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Pure Storage hoovers up $150m in funding, hires ex-Data Domain CEO

Firm sets sights on becoming Data Domain of flash arrays

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Flash array upstart Pure Storage aims to emerge from the herd and pull off a Data Domain, having secured $150m in E-round funding and hired former Data Domain head honcho Frank Slootman, who joins its board as "a key strategic advisor."

Pure says the $150m is "the single largest private funding in the history of the enterprise storage industry." It takes its total funding to $245m and puts it on track, it says, for an IPO.

The cash will be used to accelerate European and Asian operations, grow sales, support and marketing teams globally, and increase research and development efforts.

One problem Pure will be aware of is the risk of diluting its startup culture with a huge infusion of new personnel. No doubt there will be new employee introduction courses to purify them.

It's clear that Pure wants to outpace the pack of all-flash array vendors and reprise Data Domain's experience of becoming the dominant supplier in its area of storage; deduping backup to disk arrays, in Data Domain's case. Getting some Slootman magic on board is indicative of that, Slootman being the CEO who took Data Domain to glory with the EMC buyout.

Can Pure do it? It has two groups of competitors; the mainstream array suppliers and the all-flash array startups. What challenges does it face, with its flash-aware software and SSD-based flash hardware, from its competitors as it tries to outpace them? Firstly from the mainstream vendors:

  • Dell - all-flash versions of Compellent arrays with modified software
  • EMC - all-flash versions of VNX/VMAX plus coming bought-in XtremIO arrays
  • Fujitsu - all-flash versions of disk-based Eternus arrays
  • HDS - in-house developed flash controller hardware and all-flash arrays
  • HP - all-flash 3PAR arrays with modded software
  • IBM - waiting on acquired TMS hardware development base with SVC controller looking potent
  • NetApp - in-house-developed FlashRay all-flash array coming plus all-flash E-Series with disk-based software
  • Oracle - in-house developed all-flash arrays as part of its engineered systems

EMC is making a lot of noise about its soon-to-be-released XtremIO box, and HDS looks to be developing into a strong competitor. NetApp is an unknown quantity, while HP rejected the new all-flash array option with its all-flash 3PAR 7450 saying its ASIC and software would use flash storage well. We're basically waiting to see how the mainstream vendors' all-flash array boxes will perform. Apart from Oracle, they're all in catch-up mode, and even Oracle doesn't really sell stand-alone flash arrays – for which everyone else is quite thankful.

Secondly, how about the all-flash array startups?

  • Fusion-io - a Johnny-come-lately into all-flash arrays with its Nexgen purchase but progress slowed by OEM channel disruptions. We're waiting to see what happens with this product.
  • Nimbus Data - self-funded and making a more than decent fist of keeping up with flash array performance and capacity. However, Pure could dramatically outspend it
  • Skyera - the potential leader in flash array performance and capacity with its coming skyEagle array and strong potential competition
  • Solidfire - focussed exclusively on cloud service providers and very strong in that market niche
  • Whiptail - expanding fast but does it have enough solid intellectual property of its own. Could we think of Whiptail as a kind of Nimbus Data with VC funding?
  • Violin Memory - going for an IPO and not using the SSD form factor. Has a growing software portfolio but waiting on FalconStor for some of it. May need deduplication to have cost/GB parity

The strongest competitors here look to be Nimbus, Violin and Whiptail. Pure could outspend Nimbus by orders of magnitude and develop its software faster than Violin; ditto Whiptail whom El Reg's storage desk thinks it could outspend too. But Skyera looks to have a technology advantage and Solidfire a market niche focus lead.

The thing with Pure is that it is now so well funded that it can develop its product hardware and software, its channel infrastructure, and its sales, marketing and support operations collectively faster than other all-flash array startup supplier could develop any one of these functions. It may even be able to outspend the mainstream vendors' own all-flash array efforts.

This funding round has substantially raised the stakes for these startups and their backers, who may have to think about increasing their own financial firepower. In the all-flash array poker game Pure Storage just lifted the stakes to a new level. So, competitors - double or quits? ®

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