This week, Pure Storage announced a new FlashArray//E platform and upgrades to the existing FlashArray//X and //C systems. We dig into the details and review them in context with previous announcements and expected roadmap items.
The current FlashArray//X series of systems was first introduced in 2017, as an evolution of the previous FA and //m products. The second generation R2 systems came to market in 2018 (with announcements at Pure Accelerate), followed by R3 solutions in 2020. The first FlashArray//C models were announced at Accelerate 2019. There’s also the FlashArray//XL system, introduced in December 2021.
Pure Storage has now announced the 4th generation of both FlashArray//X and FlashArray//C platforms, dubbed the “R4”. Technically FlashArray//C hasn’t iterated through four generations but does use the 4th generation technology of FlashArray. The upgraded solutions now feature a converged controller for both systems. Internally, both platforms now use Intel Sapphire Rapids processors (previously Cascade Lake), with DDR5 DRAM and PCIe 4.0 as the internal bus architecture. The upgraded hardware claims to deliver a 40% increase in performance over the R3 systems. The new hardware will incorporate DirectCompress as standard (from the //X70 and //C70 models upwards).
We should also briefly mention the architecture of FlashArray//XL, which uses Intel Ice Lake processors. These systems are on a different upgrade cadence, so don’t directly align in terms of internal processor architecture.
FlashArray//E is a new member of the FlashArray family, aligning with the FlashBlade//E (announced March 2023) in terms of market fit. FlashBlade//E was designed to address the needs of customers looking to replace HDD-based systems with a cost-effective flash solution (around $0.20/GB raw). At a 4PB entry point, the FlashBlade//E is not for everyone. However, FlashArray//E starts at just 1PB and is multi-protocol. Customers could therefore use FlashArray//E (or even //X or //C products) for some unstructured content use cases, without committing to multi-petabyte capacity (FlashArray//E scales to 4PB, after which, FlashBlade//E would take over). The specific model choice would be dependent on capacity, budget and performance requirements.
The FlashArray//E (and upgraded //C) will be the first Pure Storage systems to use new 75TB QLC DFMs (DirectFlash Modules), which now being called DFMDs, due to the built-in non-volatile RAM. We discussed Pure Storage’s roadmap for flash capacity back in March 2023 in a podcast with International CTO, Alex McMullan, and this blog post looking at the challenges of meeting this level of scalability, with a commercially viable product at a reasonable price. The 75TB DFMD appears to be the first step to 300TB, with perhaps another one or two iterations in between. Bear in mind that this technology is likely to remain restricted to the high-capacity platforms (//E and //C) in the short term, simply due to the number of modules needed to form a resilient RAID group. Note that Pure Storage also announced new 36TB TLC DFMDs, which will be used for the FlashArray//X R4.
The Architect’s View®
I decided to look back at some of the initial press releases for FlashArray//X. The first systems shipped with 2.2 and 9.1TB DFMs, with 18.3TB promised sometime after initial availability. The maximum system (at the time) supported 1PB of effective capacity. In six years, Pure Storage has released another three iterations of FlashArray, with the latest //C90 system supporting almost a 9x increase in capacity to 8.9PB. The DFM roadmap promises a further four-fold increase in storage capacity.
Rather than have a single system that scales from small to large, the family has been subdivided with “standard” //X, “capacity” //C, “high capacity” //XL and “eco” //E, although each system is at heart the same hardware and software architecture. Pure Storage has decided to build platforms that deliver to a specific level of performance, while enabling customers to manage data mobility between platforms using features such as ActiveCluster.
As we’ve reiterated many times, with Fusion for fleet management, customers can manage large-scale environments without lots of manual thought on workload rebalancing. This feature currently appears to be unique to Pure Storage. Differentiation isn’t all about hardware, but as this video we recorded with Prakash Darji shows, it’s a combination of hardware, software and services operating in a holistic way.
There are further announcements from Accelerate 2023, which we will cover in separate posts.
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