Pure Storage SSDs Address VDI, Database Challenges, But Is Focus Too Narrow?

SSD vendor Pure Storage looks to solve the performance issues challenging VDI and database apps, but at least one analyst wonders if the company's focus is too narrow.

May 16, 2012

4 Min Read
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Pure Storage, an all-flash enterprise storage vendor, is upgrading its FlashArray with new software to deliver higher resiliency via active/active high availability, FlashCare Technology and an enhanced Data Integrity Fabric. Purity Operating Environment 2.0 also features always-on encryption with zero-key management, a new Web user interface and command-line interface, and VMware vStorage API for Array Integration (VAAI) support.

The company has been keeping a low profile for the last two years, shipping more than 100 units to financial services, manufacturing, Web/high tech, government and cloud service providers as part of its Early Adopter Program, which is now ending. Customers run a variety of mixed workloads--including virtualized servers and desktops, and Oracle and SQL databases--achieving, on average, 5.8-to-1 reduction in their data from the FlashArray’s deduplication and compression algorithms.

Pure Storage officially unveiled its initial product offering, the FlashArray FA-300 Series, last August, calling it more than 10 times faster and 10 times more space- and power-efficient, at a lower per-gigabyte price, than disk-centric arrays. The 100% multilevel cell (MLC) flash-based array is game-changing, says Matt Kixmoeller, VP products. Customers achieved data-reduction ratios that ranged from 4-to-1 to 7-to-1 for Oracle, 6.8-to-1 to 9.2-to-1 for Microsoft SQL, and 15-to-1 to 17-to-1 for VMware, along with reducing the number of servers and improving query times.

Kixmoeller says the two primary use cases are database and virtual server/virtual desktop. Databases tend to be about speed, and disk can't cut it, he says. Pure Storage is also seeing a nice pickup in virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). "The [VDI] ROI case is fragile at best and often gets destroyed by storage." In addition to solving the storage cost problem, customers are also seeing a great end-user experience--much faster than legacy desktop PC experience, he says.

VDI has an unusual problem, says analyst George Crump, founder of Storage Switzerland. To satisfy users you have to provide persistent desktops, and persistent desktops require the use of golden masters and linked clones. These two features put a heavy write load on the hypervisor because it has to dynamically allocate disk space before it can perform the write.

In addition, the storage I/O blender is even worse in virtual desktops because there are significantly more virtual machines per host than in virtual server environment, he says. "The combination of all of these wreaks havoc on mechanical disk drives, so solid-state disk systems are a great fit until you have to pay for them."

This is where Pure Storage has an advantage, says Crump. It combines thin provisioning, compression and deduplication to lower the cost of the SSD investment. Also, deduplication eliminates the need to do golden master/linked clones. Deduplication will provide a better overall storage effectiveness than will golden masters and linked clones without burdening the hypervisor with the task of management."As a result, it is a win-win-win. You get the performance of SSD, at great price, give users VDI performance that is probably better than what they had on their old desktop, and reduce the load on the hypervisor."

Mark Peters, senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group, says that solid-state storage vendors are right and wrong to "fixate" on VDI and database applications.

"They are right because [as ESG research has shown] database and OLTP are the No. 1 business reasons driving users to deploy solid state, a lead that is projected to increase when looking at the intentions of potential solid-state users," says Peters.

"They are wrong," he adds, "because the spread of applications to which solid state is suitable and expected to be deployed is growing wider, with a marked increase in the percentage of planned users that are not buying solid state to alleviate performance issues with any specific business application. Instead, it is more horizontal tools such as VDI that are driving solid-state adoption. In this respect, the products from companies such as Whiptail and Pure are excellent at delivering the I/O intensity and low latency that such applications demand."

Pure Storage isn't worried about being marginalized. It says virtualization and database are actually the two largest segments of the $15 billion-plus storage performance market, which makes a total addressable market of around $7 billion.

New features in Pure Storage FlashArray 2.0 include FlashCare Technology to deliver flash-cell longevity and reliability that is comparable to single-level cell (SLC) at a substantially lower cost, while simultaneously ensuring consistent latency. The array implements a multilayer Data Integrity Fabric that combines overlapping user block-level and array page-level checksums with continuous background analysis to detect and heal data integrity issues automatically. All data is also encrypted, leveraging a built-in key generation and management scheme that requires no end-user key management.

Also new is support for VMware VAAI APIs with vSphere 5.0, supporting write-same/block zeroing, ATS, UNMAP and thin provisioning.

The product is available now, and pricing is in the same range as disk, says the company's Kixmoeller--about $5 per Gigabyte.

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