It’s commonly said in technology circles that it’s tough to get excited about storage. And with so many rapid advances in the world of technology, you’d be forgiven for making the same assumption. However, Pure Storage is seeking to buck the trend and is making a compelling argument for why that's short-sighted - particularly at a time when data is considered key to many organizations’ future growth (and that’s before we even consider the impact of generative AI).
Pure is hosting its annual user event in Las Vegas this week, where the company came out swinging with a whole host of product announcements. For those that don’t know, Pure’s whole raison d être is to rid the world of disk and replace it with flash storage. The vendor has predicted that in the next three years or so, sales of hard disk will essentially be non-existent and that flash storage will be king/queen.
Historically, buyers have filled their data centers with hard disk solutions because they are cheaper to run and manage, compromising on efficiency and performance. Meanwhile, flash-based solutions have typically been considered superior, but often fall short in the buying process due to price concerns at scale. Pure has flipped this thinking on its head, particularly with its Pure//E range of products, where the company claims that the price of hard disk and flash-based solutions have finally converged. And flash offers all the other benefits too.
In fact, the conference kicked off today with exec after exec taking to the stage to point out the benefits of moving to an Pure Storage all-flash environment. And the stats are hard to argue with. When combining Pure’s flash technology with its native flash management, its Purity architecture, its Evergreen subscription, and its cloud operating mode, it claims the benefits include:
Improved reliability by a factor of ten over competitors;
Two to five times more power and space efficiency compared to all-flash and ten times more efficiency than disk;
Requires five to ten times less manual labor to operate than legacy storage;
Results in at least 50% lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) compared to competitive offerings of both flash and hard disk
A question was raised during the keynote today, which was:
Looking at all of this, what is stopping you from standardizing on Pure Storage?
And I walked away feeling a bit stumped, because I (a skeptical industry observer) caught myself thinking, ‘yeah, why aren’t we?’.
But of course there are reasons for this. Some of which include organizations that have layered process upon process based on their hard disk investments. Or even more likely, as the Pure Storage’s CTO of EMEA, Patrick Smith, told me:
Driving change in terms of digital transformation, in terms of new business processes, underpinned by technology - that’s what digital leaders are tasked to do. And what we see is that, generally, people are change resistant. It's easy to hit the repeat button. There are established relationships with established providers. Some people stake their careers on a technology bet and it doesn't always pay off. So you need to have a lot of confidence.
We have to convince them of all the reasons why we should literally change their work patterns, change what they do for the better. There’s no constant care and feeding. People are constantly logging into systems everyday checking to make sure they're still running. It just seems ridiculous that people do that. But they do it with a lot of our competitors’ systems. So I'd say that right now, that is our biggest inhibitor.
And that’s the key thing that Pure now recognizes. It needs to give enterprise buyers a reason to want to change beyond cost and efficiency - those things are useful levers in a purchasing decision, but they aren’t strategic. Whereas what Pure offers should be, and often needs to be, directly tied to strategic data decisions in the enterprise. Access to data and speed of data delivery, as just two examples, are very influential factors when it comes to buyers thinking about how they use data to operate and deliver a competitive advantage - and those are things that will become more prominent in the near future as data is increasingly a differentiator in the market.
On this point, Smith added:
It's a case of, does the C-Suite know what their data outcomes need to be? And do they understand what the art of the possible is? Generally, you need to show them what the art of the possible is by talking about how other people have used our technology to deliver outcomes. It's a case of not talking about our technology, but talking about the outcomes.
And interestingly, it's in our competitors’ interests to claim that they are a commodity because it lowers us to a common denominator. We're busy trying to talk about the fact that we aren't a commodity, we are high tech. We believe in differentiation through smart use of technology.
I also got the chance to sit down with Matt Burr, Pure Storage CMO - who actually was one of the first employees at the company and traditionally has a technical product background. However, part of the reason he’s been brought into marketing is to drive the message home to enterprise buyers about how influential Pure’s technology can be. Education is going to be key to the vendor’s future strategy. He said:
Nobody does all or nothing. It's not a binary thing. Usually there's a hierarchy of workloads, applications, however you want to think about it, where there's a very high benefit to making that change. Youu have to also educate people on how to see the problems that they don't know that they might have.
