Solid state storage hits an inflection point

Summary:Solid state storage is expensive, rotating media storage is cheap. Thus runs the first law of storage these days but one company claims that it's changed all that and if true, we could be at an inflection point.

Solid state storage is expensive, rotating media storage is cheap. Thus runs the first law of storage these days but one company claims that it's changed all that and if true, we could be at an inflection point. However, you do have to read the small print quite carefully.

News reaches my eyes today that Pure Storage has just gleaned another US$30 million from (among others) Samsung's venture capital arm -- yes, that's the same Samsung that makes lots of flash memory: it's the world's biggest in fact. Pure sells SSD-only-based storage systems, and also works closely with Samsung at both technology and marketing levels, as you might expect.

Today, as an enterprise's storage consumption grows, adding SSDs is usually reserved for tier one or tier zero storage, the stuff that's used for high performance, immediately-needed production data before being swiftly cascaded down to cheaper, rotating media. So you might imagine that Pure's all-SSD kit would be horrendously expensive compared to the mechanical or the increasingly popular hybrid SSD-mechanical storage systems.

Not according to Pure, which is making a big thing of the fact that its storage area network shelves are cheaper than the equivalent HDD-based systems.

I sense raised eyebrows. Mine too.

Some might argue that it's only a matter of time before flash, obeying Moore's Law, gets cheap enough to use for primary data. Others however point out that HDD prices are dropping just as quickly -- there's no doubt they'll remain much cheaper than SSDs for the foreseeable future -- and consumption is growing at 50 percent annually, reckon vendors, analysts and enterprises.

So why won't SSDs remain a top-end, niche product?

Pure's CEO is startup veteran Scott Dietzen, who said: "Customers are currently spending about $20 billion per year on performance disk storage. They ought to be getting more for their money."

The way he squares the storage cost/capacity circle is first by not targeting unstructured data, which is the fastest-growing storage segment, but storage area networks, which tend to house production data -- databases and the like -- rather than data generated by end users.

Pure then calculates that if enterprises bought only the capacity they needed, and then applied thin provisioning, compression and deduplication -- which you cannot turn off in Pure's products as they're too deeply embedded, says the company -- to their data as Pure's systems do, then the price of SSDs is lower than mechanical storage.

That's what the company reckons. Specifically, it says that: "the Pure Storage FlashArray delivers the performance of flash for less than the price per gigabyte of performance disk, and typically enables customers to save even more from power, space, and server consolidation."

It's simpler to operate too because you've no need for complex RAID configurations; instead the Pure storage OS uses RAID 3D, an algorithm designed for flash memory that protects against drive failures and bit errors. In addition, you get the usual benefits of flash such as much faster access and better reliability -- as long as you manage the write cycles.

If it's not snake oil -- and the signs are it's not -- then is this the start of a new era for storage? Is SSD now going mainstream? Or perhaps more interesting for those involved in the company, as one commentator put it: is Pure now "ripe for an Oracle take-over?"

The usual postcard will suffice for your answers -- or scribble below.

Topics: Networking


Manek Dubash is an analyst and journalist with over 30 years experience. Focused on business technology, he observes and comments on enterprise infrastructure issues for a range of industry-influential websites. His work has appeared in national newspapers as well as specialist technology journals and websites. He has also held senior pos... Full Bio

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