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Stage 3 of the Flash Storage Disruption: Gartner Weighs in on Solid State Arrays

It’s been a wild almost five years for Pure Storage at the epicenter of the flash memory disruption of data center storage. The last few weeks have been particularly chock-full of news and announcements, culminating this week with Gartner releasing their updated Market Share Analysis: SSDs and Solid-State Arrays, Worldwide, 2013. We’ll dive into our take on the news shortly, but first we’d like to reflect on the broader storage market. From Pure’s purview, we’ve seen flash adoption (or disruption, depending on your point-of-view) evolve in three classic stages:

  • Stage 1: Denial – From 2009 to 2011, selling all-flash arrays (AFAs) was a lonely activity. Pure Storage and a few other pioneering upstarts were out talking about flash, but the majority of the “Big Storage” vendors were focused on flash caching (3-5% flash and lots of spindles) and tiering (a bit more flash and lots of spindles). The problem, of course, is that hybrids of flash and disk perform like disk, not like flash. And those Big Storage hybrids tend to cost as much in $/GB usable as Pure Storage, because of the flash-specific dedupe & compression algorithms we employ.
  • Stage 2: Acceptance – By 2012, it had become clear that for Tier 1 performance storage the future was all-flash paired with new storage software written from scratch for solid-state, and big storage had to change.  EMC acquired XtremIONetApp announced plans to build FlashRay, and IBM acquired TMS.  Despite Big Storage’s acquiesce to the inevitable that flash memory would supersede hard drives for performance workloads, vendors continued to toe the line in public that the future was hybrid (at least for another refresh cycle), lest they harm their cash cows.
  • Stage 3: Embrace & lead – Fast forward to 2014, and it’s game on for all-flash storage replacing Tier 1 disk in the data center.  EMC promotes XtremIO heavily at EMCworld and acquires DSSD, with VMAX seemingly spending more time the back burner. (Is XtremIO the new VNX and DSSD the new VMAX?HP/3Par announces an all-flash expansion, and declares the end of 15K spindles.  IBM makes substantial gains selling FlashSystem (the flash appliance formerly known as TMS). And finally, Gartner updates their AFA market analysis, confirming a 182% growth in the all-flash array market in 2013 alone. Gartner’s findings arrived coincidentally at the same time that IDC’s high-end disk market share numbers hit, demonstrating that Tier 1 disk revenue was significantly down across the board last quarter.  Big Storage sees the future: vendors need to lead with all-flash to win in performance storage.

There’s no question we feel vindicated at Pure Storage. The roughly $15B/year market for Tier 1 disk is tipping to all-flash.  There are huge benefits to businesses in this transition—eliminating more than 1 million hours of application latency per year; saving almost enough in power to pay for their new AFA over its first four years in the data center; and shedding decades of accumulated complexity. Call this the end of the VMAX era and the rise of the all-flash array! Now let’s dive deeper on the news of the last few weeks.

 

Gartner’s Solid State Array Market Share Report

This week Gartner released the 2013 update to its Solid State Array (a.k.a. AFA) market share analysis.  Analysts play a crucial role in the market and have a tough job.  Typically private companies (including Pure) have policies around not sharing revenue information, and larger companies often bundle different storage products together, making it difficult to tell how much all-flash customers are buying. In either case analysts must do detailed sleuthing (vendor discussions, customer chats, channel checks, supplier conversations and good old fashioned data crunching) to assemble a composite view of the market.

This year’s market share report has a few surprises, reflective of the scale of the flash disruption, and we’ll share a few observations:

  • Obviously we’re thrilled that Pure did well.  We announced previously that we achieved phenomenal growth in 2013, but it is nice to see it in the context of the entire market growing healthily.
  • Congrats to IBM, who achieved #1.  It’s interesting that Pure very rarely runs into IBM across our global go-to-market efforts, underscoring the breadth and depth of market segments being disrupted by flash.  IBM’s AFAs seem to be more targeted at database deployments, while Pure takes a broader approach of selling across the Tier 1 storage market—e.g., database, virtual server, and virtual desktop workloads.
  • The overall all-flash array market grew at a phenomenal 182%. (Pure’s year over year growth in ’13 was ~600%*, so we’re happily growing faster than the market, boding well for our position next year ;-))
  • More broadly, all-flash array growth is now significantly out-pacing SSD growth (which is around 50% YoY), showing how important the enterprise/data center market is for flash overall.
  • The purpose-built approach for all-flash is winning.  Only one major storage vendor in the report (HP 3Par) has elected to retrofit disk-centric arrays for all-flash. The others are purpose building from scratch for solid-state, and capturing more of the market thus far—flash is, after all, profoundly different than disk, so it’s no surprise an architecture optimized for disk is not for flash and vice versa.  (To be fair, Hitachi and Dell aren’t included in the report since they don’t have an all-flash stand-alone configurations, but they’ll be happy to tell you they ship a lot of flash too.)
  • Relative solid-state market share rankings don’t match the legacy disk market share standings.  Clearly, then, leadership in legacy disk-centric arrays doesn’t necessarily translate to leadership in all-flash arrays.  That’s no surprise given the scale of the disruption, with the entire hardware and software footprint being replaced.
  • Finally, this amazing growth happened despite the fact that the Big Storage all-flash arrays remain immature (see our “recipe” for AFA maturity).  We can expect the AFA market to further accelerate as the new AFAs continue to be hardened and are more aggressively marketed for this year’s storage refreshes.

To paraphrase The Lego Movie, everything was awesome for all-flash arrays in 2013 and we’re looking forward to even better 2014 and beyond!

 

Big Storage Increasingly Targeting Pure

You might have noticed lately that more folks are comparing themselves to Orange. We continue to be surprised and flattered as to the amount of attention that Big Storage is paying to Pure, and perhaps the Gartner & IDC data above sheds some light as to why. Let’s look at some of the competitive love just over the past month:

  • EMC features “Orange” heavily in the EMCworld opening keynote. At the kick-off party to their biggest customer event of the year, we’re honored to make a headline appearance:

You, of course, can count on us continuing to respond to EMC’s position of Pure. Hard to see how we could have among the industry’s highest customer satisfaction ratings (as measured by our NetPromoter Scores in the high 70’s), if EMC’s characterizations are accurate. If a vendor’s benchmarks of their own products are suspect, then vendor’s benchmarks of their competitors are likely fantasy. Please do your own performance benchmarking. We and our serious competitors would be thrilled to work with you on doing so.

  • HP 3Par Declares Yellow is the new Orange.  Another Big Storage vendor enters the fray, and picks a familiar target:

But as flattering as this was, the real news from this event was that yet another vendor has declared the end of Tier 1 disk, and is “all in” to the flash revolution.

Obviously, we at Pure Storage welcome this attention: The only reason for Big Storage to focus on us is that we’re succeeding in the market. Look for a follow-on blog later this week where we dive deeper into the technical details of some of these recent announcements, and provide Pure’s view on our differentiation, and why we’re winning.

 

For Customers & Partners: Now is the Time!

Analysts, endorsements, flattery, and FUD aside, we hope the customer and partner take-away from this crazy month of all-flash is that the time is now.  Take a serious look at the storage refreshes you have teed up for the rest of this year. Why throw bad money after good on performance (oxymoron) mechanical disk storage when even the Big Storage vendors are promoting an all-flash future? Look at Pure, look at our competitors, test out the serious contendors, and make the best choice for your business.  Embrace and lead with flash in your business just as the storage industry is. You will be hugely glad you did!

*March 2015: Corrected to 600% (7x of 2012 revenue).