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June 7, 2015updated 22 Sep 2016 11:51am

Q&A: Flash is the new disk, says Pure Storage CTO

CTO Alex McMullan talks about the company’s latest portfolio expansion and how IoT is impacting big data.

By Joao Lima

Pure Storage still has its DNA "very much based on web scale and large enterprise reliability performance", according to CTO Alex McMullan.

Expanding on this viewpoint, CBR sat down with McMullan to talk about new solutions and the views of the company on IoT, big data and much more.

CBR: What are Pure Storage’s new solutions and what do they do?

AM: We have three pillars of disruption. First, the new generation of hardware, with a new level of future-proofing. The FlashArray//m tech is here to be used for the next ten years without downtime, without disruption, without change.

The second phase, is the business model that goes with it. Evergreen, is a different way of looking and consuming storage. Customers can buy the flash array on day one of year one and every three years we will renew the technology inside that array, while still running to keep data services running.

With Evergreen there is no more data migration, no more professional services, no more of the traditional forklifts in and out, and this will change the way how IT directors and CFOs look at storage as an operational cost.

The third pillar is Pure1, which allows us to manage storage arrays differently. What we see quite often is that the way businesses manage storage arrays needs to improve, because they are big, they are clunky.

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When they break they need someone to either send logs from the customer side to the vendor side, or they need someone to dial in and work out what is wrong. With Pure1 we send updates from the arrays through an internet connection securely to PureHQ. That tells us immediately if there is an issue or if something needs help to be fixed or changed. We can be the customers’ proactive monitoring, the level one support, we can call them as a customer when things go wrong.

CBR: How new is this technology?

AM: This technology is, in my view, 18 to 24 months ahead of everyone else. It is future-proof, transformational, and also a very much smaller device physically and more green.

Another important thing is the business model that seats around it. Customers buy storage once, pay for the storage software once, and that becomes a commitment for the next ten years or as many as they like.

And finally, managing it from the cloud, having Pure Support be the users’ force multiplier, people calling the business before it breaks. These are the three ways we think the storage industry needs to change.

CBR: What are the challenges with disruption?

AM: The biggest challenges with disruption are the way existing customers are conditioned into thinking "I buy a storage array for three years, then I have to buy another one, and so on". They need some help from us to be educated that it does not need to be that way.

Many of our competitors are very focused on everything from litigation to try to slow us down, all the way through try to incentivise partners to only sell their products.

In Europe, that anti-competitive practice is not a thing that we have to worry about. Customers are getting more savvy and able to differentiate on what is good for them versus what they are being told from existing vendors.

CBR: How did partners react to these new solutions?

AM: We have the cycle of disbelief, where people are reluctant about adopting a solution because nobody has done it, and we have the same conversation at C-level. Most customers think about how they can upgrade in three years.

As an enterprise storage buyer, the biggest issue running large databases is not keeping them up. The biggest issue is having to migrate them every three years to new technology because that is longer, harder and more complex.

Acceptance generally has been: "That is a game changer, that’s transformational, I can now spend more money on my business line rather than on storage."

We looked at what was broken, what was old legacy, and not just fix it with hardware, but fixing it with a business model and a software management paradigm that changes the whole game in my view.

CBR: What is two-tier distribution in terms of your distribution model?

AM: As we scale and grow, it is important to engage our partners effectively but also to have touch points in all the major European countries. We selected Arrow and we also want to have local distribution as well for those smaller areas where local relationships are more important.

We can have partners with the ability to have a multi country deployment or to work with a local distributer where it suits them in the region.

CBR: How do you see IoT impacting big data?

AM: If we look at what is happening with IoT, if we look at sensors, wearables, cars, and so on, they are all generating more machine data. The way traditional technologies deal with that is simply to get a bigger fatter disk.

If we look at the way trends are moving, quite clearly we are seeing we cannot keep up unless with do data reduction. We have to do compression, and everything else that helps to physically reduce the amount of data.

We cannot do that with disk technology because it is too slow. Flash allows you to stay further ahead of that curve in terms of growth. IoT is also pushing analytics and pushing traditional database models to one side to some extent. Flash also offers more efficiency, as an array can be run at 99%, but the same thing cannot be done with disk.

CBR: How can businesses benefit from big data?

AM: First, we approach the concern of privacy and security. If I have my iWatch heart rate sensor, who is going to see the information? Privacy and security for me are very important.

With encryption and all the security systems built in, we know that at least the data is being kept somewhere safe, and if we think about what is happening with IoT generally – with the proliferation of all that data spread around the world – businesses are able to process on Flash better, more quickly more reliably and more often.

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