Pure Storage CEO on all-flash data centres and the cloud

Pure Storage CEO on all-flash data centres and the cloud

Former Cisco exec Charlie Giancarlo talks how data-centric storage can boost application performance and how Pure's subscription agreements promise infrastructure upgrades without downtime

Charlie Giancarlo (Pure Storage)

Charlie Giancarlo (Pure Storage)

Credit: Pure Storage

The reason goes back to what I mentioned before: We could have multiple applications accessing the same storage at the same time. So if you already have so-called tier one storage, but now you could allow the apps that typically go to tier two to access the data on the tier one storage, without affecting the tier one applications, you can collapse the tiers.

We believe that tier one and tier two will both go to flash as prices drop. For cold storage, we believe it will go the cloud, and even if it goes to the cloud, it will be magnetic. Otherwise known as cheap and deep.

What's the big deal about NVMe?

Let’s shift to NVMe (non-volatile memory express), which is shaking up the enterprise storage industry. Why should we care about NVMe? What are the benefits?

We care because, believe it or not, we’re still dealing with old protocols that were designed for magnetic storage. Before NVMe, the protocols to access storage, even solid-state storage, were designed for magnetic storage. Whether that was SCSI or SATA or SAS or iSCSI – those were all designed as fundamentally serial interfaces that were designed for relatively slow storage.

NVM stands for non-volatile memory – meaning, basically, solid-state memory. NVMe is a more modern protocol that recognises both the speed of networks that we can now have available to us, as well as the fundamentally parallel nature of solid state.

NVMe is a more parallel way to access the solid-state storage. That’s very meaningful, especially to Pure, frankly, even more than to our competitors, for the following reason: Only Pure uses raw, flash memory. The majority of our products use what we call DirectFlash. We speak directly to the flash, across our entire product.

All of our competitors use so-called SSDs, or solid-state disks. Now, ‘solid state disk’ is a bit of an anachronistic title, because there’s no disk. They’re solid state. But an SSD makes flash memory appear to be a magnetic disk. That’s why they’re designed.

Competitors can claim to be all flash, but all they really did was remove a magnetic disk and put in an SSD. But it suffers from all the limitations that the magnetic protocols have provided. They’re relatively slow, they do not optimise their use of flash, and they’re serial in nature. They don’t provide a parallel interface to the flash.

We put NVMe into place early last year, so we’re well over a year now using NVMe for access to our flash. It’s very meaningful for us. It means we can be even more efficient in flash.

Even faster in terms of both write speeds and read speeds for our customers. And it allowed us to use any type of flash memory that was economical for us to use, consumer and/or enterprise grade.

What about NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF)?

NVMe over Fabrics is a very high-speed way of getting access to your storage over traditional interfaces, like Ethernet or Fibre Channel. That will be important for us, because it allows our shared accelerated storage model.

[Consider the three primary ways to access storage: direct attached storage, SAN and NAS.] With NVMe, we now can make all three of those look the same.

We call it shared accelerated storage. We can remove DAS, so instead of servers having to have their own disks on board, they can now have an NVMe interface to an array, and get the same if not better performance than they got before.

Shared accelerated storage can replace SAN with NMVe and get better performance. And with network-attached storage, it’s the same thing: NVMe will make it faster than using traditional protocols.

Lastly, NVMe over Fabrics does create that parallel interface, even though it’s over an Ethernet. It allows multiple-disk access for read and write to occur at the same time. That’s critical for things like AI, analytics and other large, complex, multi-threaded workloads.

Are enterprises coming to Pure to solve specific workload challenges, or are they looking for broader, more strategic storage overhauls?

There’s a spectrum of managers. There are some that are very much caught up in their existing environments and frameworks, and for them it’s really just about improving the way they do things today.

There are others, though, that are struggling with the demands placed on them. Moving to new workloads, for example. They’re struggling with scaling application environments with DAS or with SAN, or migrating to things like Amazon S3 environments.

When we came out with the data-centric architecture and the details behind that – including this idea of removing DAS altogether and migrating to a more centralised approach, a data-centric approach – they said that’s exactly what they have been looking for, and they didn’t realise that they could do it.

Are there particular workloads that are driving adoption?

The areas of AI and analytics are big new areas for us. Customers have realised the way that they’ve managed storage before won’t work for them. It’s frankly too slow, and often just too big.

It takes so many racks of equipment to be able to deliver the performance, or hold the amount of data, that it’s unwieldy and impractical. One of the reasons Nvidia partnered with us is because, based on their experience in the field, there was no other data storage system that could provide the speed of data delivery that could keep their graphics processors, their GPUs, fully occupied.

Is it an advantage, being more of a startup and not having a legacy platform to work around?

It’s that simple. We started decades after the other guys. We started Day 1 focused on flash. We only do flash. We don’t have any core elements in our software that are unoptimised for flash. This is a very good point that’s not mentioned often enough: Our software is fundamentally parallel.

We use parallel streams in the software to be accessing multiple parts of storage at the same time. Nearly all of our competitors were designed around serial software streams.

The future of storage

What are you most excited about as you enter your second year at the company?

A lot of things. I’m very excited about company itself. How focused the company is on delivering great products and supporting customers. It’s a very can-do attitude. Very enthusiastic, excited about growth. You can’t manufacture great culture. I feel very fortunate to come into a company that has a strong customer-centric, technology-centric culture.

Really focusing on delivering against the data-centric architecture that we identified at our Accelerate event and continuing to build out the future vision of the company.

I think we have a lot of opportunity as we fill out our menu and continue to allow our customers to do more with their data.

In the big picture, what can we expect in terms of product development? Bigger, faster?

Certainly faster, cheaper, greater density. That’s the norm. But increasingly as well we are embracing the cloud and allowing our customers to migrate more of their data into the cloud. Also, allowing our customers to collapse the tiers. That’s a very big change for our customers.

What experience that you gained at Cisco will influence your time at Pure?

It’s new but it’s also old. When Cisco bought Kalpana, which is how I ended up there, Cisco had just done its first $250 million quarter. And when I came to Pure, it was just crossing its quarter-billion dollar quarter.

When I left Cisco, it was at $45 billion in revenue. As part of the executive team, I went through a lot of growth at the company and a lot of changes during that period of time. I’ve seen what it takes to get through that growth.

It’s not as if you want to create the infrastructure for a $45 billion company when you’re at $1 billion. You need to know all of the transitions that you’ll go through.

Having been through it once before, I’m familiar with some of the pitfalls. We made a lot of rookie mistakes at Cisco going through it. I hope I can reduce the number of rookie mistakes that we make here.

At the same time, we also realised what it was to develop an entire industry – starting with just routers and then going from routers to switches to IP telephony and Wi-Fi and all of that. To scale out the company in terms of capabilities.

As I look at Pure, the opportunities for us to go into some new areas that are closely related if not directly related to what we do is very exciting for me and for the company.

(Reporting by Ann Bednarz, Network World)

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