Pure Storage FlashArray Review

The data reduction technology has been beyond impressive. We also really like their ability to handle diverse workloads, access-patterns, and database technologies with no loss of performance.

What is our primary use case?

Our primary use case has been our production Oracle campus management database environment. We use Oracle PeopleSoft as our campus management solution and underneath that we have about six terabytes of Oracle Database. Our most demanding use-case for Pure Storage has been hosting these high performance, transactional databases, while also hosting all of our other critical application storage needs (MSSql data-warehouse, BI/Analytics, VMWare).

How has it helped my organization?

As soon as we introduced our first Pure Storage FlashArray, the first benefit we saw, from our very first benchmarks, was that our production databases simply ran twice as fast with no other changes. That increase in performance allowed us to then redesign our database environment in ways which had many knock-on benefits, primarily virtualization and automation. Our primary activity as DBAs is copying databases: making clones, doing refreshes, and creating development/test copies. We spend all day, every day doing this. Pure Storage's technology allowed us to automate these tasks, reducing a manual database-deployment process that started as a 12-hour turnaround to an automated solution that takes about 15 minutes.

What is most valuable?

The most valuable feature has been its performance. It has allowed us to virtualize our production environment, which has many secondary benefits, primarily involving the automation of database administration activities. Very close to that primary benefit has been the effectiveness of their data reduction technology, a combination of deduplication and metadata indexing. In our environment, nearly all of our databases are copies of copies. With Pure Storage's data-reduction technology we can host an unexpectedly large amount of functional data in an affordable amount of storage.

Also, their system-management REST API is excellent: well-documented and very easy to use.

What needs improvement?

In the higher-education industry, things moves slowly. We are still looking forward to implementing the full list of their existing features. 

In terms of the future, I have been excited by some of the copy data management stuff that they're talking about building into the environment. I've done a lot of automation work using their existing features and tools, so I'm always looking forward to extensions of their API. They're also talking about extending their phone-home centralized analytics interface (PureOne) into a does-everything management console with a list of new cloud, WAN, and backup features, but this doesn't seem finalized. 

For how long have I used the solution?

3.5 years

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

We forget they're there. We plugged the first one in, then we didn't look at it for months. We copied more and more stuff into it over that first year and got more and more impressed at how effective Pure's data-reduction technology was. You copy more and more stuff into them and they just sit there, working away. Now that a lot of our daily operations are automated, we barely even log into them.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The data reduction technology part of the scalability has been impressive. We really like its ability to host diverse additional workloads, categories of data, and vendor database technologies.

We have purchased a second array. We also added an additional shelf for capacity to the first array. The process of adding both of these devices took less than an hour in each case: The SE shows up, plugs stuff together, turns it on, and the data moves over.

How are customer service and technical support?

We've been incredibly happy with their tech support. There was even an instance where we were having an unrelated problem with our production Oracle Databases. If you can imagine having your production Oracle Databases randomly reboot approximately every 12 to 17 hours for no reason that you can figure out. It tends to be something approaching a resumé-generating experience. Out of the blue, we received a proactive, spontaneous call from Pure Storage support saying, "We're observing something weird on one of your Fibre Channel connections. We think you should take a look at this one SFP optical connector on this one channel, because we're seeing stuff on the array which looks unusual." We looked and it turned out to be the problem. We were having this timing error that was causing our databases (because they were clustered) to lose track of the fact that they were part of a cluster. They would just reboot. Pure Storage support, using their phone-home data analytics, solved it, proactively.

They even showed up at our office, just in case it was the Pure Storage array's SFP, not the one in our fibre-channel switch. Our salesperson and sales engineer showed up within an hour at our location with a replacement SFP that we didn't even need. 

Therefore, we are very happy with their tech support.

How was the initial setup?

It was very straightforward, to the point that our SE said, "Watch me as I do this. You'll never need to do this again. It will just sit here." The array set up, for our first array, from taking it out of the box to mounting the first volume, took less than an hour.

What about the implementation team?

Pure Storage showed up, plugged it in, and we attached it to our Fibre Channel SAN and our iSCSI network. We were copying data within an hour and a half or so. Our Pure Storage team is great. There wasn't really an "implementation". No assistance was necessary.

What was our ROI?

Compared to legacy spinning disk, we have absolutely seen a reduction in total cost of ownership (TCO). I don't have an actual sort of number, but it's dramatic. 

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

In terms of other contemporary arrays, Pure is something you need to have a use case for. It isn't priced for you to just go buy one off-the-shelf. It isn't a casual purchase. If you have an appropriate use case though--heavy lift Oracle Databases, any type of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), or workloads that just really need low latency and high throughput--you should consider all-flash at least and probably Pure Storage. For example, we are starting to use our second array for high performance computing, primarily machine learning, and for that sort of research analytics and heavy math computation you really need all-flash. 

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We had existing relationships with vendors who had spinning disk technology. What we weren't getting was the type of flexibility for automation and copy management that all-flash technology offered with the same level of functionality. 

Spinning disk, if you're going to copy things, is zeros and ones on a piece of metal or glass, being moved to another piece of metal or glass. There is physics involved, physical changes. All-flash is largely a metadata-based environment, which means you can make copies of things by changing a few bytes in a table somewhere. 

Pure Storage was chosen because we wanted to move our university's database environment forward in terms of optimization and automation for everyday database administrator activities.

I work with a lot of different storage technologies, including other all-flash solutions, and Pure Storage stands out.

What other advice do I have?

When researching or selecting potential purchase, start with performance, then try to narrow things down by looking at the additional functionality that a particular solution is going to bring into your environment. There are use cases where raw speed is everything, but almost no one is ultimately in that use case. Most people don't want it to be just fast. They want it to:

  • Be fast.
  • Make their DBAs lives easier.
  • Make their VDI work. 
  • Run their VMs in VMware in a more reliable, faster way, with better HA. 

Definitely investigate your options. Research a solution's whole set of functionalities, strengths and weaknesses, then compare that to your needs. Don't chose it because it's fastest, cheapest, etc.. Look hard at how you're going to be using it, in detail, over the next 18 to 36 months.

If you are using a storage solution in an enterprise, you need something that has an infrastructure, an ecosystem around it, a whole vendor environment. You're not going to just plug it in. You will want to use it in complex environments for important tasks.

This is why we have never implemented any sort of homegrown SSD or stripped-down, generic SSD storage arrays. We'd need to build all of those additional "ecosystem" features ourselves.

We haven't made a lot of use of Pure's built-in predictive analytics. However, they were beneficial in a couple of our storage capacity-planning discussions. We did use and trust them to understand when it was time to purchase a second //M20, which is the model of array that we use. Partially based on the built-in analytical projections, we purchased a second //M20 array and added capacity to our existing one.

Pure Storage helps to simplify storage. Some of the simplification that we observed simply comes out of its all-flash nature. We suspect that most other all-flash storage arrays in the enterprise would have shared a large percentage of that simplification. However, what Pure Storage adds, uniquely, is that their software is very much aimed at reinforcing and sustaining simplification. Performance is not the only goal; it is performance, simplicity, and ease of use.

Which version of this solution are you currently using?

**Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor.
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