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Data protection customers turn to Pure Storage FlashBlade

Pure Storage created the FlashBlade all-flash NAS mainly for dense unstructured workloads, but customers like Domino's Pizza and ServiceNow are among Pure customers that use it as a backup target.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Pure Storage FlashBlade was engineered to handle unstructured file and object data, but its use as a backup target is a growing, if unintended, use case.

Domino's Pizza and PaaS provider ServiceNow are among Pure Storage customers to install the scale-out FlashBlade array as an alternative to traditional purpose-built backup appliances. Increased raw density also got the attention of several customers at Pure Accelerate, the vendor's user and partner show that took place here this week.

"We don't call it a backup anymore. We call it data protection," said Dan Djuric, a Domino's vice president of global infrastructure and enterprise information systems. "We launched FlashBlade for our production systems. It gives us more than just backup and restore."

Domino's treats each of its stores as a "mini data center," and production data is managed via a private cloud based on Pure Storage FlashArray block storage. The FlashArray storage is a dedicated tenant in a colocation facility that handles Domino's back-office applications, customer-facing data and data related to managing nearly 6,000 restaurants in North America, most of which are privately franchised.

Domino's first installed Pure Storage FlashBlade to speed data collected via Network File System (NFS). The massively parallel Pure Storage NAS replaced clustered Dell EMC Isilon servers running the Red Hat GFS2 clustered file system.

We don't call it a backup anymore. We call it data protection.
Dan DjuricVice president, global infrastructure and enterprise information system, Domino's Pizza

"We're also flexing FlashBlade for our Microsoft SQL database backups. Instead of pushing information to our Isilon or (Dell EMC) Data Domain boxes, we leverage the FlashBlade to do backup and work with Pure to build the replication [capabilities] in our data centers," Djuric said.

Pure Storage: FlashBlade density serves backup needs

The vendor this week scaled FlashBlade to 150 blades per chassis, a twofold density improvement from the existing model. FlashBlade incorporates Pure's DirectFlash NAND modules on single chip. FlashBlade is built for massive density, with blade capacities available up to 52 TB. A single system now scales to nearly 8 PB.

The FlashBlade system is sold via Pure's channel and available via the Pure AI Data Hub program. FlashBlade provides the storage component to Pure AIRI, an AI data reference architecture for machine learning designed with Arista Networks switching and Nvidia DGX supercomputers.

FlashBlade accounts for a fraction of Pure's overall revenue. The dense storage powers AI algorithms to train large data sets, although that has not been the main use thus far, said Eric Burgener, a research vice president for storage at IDC, an IT analysis firm.

"The FlashBlade system has several use cases, but the one generating the most revenue for Pure is as a data protection and recovery platform," Burgener said. "Backup and DR means lots of data, and as Pure continues to create a name in backup, it will need to sell larger systems."

Using Pure Storage FlashBlade for backup is expensive compared to disk, but the vendor said an increasing number of organizations are able to justify the increased cost, especially for snapshots of mission-critical data.

"The scale-out architecture allows FlashBlade to improve performance as the system grows. That's how we were able to double the blade count," said Matt Kixmoeller, a Pure Storage vice president of strategy.

ServiceNow started using Pure FlashArray as production storage in 2016 to phase out Western Digital Corp's Fusion-io flash cards that were near end of life. The company is based in Santa Clara, Calif. and provides PaaS to Fortune 500 and Global 2000 organizations, running on Pure FlashArray.

Keith Martin, ServiceNow's director of cloud capacity engineering, said his company has been gradually moving to an all-flash data center. The company relies on FlashArray for shared storage and sends all backups to FlashBlade arrays.

"Our first use case for FlashBlade was backups. We had a homegrown backup system based on spinning disk, but the company decided that faster restore speeds made flash worth the money," Martin said. "We back up 500 TB an hour all day, every day" on Pure Storage FlashBlade, he added.

Other Pure Storage customers are intrigued by the use of FlashBlade as a backup target, but aren't yet ready to make the jump.

"Our Dell EMC Data Domain was long in the tooth and needed to be replaced. We took a look at FlashBlade for backup," said Ben Bullock, a senior systems administrator at Blue Cross of Idaho. "It's fast and it's good, but it's a little pricey for us." Bullock said the organization chose ExaGrid appliances instead.

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Some Pure Storage customers use flash for backup. Aside from cost, what factors into the equation when deciding to move off disk backup?
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