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The potential effects of Pure Storage's 300 TB SSDs

Pure Storage plans to have 300 TB SSD modules by 2026, potentially putting other HDD- and SSD-based systems at a scalability disadvantage. But with two-plus years to go, that advantage could change.

Pure Storage said it will build a 300 TB SSD by 2026, blowing past the common 30 TB footprint and potentially affecting both SSD and HDD systems.

Vendors tend to look at storage hardware as commodity and innovate around software. But Pure Storage's aim for a 300 TB DirectFlash module (DFM) -- Pure's version of an SSD -- does the opposite, according to Scott Sinclair, an analyst at TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group.

"Through the hardware innovation of its flash storage, Pure can develop a competitive advantage," Sinclair said.

The uptick in density could create a shift in the SSD and the more popular HDD markets. Some experts believe 300 TB SSDs will provide new justification for investing in the more expensive but more performant medium. But Randy Kerns, an analyst at Evaluator Group, said making a case against HDDs could still be tough, especially for customers primarily concerned with the bottom line.

"If you're a customer and only worried about your acquisition cost, you go with what's cheaper," Kerns said.

While HDDs are less expensive than SSDs today, that could change by increasing the density of flash storage.

Vendors, suppliers and scaling

High-density modules like those in Pure's new FlashBlade//E can do more than potentially shorten the time it will take to bring HDDs and SSDs to the same price point. They can also put storage system vendors at a disadvantage when it comes to scalability, according to Chris Evans, an analyst and co-founder of Architecting IT, an IT consulting firm in the U.K.

"It doesn't seem to me that other vendors have a scalability story because they are stuck on scaling drives that are at most 30 TB in size," Evans said.

When Pure unveiled its FlashBlade//E, executives also provided a look at its performance roadmap, stating the company plans to achieve 100 TB per DFM by the end of the year, up from 48 TB that's available now.

"That's only double of what they have today, so getting that to work is not impossible," Evans said.

It doesn't seem to me that other vendors have a scalability story because they are stuck on scaling drives that are at most 30 TB in size.
Chris EvansAnalyst, Architecting IT

While DFMs are repairable and last longer than traditional SSDs, users may find they need a larger starting footprint, Evans said. For instance, using Pure's data protection requires at least six DFMs. This is more than three times the capacity of traditional SSDs with the same six drive requirement.

SSDs around 30 TB are common in the enterprise, Kerns said. As drives get larger, drive failures become more pronounced. Storage systems that use 30 TB SSDs are designed to minimize drive failures, which can lead to downtime, performance loss or loss of data.

Pure's push for denser SSDs could be a market driver. Pure may have an advantage because it makes hardware and software, whereas a competitor like Dell only makes the arrays and would have to enter an agreement with a partner for SSDs, Sinclair said.

"The challenge is that an agreement from a systems provider typically doesn't happen until they are already getting crushed," he said. "Whatever that development cycle is, be it two to three years for example, they're already that far behind the curve."

However, 2026 is still two and a half years away and the market can shift. In fact, it already is. At the Flash Memory Summit 2023, Samsung showcased its own 128 TB SSD, but it did not release information on pricing or availability.

Matching performance to interface

Some argue that denser drives will be limited by the interface, which acts as a spigot and can only allow so much data to pass through. But interfaces are changing, too, with the rollout of PCIe Gen 5 and the soon-to-come Gen 6 or Gen 7, which are expected to be available when Pure's 300 TB hit the market. Given those changes, there is little concern that the interface will limit affect performance.

"Every generation [of PCIe] doubles the performance of the one before," Evans said.

Pure's FlashBlade//E uses PCIe Gen 4, which supports the current 48 TB DFMs, Evans said. Doubling the DFM capacity to 100 TB by the end of 2023 will rely on the latest generation CPUs that utilize PCIe Gen 5 such as Intel's Sapphire Rapids to take advantage of the increase in capacity. The roadmap for PCIe Gen 6 and Gen 7 can be used as a guide when expanding capacity further, he said.

Denser drives can also mean longer rebuild times, particularly with HDDs where the interface speed has remained static while capacity increases, Sinclair said. Flash's higher performance, along with Pure's roadmap of higher capacity coinciding with faster PCIe interface releases, may quell some reservations around adopting higher capacity drives for customers, as the performance can cut down on rebuild times.

"In the old world of spinning disks, the challenge was, if the capacity gets too big and fails, it increases risks of data loss," he said.

Adam Armstrong is a TechTarget Editorial news writer covering file and block storage hardware and private clouds. He previously worked at StorageReview.com.

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