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

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

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One year ago, Charlie Giancarlo took the helm of Pure Storage, which in fiscal year 2018 reported its first billion-dollar year.

Giancarlo was a managing director and senior advisor at Silver Lake Partners before joining Pure Storage. Prior to that, he held multiple executive positions at Cisco, where he helped steer the company into markets such as Ethernet switching, VoIP, Wi-Fi and telepresence.

Giancarlo talked with Network World's Ann Bednarz about what Pure is doing to keep the storage industry moving forward, and how the experience he gained during Cisco’s growth spurt is helping.

He described Pure's vision for a data-centric architecture – an approach that combines the simplicity of direct-attached storage with the scalability and reliability of network storage – and how it will lead to the eventual collapse of storage tiers.

Giancarlo also talked about the fate of magnetic disk drives (only for cold storage); why NVMe is important (enables even greater efficiency in flash); and what’s distinctive about the company's pay-per-use Evergreen storage services (no rip-and-replace upgrades).

Here is an edited transcript of that conversation.

Enterprise storage has been stuck with the perception that it’s boring. Is that changing? Is the storage industry becoming more innovative?

There’s always a bottleneck to the progress in computation, and I think the bottleneck for the last decade, with the growth of data, has been how to handle all the data. Frankly, I think the technology has been behind. Now we’re finally starting to see some real advances in storage. That’s what makes it exciting. When it becomes a bottleneck, that also means there’s a lot of opportunity.

What stands out to you after your first year at Pure Storage? How did the company perform?

I think our performance speaks for itself. If you look over the last year, we’ve grown an average of 40% year over year. We’ve come out with some great new products that are growing very well. And we continue to lead the market in advancing new technologies. It speaks to the quality of the company overall. Of course, a lot of that was in place before I came on board. It’s a bit too early for me to talk about any real accomplishments. But I do think that what I saw here was a company that had great potential, that was transitioning from being a midsize company to a large company, and that needed to transition some of ways in which it did business. I think I’ve been able to help them start to advance to the next stage. That has to do with the way we work with our partners in field, the way we scale our sales force and our development organization, and the way we aspire to looking at new opportunities for the business.

In May, Pure Storage outlined its vision for a data-centric architecture that delivers on the need for agility and performance in enterprise settings. Can you explain the data-centric architecture? What does it involve from a technical standpoint?

I’ll go back a little bit, in terms of the way that customers design their environment, and I’ll talk about why we now have an opportunity to modify that, and why we should modify that.

If you think about what an ideal situation would be, if you could snap your fingers and make magic happen, you’d have one super powerful processor that could address storage that was located right next to it, at speed of light. That would be an ultimate, easy, very straightforward architecture. Now going back 10 or 15 years, the fastest connection that people had was 1 Gigabit Ethernet. They had disks that were maybe 1 terabyte at most, and we had distributed processors.

In order to handle the world’s largest computation problems, we still need lots of processors – that hasn’t changed. But other things have changed.

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