Pure Storage's next-generation flash array offers high-availability option

Start-up claims hard drive prices for its flash arrays

Pure Storage today announced the second generation of its all-flash array, which can now be configured for high availability.

Flash array start-up Pure Storage, whose marketing pitch is selling flash at the price of enterprise disk, today announced the second generation of its all-flash array that now includes a highly-availability (HA) configuration.

The Pure Storage FlashArray 300 Series now comes with multiple storage controllers clustered using the InfiniBand protocol, which allows for active/active I/O handling on all ports of all controllers.

The new configuration also allows for all components, including flash drives and RAM modules, to be swapped out without any downtime.

Pure Storage has also added "always on" encryption with zero key management, a new Web user interface, command line interface, and VMware vStorage API for Array Integration (VAAI) support.

The FlashArray 300 Series, released in August 2011, uses consumer-grade multi-level cell (MLC) flash memory versus more expensive single-level cell (SLC) or enterprise-class eMLC NAND. Pure Storage's own FlashCare software uses a type of wear-leveling algorithm that writes data to the flash in a way best for performance and endurance, according to Matt Kixmoeller, vice president of products for Pure Storage.

"Even with MLC flash, we're comfortable offering a five-year warranty," Kixmoeller said. "Even if you run it at maximum performance for that time, it will not exhaust the life of the flash."

Leveraging its flash memory to achieve high performance for random I/O-intensive operations, the array is targeted for use with applications like server virtualization, desktop virtualization (VDI), cloud computing and databases such as OLTP, SQL and NoSQL.

John Merryman, CTO of online advertising company Yodle, said he purchased a FlashArray from Pure Storage to address the ever-increasing I/O traffic coming from his test and development environment. Merryman said he made the purchase after considering several other vendors, including systems that use PCIe-based flash and even a "roll your own" version using a bunch of Intel X25-E SSDs in a JBOD configuration.

"We're growing a lot. This will allow us to handle that additional growth without performance problems," he said, referring to his application servers.

Affordability, Merryman said, was a major reason for choosing Pure Storage. Yodle replaced its direct-attached storage array filled with 24 15,000rpm, 6Gbps SAS drives. The array is being used in its development and test environment.

Even though the Pure Storage array offers vastly better throughput, Merryman said that wasn't a problem his shop needed to address. Instead, the array with 5.5TB of capacity - up to 25TB usable space with data reduction turned on - has increased random I/Os by 10 to 20 times.

"I suspect for the average company buying this, they'll find it's probably comparable to an enterprise-class SAN based on spinning disk," he said. "And, that's what's so cool, it's a similar price but with the performance of flash."

Merryman said installation and configuration of the array was simple. He had to install an 8Gbps Fibre Channel HBA on his server, but then it was just a matter of booting it up, and mounting the storage to the host.

"It almost seems too easy. I've had experience playing with other arrays and they weren't as easy to use," he said.

Pure Storage's array uses shelves of SSDs from STEC and Samsung. Besides using MLC NAND in the SSDs to bring prices in line with Fibre Channel and SAS drive disk arrays, the array uses in-line data deduplication to make the most of the storage capacity. The FlashArray 300 can reduce data in virtual server environments by five to 10 times, Kixmoeller said. That brings cost of the array to between $4 and $8 per usable gigabyte of capacity.

The company offers a data reduction measurement tool called PureSize to estimate the capacity savings through deduplication for varying applications.

The street price for an entry-level high-available configuration of a FlashArray 300 Series is $150,000. For that, a user gets about 50TB of usable data capacity.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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