Is Pure’s IPO bottle half empty or half full?

Pure Storage (PSTG) is having it’s IPO today and by most reports I’ve read, it’s been a little disappointing.

There are a couple of interesting things about this. First, Pure’s IPO has been touted as a test for “unicorn” startups – companies with unusually high levels of venture investments – and the market’s response has been “show me the path to profitability”. This will have an impact on the rest of the unicorns out there, like Uber, but probably not much impact on the more-practical storage industry.

Second, the question about Pure’s technology being a feature or a product may also have had an impact.  Flash technology is quickly overtaking the enterprise storage business and many customers – large and small – are demanding it from their vendors. It’s no surprise that everybody in the infrastructure storage business now has flash-based solutions. Savvy investors who understand the infrastructure business may have been slightly unnerved by the number of competitors Pure has helped create by their early success.

But that doesn’t mean that all these solutions are equivalent, or even competitive. An analogy I like to use is the automobile industry – there have been many different kinds of cars for many different drivers and uses. There is a lot of room in the market to find the right architecture and feature set for different types of customers. Pure and Tegile, the company I work for (and the rest of the enterprise storage industry for that matter) are competing hard for every deal. The thing is, there are going to be lots of deals as customers turn over their disk storage for flash storage.  A lot of change will come to the storage industry as a result.

wrecking ballPure may be having a lackluster IPO, but they were the wrecking ball that leveled the playing field in the storage industry – and for that – all the flash storage startups are grateful.  I wouldn’t say it’s a half-empty bottle for Pure today, but it’s certainly not half-full either. For Tegile, it’s full speed ahead, into the great expanding flash storage market.

EMCLeaks – Disruption by a Billion Benjamins

emcleaksStorage industry muckracker Chris Mellor was at it again, digging deeper than anyone could imagine, finding and publishing the amount of money EMC spent on stealth startup DSSD. I highly recommend reading his piece, but if you need to know now, it was $1Billion.

That is a lot of money for a startup without customers and I believe it was spent for very good reasons. Here is how I see it:

1) RIP all disk arraysThe flash array business is growing rapidly and the all-disk array business is flat, or declining. In other words, flash-based arrays are kicking all-disk arrays to the curb faster than you can say “all-disk is dead”.

2) Pure Storage is putting a major hurt on EMC in head to head competition. This statement is inflammatory, but I believe it’s accurate.

3) neoXtremIO is doing OK, but it is not a dominating product. EMC realizes it needs one and believes DSSD could their Neo.

4) EMC realizes that the enterprise storage industry is in for a major shakeup over the next 3-5 years. EMC will not allow itself to be left on the sideline if its current product lines become dinosaurs overnight.

5) Product life-cycles and customer buying-cycles for flash-based products are being extended from 3 years to 5 (ala Pure & Tegile), and in the future may be extended even further. EMC needs products that compete on that basis and DSSD may be a platform that provides extended life-cycles for their customers.

6) steve-carell-alice-cooperDSSD will allow EMC to compete for high-performance analytics opportunities that might otherwise go to Exadata or other HPC systems by offering a lower-cost, slightly-lower-performance flash storage alternative to all that costly RAM.

Flash is Disrupting the Benchmark Game too

reindeer raceA couple days ago, Lou Lydiksen from Pure Storage posted a blog titled “What’s wrong with using 100% non-reducible data?” The post was better than the title suggests because it exposes a problem storage buyers have today, which is validating the performance of flash storage systems using benchmarks developed for disk-based systems.

Independent storage performance TALK-NERDY-TO-MEbenchmarks have been nerdy infotainment for many years due to the work that often goes into getting the best possible results. Storage systems are usually configured and tuned a certain way to get the best results. (An example of a benchmark that appears to break this rule is the recent SPC benchmark from Kaminario). There is nothing wrong with optimizing application performance, even if that application is a benchmark, but it obviously makes sense to use benchmarks that model realistic, production workloads.

New architecturesThe larger question is what happens when new technologies with new architectures come to market?  For example, the SPC1 benchmark for transaction processing accommodates flash storage technology, but it does not allow the use of compression and deduplication. That’s a big deal because both are important cost-saving features of enterprise flash systems that most customers want but have no way to predict if, or how, they will impact performance. The lack of a feature-comprehensive benchmark does not appear to be slowing the growth of flash storage systems, but that is beside the point – customers would benefit. Other realistic tests would be running the benchmark in a virtual environment alongside simulated background processes and pinning the benchmark application in flash while background processes run in disk or some combination of disk and+flash.

The SPC has indicated that they are sorting some of this out and are developing a way to include compression (first) and deduplication (later) rainbow in skittlesin their benchmarks. I don’t know where they are with respect to virtualization and hybrid designs but in my opinion, storage benchmarking is suddenly a green-field opportunity again – brought about by the rise of enterprise flash storage systems. Will we see enterprising analyst/entrepreneurs rise up to grab the brass ring and establish clear thought leadership amidst the chaos? Are there any takers?