Providing an example of how flash and Pure’s technology does sit within the realm of strategic decision making, Burr talked about PACS systems - the technology radiologists use in hospitals to capture and view images from X-rays and MRIs. Burr explained that radiologists are actually one of the most profitable divisions within hospitals (when discussing privatized US healthcare, of course) - and that access to and speed of delivery for these images can directly impact how a radiologist and their colleagues work. Burr said:
The radiologists can only read so many scans a day because the images are very, very, very dense. So it takes a while to get those back from disk.
These have primarily been disk systems forever. The value for us in this market is that radiologists can see like five times more images in a day. So it's five times more revenue. They’re starting to say, ‘here's all the data that we have - how do we generate more revenue from this’?
Providing a broader example, Burr added:
Let’s consider hot versus warm versus cold data. Let's say each is an inch, a foot, and a mile. The inch is data I use all the time. I know I’m going to need it so I’m going to have it on something fast. The foot is, maybe data you want, but you don't want to pay to have it - but it would be good to have. And then the mile is the data I’m probably never going to want to access because I haven't yet figured out how to tie what's way down there with what's up here. Nobody thinks that way anymore. They now know that there's a capability to get all of that dataset into the hot, warm and cold tier.
Burr’s argument is essentially that with Pure’s technology you simply no longer have to choose. You can have access to all this data for a reasonable price point and at greater speed than was previously possible - which if you’re thinking about data strategies, does change things.
However, Pure is having to go on a journey too, in terms of shifting how it talks about itself - having discussions that don’t just focus on the nuts and bolts of flash storage, but ones that demonstrate a deep understanding of the data challenges facing enterprises, whilst also having answers to those problems. Burr added:
We’re still learning how to talk about that. It’s not like a lot of this stuff has been done before. We know that the vision we set out is going to happen, we know that the world will transition from disk to flash. It’s inevitable. But we still have to listen to customers in that area around how they think about the things that they could possibly apply it to.
And over the next 24 months, the company’s key focus is the enterprise. Burr said:
First and foremost, we’re focused on increased penetration in the enterprise. We're in acquisition mode in terms of the enterprise. I think we’ve had a hybrid B2B/B2C brand historically. I think we need to really focus on what our value is to the enterprise, how we bring simplicity to the enterprise, what is the experience that they can expect to interface with us as a company?
So you know, for us for the next 24 months the focus is really on the enterprise and expanding the enterprise's ability to take advantage of flash.
In addition to this renewed emphasis, Pure Storage did make a host of product announcements today that are worth highlighting. These include:
The expansion of Pure Storage’s disk replacement-focused Pure//E family of products with the all-new FlashArray//E, which Pure says delivers on its promise to relieve customers from the constraints of disk. The entire Pure//E family is an all-flash storage system that Pure says meets the needs of the secondary storage market at prices competitive to 7200 RPM hard disk systems - with a fraction of the power, space, and operational costs.
The introduction of the FlashArray//X and FlashArray//C - Pure claims these deliver the largest ever performance, efficiency, and security advancements to customers. New FlashArray models, the vendor says, deliver up to 40% higher performance, 30% more inline compression to stretch storage capacity, and new ransomware protection capabilities delivered entirely via non-disruptive upgrade.
A new ransomware SLA guarantee for Evergreen//One and enhanced AIOps capabilities that aim to deliver advanced data resilience and enable organizations to benefit from a comprehensive data protection strategy.
A really interesting first day at Pure Storage’s event. I’m speaking to a number of customers tomorrow, which is where I think the stories about how the company’s technology offers strategic value will really come through. In my mind there’s a direct line between what Pure is offering and what the C-Suite is grappling with in terms of data decision making. Articulating that is going to be key and it seems that Pure is working on making that happen.