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Dense Pure Storage FlashBlade storage zeroes in on web-scale analytics

FlashBlade system-on-a-chip from Pure Storage converges compute, flash storage and software-defined networking. The arrays use custom flash modules instead of solid-state drives.

Following a 10-month beta program, all-flash pioneer Pure Storage Inc. has made its FlashBlade array generally available. FlashBlade adds a dense, high-performance all-flash system for big data analytics to Pure's lineup.

Pure Storage FlashBlade handles file and object data, complementing the vendor's flagship FlashArray SAN systems for block data. Pure first made a beta edition of FlashBlade available in March 2016. The vendor started shipping a "direct availability" model in July 2016 to selected customers, and FlashBlade became generally available on Jan. 25, 2017.

Unlike its flagship FlashArray, Pure Storage's FlashBlade uses custom flash modules in place of SSDs. A FlashBlade array integrates NAND flash-based blades, Pure's Elasticity operating system and 40 Gigabit Ethernet software-defined networking fabric.

Matt Kixmoeller, vice president of products at Pure Storage, based in Mountain View, Calif., said the FlashBlade scale-out design accelerates both data and metadata. Early adopters include customers in automotive, financial services, gaming, healthcare, technical computing and web-scale cloud services.

"We're going after the area of large unstructured data," Kixmoeller said. "Historically, that's been the land of big, but slow, data. FlashBlade is about making big data faster."

Matt KixmoellerMatt Kixmoeller

Pure FlashBlade beta tester Jack Hogan, CTO of women's health website Lifescript, based in Newport Beach, Calif., said its object storage performance impressed him, although Lifescript's FlashArrays fit better for its block-centric workloads.

"I will say the engineering and architecture is elegant, and it's extremely fast," Hogan said of FlashBlade. "It's a fantastic object store. We're keeping our eye on it as something that may eventually benefit us, but we're not there yet."

IDC predicted the scale-out file and object storage market will grow to approximately $33 billion by 2020.

"From a market perspective, adding FlashBlade is a great move for Pure, but they certainly aren't the only vendor with a big data flash product on the market," said Eric Burgener, IDC's storage research director. "We'll see more systems introduced in [the] big data flash arena this year. Vendors have been selling flash for block-based workloads, but there's clearly a need for what flash brings in terms of better throughput, better reliability and higher storage density."

Pure Storage FlashBlade was designed from scratch as an all-flash system, which Burgener said gives it advantages over established systems that began in the hard disk drive world. Dell EMC added an all-flash version of its Isilon scale-out NAS that replaces spinning disk with SSDs.

"Pure built FlashBlade for flash from the ground up, and that has implications in lower consumption of energy, floor space and higher storage density," Burgener said.

How Pure Storage FlashBlade works

Pure Storage FlashBlade is a 4U chassis that accommodates up to 15 flash blades, available in 8.8 TB and 52 TB capacities. Raw flash capacity scales to 780 TB and 1.6 PB of usable storage, presuming 3:1 data compression. Each blade converges compute, flash storage and memory with an Intel system-on-a-chip and field programmable gate array and eight Gigabit Ethernet ports.

I will say the engineering and architecture is elegant, and it's extremely fast.
Jack HoganCTO, Lifescript

A FlashBlade chassis is rated to deliver 15 Gbps of bandwidth. A two-chassis system can handle 1 million NFS operations per second.

FlashBlade compute and capacity scales linearly as new blades are added. The Pure Storage FlashBlade fabric allows all blades in a system to communicate via the PCIe protocol.

The initial FlashBlade array supports scale-out NFS. Pure's Kixmoeller said support for Amazon Simple Storage Service object storage is on the product roadmap.

He said Pure Storage FlashBlade customers in traditional enterprises are inquiring about the product.

"We were initially worried this product would not be received by mainstream users, but we've seen a great uptick among traditional industries, as analytics becomes more pervasive," he said.

FlashBlade's arrival comes as the company battles to reach profitability. The publicly traded vendor generated $197 million in revenue in the third quarter of 2016, yet still lost $56.5 million.

"I think Pure is on track to post $1 billion in revenue by 2018," IDC's Burgener said. "We'll have to see what happens. If it's not profitable at that point, it starts to become worrisome."

Dave Raffo contributed to this story.

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