Flash storage vendor Pure Storage says it spent its first decade reinventing storage. The next ten years, the company says, will be about delivering storage as a service and building out storage “environments” rather than products.

“[We are] really transforming storage, from being just a set of boxes, into being a system of data management, that delivers against the needs of modern applications,” company CEO Charles Giancarlo said last week ahead of new product and service announcements. “I think is really going to set us on a road road apart.”

During the company’s annual event in Austin, Texas Pure announced new lower cost flash storage options for non mission critical data, new hybrid cloud services, and new infrastructure developed specifically for artificial intelligence applications.

It also rebranded its subscription payment options to be absolutely clear; all pure products can now be purchased as a service including on premise hardware – a model it sees as the future of IT.

However, it quashed any talk of moving into the compute market. The company is sticking with storage but believes there is plenty of room for growth and innovation, including expanding into data management and storage analytics.

Growth vs Profitability

So far the approach has worked, according to analysts. Gartner positions Pure Storage as a Leader in its annual magic quadrant for primary storage. The all flash vendor has the most complete vision, Gartner says, and trails only large incumbents Dell EMC and NetApp in ability to execute.

Source: Gartner, Magic Quadrant for Primary Storage 2019.

The company’s customers were glowing about the benefits of flash storage, hailing the simplicity and reliability as just as important as the performance boost. Their message was one many CIOs are looking for: our IT teams spend less time in support roles and more in value add.

According to IDC, Pure is now the standout in a slowing enterprise storage market. The company has a year on year quarterly growth of 22 per cent while incumbents are either growing or shrinking modestly.

However, profitability for the company remains a concern for analysts. Gartner notes in its latest analysis that some Pure customers remain concerned about the company’s “long term viability”.

Giancarlo, addressed the profitability question in a media session last week.

“Last year we were profitable on a full year basis, non-gap. This year we’re projecting, and the analysts are projecting, profitability on the full year non-gap. And we are cash flow positive and have been cash flow positive for some time.”

Source: IDC 2019.

According to Giancarlo, Pure has been reinvesting up to 18 per cent of its revenue into research and development while incumbents have typically limited the amount to 4 or 5 per cent. He argued the difference would set his company on “a road apart” from the competition.

“Clearly we’re a technology focused company, rather than just reselling rebranded gear that’s made by third parties.”

10x for ten years

Giancarlo says Pure reinvented enterprise grade storage by offering flash only storage arrays which are faster, more reliable and easier to predict at an enterprise level. Of course the advantages come with a corresponding price tag and traditionally organisations have reserved flash storage for mission critical or “tier one” data storage and applications.

Pure justified the higher price by claiming a “10X” improvement over traditional disk storage. It has worked so far as Pure is now the leading flash only storage provider, consistently growing above market rates, although in market share it still trails large storage incumbents, including market leaders Dell, Netapp and HPE, all of which offer mixed media storage.

“We really believe that our first decade was really revolutionising individuals storage products,” Pure Storage CEO, Charles Giancarlo, told media this week ahead of the Pure Accelerate conference in Austin, Texas.

Giancarlo said the focus was initially on tier one storage  and delivering the 10X benefit to customers which did make the switch from disk based storage. Ten times more advanced, ten times more “price effective” (Pure claims the higher price of flash per terabyte is offset by benefits like data compression and deduplication) and ten times easier to operate.

“But to a large extent, it was still the same storage that people were used to buying,” Giancarlo said. 

“What we really see in our second decade Is that storage shouldn’t be about product by product experience, it really should be about a system of storage that is easy for the full enterprise … Really storage should be a set of resources that the entire enterprise can use rather than systems that are dedicated to an application by application basis.”

Pure Storage CEO, Charles Giancarlo speaking on stage at Pure Accelerate in Austin, Texas. Supplied.

During his main keynote at the event, Giancarlo described this as virtualising data.

Giancarlo says that is the big shift for Pure over the next decade: moving to more holistic “storage environments” and an as-a-service business model rather than a series of storage products. It is why the company’s announcement this year included flash for tier 2 data for the first time, hybrid cloud capabilities and a rebranded of its as-a-service offering.

Giancarlo says the service model is the future of storage and also IT in general.

“Pure-as-a-service, I think, is a response to the shift in IT budgeting and IT environments around OPEX or subscription kind of products. And you see the rapid growth of the cloud has really impacted the way that companies think about budgeting for their IT resources.

“So our ability to bring an as-a-service offering both feeds the consumption model that technology teams are growing to adopt but it also feeds the procurement model that the finance departments want.”

Flash from scratch

Pure’s evolution has been significantly different from its competitors, according to the company’s VP of international James Petter. While market share leaders Dell, NetApp, HPE, Hitachi and IBM have expanded to offer flash, he says they did so by buying the technology and adapting it to their existing architecture. Pure, meanwhile, was able to start from scratch with its own dedicated architecture, according to Petter.

“The benefit we had is we could start from scratch. So all the bad stuff that you didn’t want in data management, we thought really carefully about; ‘let’s try and get rid of it.’”

According to Petter, this included a simplification of hardware and automating much of the software – install times are now routinely around 30 minutes. The changes helped Pure stand out initially and keep a point of difference throughout.

“Four years ago there were 85 flash vendors. There is now only one independent flash vendor [Pure Storage].

“Because all the rest have gone out of business because they weren’t able to differentiate themselves.”

Disclaimer: The author travelled to Pure Accelerate as a guest of Pure Storage. 

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