to make the price premium a modest one,” he emphasized. “Charging ten times the regular won’t work. We think even 2x is way too much. You can’t just be focused on performance. You have to consider price and you have to consider features. DSSD didn’t have the standard data services customers want, but the services are all in the FlashArray//X.”

Pure Storage has also taken a different architectural approach, with their new Purity DirectFlash software and NVMe DirectFlash Modules removing the need for flash to talk in SSD protocols, making it more efficient.

“We have moved beyond SSDs, to treat flash like flash and have our software talk to it directly,” Kixmoeller said. “That’s the whole mindset of the FlashArray Architecture.”

Three new technologies are implemented in the FlashArray//X. The DirectFlash Software implements global flash management at the system level, instead of inside each SSD, for higher performance and better flash utilization. New DirectFlash Modules are connected to the FlashArray controllers through NVMe, and work with the DirectFlash Software to create direct software-to-raw flash communication, making 100 per cent of the flash in a module accessible to the FlashArray. The modules will be available in 2.2, 9.1, and 18.3 TB raw capacities. Finally, the new //X70 controllers enable NVMe communication within the FlashArray’s existing midplane and chassis.

“The DirectFlash Module connects a lot of flash over NVMe to our system,” Kixmoeller said. “The new controller speaks NVMe natively into the chassis, something we can do because our chassis had NVMe wiring on the inside from the very start, because we knew this transition was coming. So we have cut out forcing flash to talk disk protocols over legacy SCSI wires. Everything that used to happen in an SSD now happens more efficiently in our software.”

Kixmoller said that this process provides three key advantages

“We have simplified the task, so there are less things to break,” he said. “We can deliver a lot higher performance – about 5 times faster. And it’s more efficient because we do global optimization and don’t overprovision twice, so there is 15-20 per cent more flash.” Testing indicates about a 50 per cent reduction in latency, about 2x bandwidth, and 4x performance density.”

Kixmoeller also noted that Pure’s technology removes the need for a trade-off, where the customer had to use smaller SSDs for speed, because SSDs have gotten bigger but not faster, so that they become slower per TB.

“DirectFlash doesn’t make you have to use smaller faster drives for speed,” he said. “You can get maximum benefits in a very small, dense module.”

FlashArray//X will be positioned as a [modest] premium offering with the Pure solution set, for use cases that require maximum consolidation power per rack unit, for the most demanding workloads.

“FlashArray//M won’t go away,” Kixmoeller said. “This just expands the FlashArray family with FlashArray//X being a higher performance tier within the family for Tier One applications. For customers who do want to upgrade, our Evergreen Storage program ensures that every //M back to inception in 2012 can upgrade without downtime.”

Pure sells through channel partners, and Kixmoeller stressed that the channel will find the new offering to be extremely valuable.

“Our partners tend to be technology innovators and leaders, so the ability to make NVMe mainstream is interesting for them,” he said. “They will also like the synergy between faster storage and faster networks, which will provide an opportunity to modernize a customer’s architecture there.”

FlashArray//X with both 2.2 and 9.1 TB DirectFlash Modules is available to order today, will be shipped as a Directed Availability release starting in early Q2 FY2018 [their FY 2018 began in March]. General Availability of FlashArray//X, which will support both 18.3TB DirectFlash Modules and upgrades from existing FlashArray//M systems, is expected in early 2H FY2018.

“This is our normal release schedule,” Kixmoeller said. “It has been in beta for a quarter. This is our Directed Availability release, and we then ship the Directed Availability, and then the General Availabiity a quarter later.”