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All-flash pioneers holding up well despite increased competition

It’s been awhile since startups had the all-flash array market to themselves. All the major storage vendors now have one or more all-flash platforms. Still, the flash array pioneers still have the lead in some ways.

Two recent reports by Gartner show Pure Storage, SolidFire and Kaminario more than holding their own in the over-crowded all-flash market. Pure joined EMC and IBM in the leaders section of Gartner’s all-flash magic quadrant, and SolidFire, Pure and Kaminario have the three highest rated arrays in Gartner’s flash critical capabilities report. SolidFire and Kaminario are in the visionaries group in the magic quadrant, which looks at vendors rather than specific products and includes business considerations along with technology.

Gartner’s critical capabilities report judged 13 all-flash arrays. Gartner gave each system an overall ranking based on ecosystem (support for protocols, operating systems, hypervisors, etc.), manageability, multi-tenancy/security, performance, RAS (reliability, availability, serviceability), scalability and storage efficiency. It also ranked each array for its value in five specific use cases.

SolidFire ranked highest overall with a score of 3.43, followed by Pure at 3.41, and Kaminario at 3.36. EMC’s XtremIO and Hewlett-Packard’s 3PAR StoreServ 7450 scored highest amount the large vendors’ arrays, coming in tied for fourth at 3.32.

Pure received the highest ranking for online transaction processing, server virtualization and VDI while SolidFire took the top scores for high-performance computing and analytics.

SolidFire was lauded for its quality of service feature that delivers applications with guaranteed IOPS and broad cloud management features, while Gartner added that SolidFire is playing catch-up with traditional enterprise application integration. Gartner pointed out Pure’s good reputation for reliability, ease of use and storage data services, although its arrays have relatively low capacities. Kaminario won praise for its new inline compression, dedupe, and thin provisioning and its price of $2 per GB (when including storage efficiency) while taking hits for limited quality of service and no replication.

Gartner’s 2013 flash market share report issued earlier this year listed Pure as No. 2 behind IBM in all-flash array revenue for last year. IBM had $164.4 million in revenue from its FlashSystem with Pure raking in $114.1 million from its FlashArray platform.

The magic quadrant cautioned that Pure’s performance isn’t among the best when it comes to high IOPS and low latency, but Pure VP of products Matt Kixmoeller said that is by design. He says FlashArray was designed with storage services in mind, and those services will eventually win out in the flash market.

“From day one we’ve been focused on building the best platform for hosting many applications,” he said. “If someone is looking for a drag race between flash systems, they’re probably looking for the wrong things.

“We’ve seen a change in our business over the last six months. A lot of deployments were single application in the beginning. Once the customers got used to flash in a single application, they would use it in other apps. A lot of deals now are multi-arrays. Even if they’re a single array, they are multi-applications. Flash is now a replacement for tier one storage.”

SolidFire marketing VP Jay Prassl agreed with that. SolidFire began selling its array as storage for cloud providers, so it needed to handle multiple applications. “The separation now comes from the demand go beyond providing more speed,” Prassl said. “If I can’t put a lot of applications on here and make my life easier, than I’m managing a lot of disparate systems.”

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