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Pure Storage launches FlashStack converged offering

Pure Storage hooks up with Cisco, VMware and channel partners to enter the hot converged infrastructure space with new FlashStack CI offerings.

Pure Storage Inc. moved into the hot technology area of converged infrastructure today with new FlashStack CI offerings that combine its all-flash arrays, Cisco's compute and networking gear, VMware's virtualization software and channel-led support.

The storage company, based in Mountain View, Calif., launched FlashStack CI for VMware vSphere virtual servers and FlashStack CI for VMware Horizon virtual desktops as part of the initial rollout. Plans call for FlashStack CI to expand to additional application areas and vendors, according to Matt Kixmoeller, vice president of products at Pure Storage.

The initial FlashStack CI reference architecture and deployment and sizing guidelines are designed for use with Pure Storage's FlashArray 400 Series systems, Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) blade servers and Nexus switches, VMware's vSphere 5.5 server virtualization software, and VMware's Horizon View 6.0 desktop virtualization software.

Kixmoeller said many customers already used those products, and they asked Pure to bring them together in an end-to-end stack. Some of Pure's channel partners also expressed interest in an integrated offering, since they were selling the three vendors' components, Kixmoeller added.

Pure sees FlashStack CI as "cookbooks"

Pure's FlashStack CI goes beyond mere reference architectures and what Kixmoeller described as "cookbooks" to also afford single-call support options through a set of authorized partners that can set up and configure the tested, pre-validated systems.

"This is really an elite set of partners that we're bringing into the FlashStack authorized support partner program," Kixmoeller said. "We looked for partners that already had an established business in offering first- and second-line support across a wide range of technologies for their customers. All the partners have been certified and trained by Pure, VMware and Cisco."

Kixmoeller said the company's goal is to have a couple of elite partners in each global geographic area. So far, FlashStack authorized support partners include Datalink in the U.S., Proact in the U.K., and Southern Cross in the Asia Pacific region.

"There's also, of course, cooperative support agreements between Pure, VMware and Cisco. So, if there is a need for the three of us to collaborate on the back end to provide single support to the customer, we could do that as well," Kixmoeller added.

IT departments have the option to use the FlashStack CI reference architectures and "cookbooks" to design their own systems using the Pure Storage, Cisco and VMware components. But, they would not have access to the single-call support from the authorized partners. Industry analysts said they expect the majority of the FlashStack CI purchases to go through the resellers.

Jim Sangster, director of product marketing at Pure Storage, said FlashStack CI can scale to more than a thousand virtual machines in a single rack and up to 3,000 desktops in less than one standard-sized rack. He said the FlashStack servers, networking and storage have plug-ins for vSphere and use VMware's vCenter for central management.

FlashStack CI's components and documentation are available now. Sangster said the single-call support could take from two months to the next quarter based on the authorized support partner's FlashStack training status and ability to set up the infrastructure to take FlashStack calls. He said some partners are still going through training.

Street pricing for an entry-level configuration of FlashStack CI for VDI for up to 350 users is about $250,000. The configuration consists of a Pure Storage FlashArray 405 with 5.5 TB raw capacity, VMware vSphere/ESX software, Cisco UCS 5108 Chassis, two Cisco 2208 Fabric Extenders, two Cisco 6248 Fabric Interconnects and two Cisco Nexus 5548 switches.

Analysts weigh in on Pure FlashStack CI

"What customers will get are infrastructure building blocks that they know will work, because they've been tested and validated by the vendors involved, with guidance about the workload capacity of each block," said Tim Stammers, a senior analyst at New York-based 451 Research. "The blocks are also pre-racked, pre-cabled, preconfigured and ready to run, which obviously speeds deployment hugely and spares internal labor overheads."

Stammers said FlashStack CI is a logical step for Pure and "reflects the fact that even though all-flash storage is still far from mainstream, it is heading that way." He said there is now sufficient demand to justify the investment from Pure and the resellers into a converged infrastructure program.

Pure Storage isn't the first vendor to put together a flash-based converged infrastructure offering. For instance, VCE's Vblock System 500 Series includes EMC's XtremIO all-flash array, one of the chief competitors of Pure's FlashArray. The Vblock system also features Cisco server and networking products and VMware virtualization software.

"I'm sure customers were coming to them saying, 'Don't you have something that's as easy to buy as a Vblock?'" said Howard Marks, founder and chief scientist at DeepStorage.net. "It's clear this is how people want to buy things, so if I was a vendor, I'd be building my converged infrastructure stack, too."

Marks said he expects all flash storage vendors to at least offer reference architectures and the more successful ones to also put together converged infrastructures that add the "one phone number to call," as Pure did.

George Crump, president and founder of Storage Switzerland LLC, said choosing partners and testing components becomes more critical with converged infrastructures that include all-flash arrays because the storage can support more virtual machines than hard-drive-based systems could.

"That puts more strain on the compute part and on the network part," he said. "It becomes more important that [the system] be tuned correctly."

Kixmoeller added that, although FlashStack CI is tailored for Cisco's infrastructure, Pure is working to document the reference architectures in generic ways so customers who don't use Cisco servers can also take advantage of them.

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