It’s less than a year since Pure Storage announced FlashBlade//S. Today the company announced a new platform, FlashBlade//E, a “capacity” version of the FlashBlade platform, starting at 4PB. We look at how this impacts the unstructured storage appliance market.
FlashBlade was first introduced in 2016 and updated with a new architecture in 2022 with the release of FlashBlade//S. The FlashBlade//S design uses an architecture similar to the FlashArray//XL, which itself has heritage from the first release of FlashBlade. You can read more about that history and background in this post from June 2022 that covers the FlashBlade//S announcement.
The new FlashBlade//E is based on the FlashBlade//S S200 but now offers capacity expansion with storage-only chassis. This enables high scalability while optimising for cost and the power profile. The difference between the CX (compute and storage) and EX (storage only) chassis is approximately 700W, which is a significant saving in larger systems.
Of course, we know that scaling blades with fixed amounts of storage and compute (akin to the HCI model) isn’t efficient. This is why FlashBlade//S offered compute blades with one to four storage modules. FlashBlade//E takes this paradigm a step further, completely separating the compute and storage dependency.
Why are the efficiency benefits so important? Unstructured content represents the main storage growth area for the data centre. At the same time, the environmental impact of data centres is becoming increasingly visible. According to an IEA report, datacentres consume around 1% of all global energy use, with another 1% attributed to data transmission. This report indicates that storage drives alone could be consuming 11% of that power, although modern storage is encompassed within servers, so this number is undoubtedly higher.
As energy costs have increased, so the percentage of financial resources set aside to keep systems powered on has become more significant. Storage systems must continue to become more efficient over time, however, that improvement isn’t going to be achieved with higher-capacity hard drives (we will discuss this issue in another blog post).
The announcement of FlashBlade//E highlights several aspirations for Pure Storage. Firstly, it demonstrates that the FlashBlade architecture will scale to tens of petabytes in capacity. This previous limit of expansion is one aspect that competitors have been keen to highlight as an issue, but will be hard to justify now.
Second, Pure Storage is using its advantage in custom SSD media to scale much higher than any other vendor can achieve in a single flash module. The stated goal, according to Alex McMullan (International CTO), is 300TB by 2026, as discussed on our podcast covering FlashBlade//E, published yesterday (embedded here).
IBM currently ships FlashCore modules with 38.4TB of usable capacity (87.96TB effective), the only other competitor with a similar product. As we highlighted in this updated blog post, top-end SSDs haven’t exceeded 32TB (yet), a capacity that has remained unchanged for the last five years.
Third is sustainability. With repairable drives, a 300TB DFM (DirectFlash Module) is both practically and financially achievable, as Pure recycles and repairs the few failed modules they see. In contrast, the HDD industry has been producing devices for years that can’t be repaired and are generally shredded or crushed by many enterprises as a security measure. The //E systems also reduce the power consumption to around 1W per terabyte, about half that of the //S systems today.
The fourth aspect is cost. Pure Storage is claiming a $0.20/GB price point (presumably for at least 4PB of FlashBlade//E capacity), over a three-year period, with maintenance. By comparison, Dell APEX Storage Services can provide 2PB of capacity for anywhere between $0.55/GB and $2.05/GB, depending on performance requirements (3-year subscription, list price, using the Dell APEX online calculator) – significantly higher. Even AWS S3 would cost $0.756/GB over three years, purely on storage costs alone (although this includes management, and there are no power/cooling/space charges to consider).
To demonstrate how the FlashBlade//E fits into the overall FlashBlade family, Pure Storage offered the graphic shown in figure 2. We asked why there was a gap between the S200 and //E and were told this was to highlight product differentiation. We believe the layout of this graph isn’t accidental and could indicate future products that plug some of the gaps.
The Architect’s View®
The FlashBlade family has had quite an evolution since the first iteration was announced at Accelerate in 2016. Criticisms around scalability and performance have been addressed (CTO Rob Lee highlighted performance changes just one year after launch, in this podcast we recorded). Price continues to drop, making the transition from HDD-based to all-flash systems more of a reality.
Building custom hardware has been a technical and competitive differentiator for Pure Storage, which is starting to bear fruit. The ability to produce highly scalable solutions with lower (than industry average) failure rates and lower than industry average pricing means the competition in this market will need to up its game.
One final thought; with a 4PB entry system now costing at least $800,000, how can customers benchmark the performance claims of one platform against another? FlashBlade//E will obviously deliver relatively lower performance than the //S models, but how do we compare FlashBlade//E with, for example, equivalent VAST Data or Weka systems? We would like to see a return to independent benchmarking, so potential customers can at least get an idea of relative capabilities between these increasingly expensive platforms.
For further coverage on Pure Storage, check out our dedicated Pure Storage Microsite.
Copyright (c) 2007-2023 – Post #fbe1 – Brookend Ltd, first published on https://www.architecting.it/blog, do not reproduce without permission. Pure Storage is a Tracked Vendor by Architecting IT in storage systems and software-defined storage. Pure Storage has been a customer of Brookend Limited prior to 2023.