Last week I wrote a piece titled “Is SolidFire the Symmetrix of the cloud era?” where I’ve compared SolidFire to the EMC VMAX (a very successful post indeed) and I ended it wondering about Pure Storage and comparing it to the EMC VNX. I would like to add something more to that statement and clarify my point of view.

What is the VNX?

VNX_New_ModelsIf you work in the IT, you probalby know… but, just to stay on the safe side, I ‘ll give you a brief run down.
The EMC VNX2 is the last incarnation of a product born in 1992 and developed by Data General, the CLARiiON. EMC acquired Data General in 1999 and, this already successful product, became one of the keys of EMC success in the 00’s.
It basically is a two controller scale-up array with FC, then iSCSI, and later file access (through an external appliance called Celerra, now an internal blade). So we are talking about a product originally thought up at the beginning of the nineties that has seen hundreds of thousands of installations all around the world.
I think it’s fair enough saying that VNX is growing old and it is no longer competitive against next generation flash arrays both in terms of features and performance.

Who is Pure Storage

I think that if you know VNX you probably have heard about Pure too. I have written about them several times now, and you can find info about them in the internet. They are a disgustingly well funded All Flash Storage startup, with one of the sexiest products out there.
The sexiest part is not the product itself (which is good under many aspects) but because they have a really positive aggressive approach.
For example, they do not show 1M IOPS benchmarks, made with ridiculously small blocks and unrealistic workloads, but they always talk about real life workloads and 32K blocks which are much more realistic. Long story short they are innovators but with feet on the ground and their first target is medium sized organizations (where there are many more opportunities and adoption cycle of new technologies is faster).

Pure FA array is like a next generation VNX…

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 13.49.38When I say that Pure is like the VNX (and I don’t want to offend anyone here) it’s because it resembles the VNX under many aspects:

– it has a dual controller architecture
– it has a scale-up design
– it is primarily a block storage
– it targets similar markets
– the product line-up has various models: same software features but different CPU, front-end ports and number of disks at the back-end
– also the form factor is very similar.

All the mentioned characteristics simplify the approach to the customer: it’s non totally different from what he/she already knows but it’s clearly newer and better. It’s like comparing the Tesla S to a Sedan from the 90’s.

…but it’s more than the VNX

Yes, ok, similarities end here but it’s clear that the primary targets of Pure Storage are VNX-like customers. It’s also true that Pure is selling very well to low-end VMAX customers, but I think this is happening because a VMAX support contract costs much more than a brand new Pure array and with the renewal you won’t have the performance and the features you can obtain from Pure. (this is especially true for heavy virtualized end users, who can perform live storage migrations)

Going back to the previous article, a graph on the positioning of the various players could look something like the following: (this is a very rough graph in every way of course, it only wants to give the general idea)
grafico AFA

Why it matters

From my POV Pure has all the characteristics to be considered “the VNX of the cloud era”. On the other hand, they aspire to be more than that but I don’t think that they should work on a true scale-out product (as suggested by Chris Evans in his blog).

250TB and 200K IOPS (I’m thinking about the specs of the FA-450) are relevant numbers when we talk about traditional enterprise applications and it is hard to find a single volume/LUN, or even an entire application, that needs all those IOs.
Rather than thinking about scale-out, I think Pure should work more on:
1) federation-like capabilities (e.g. Compellent Live Volume, HP Peer Motion or EMC Vplex) which might provide non disruptive volume/LUN migrations between arrays
2) a clever management layer: to manage more arrays as a whole in an automated/orchestrated fashion.

One more thing, I have nothing against EMC. I talked about the VNX because it is stereotype of the traditional midrange array. 😉