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Introducing Forever Flash: An End to Maintenance Extortion and Forklift Upgrades

At Pure Storage, we focus a lot of our innovation time on building better storage technology.  But we’re just as passionate about listening to customers to learn what they don’t like about storage companies and the storage industry as a whole, and trying to fix that stuff as well.  We call this our “Building a Better Storage Company” strategy internally, and to date we’ve done some pretty innovative stuff:

Today, we’re excited to announce the next chapter of Building a Better Storage Company: Forever Flash.  To understand what Forever Flash is, and why we decided to do it, you first have to understand two key customer frustrations with Big Storage: Maintenance Extortion and Forklift Upgrades.

 

The 3-Year Upgrade Merry-Go-Round

Big Storage has settled into some basic practices over the past several decades of doing business.  They’ve finely-tuned their business model to highly incentivize (some might say force) customers to replace their storage every 3-4 years, whether they need to or not.  This is accomplished in two main ways.  First, they have setup their maintenance pricing and discounting policies in such a way that maintenance rates paid by customers start low (typically 8-12%/year) for the first 3 years, but when customers come back to renew their 4th-year maintenance, bam! they are presented with a very large “out year” maintenance bill.  The friendly enterprise storage rep then shows up with that maintenance bill in one hand, and a quote for a brand new array in the other hand that costs about the same, and you can guess which option the customer often chooses to move forward with.  We call this Maintenance Extortion.

BS Maintenance Extortion

Maintenance Extortion happens for four reasons: first, for many vendors, a basic maintenance ramp is built into the pricing model itself.  Second, customers are often given attractive discounts to win the initial array, but once the vendor knows they are “stuck,” discounts get less liberal.  Third, maintenance pricing is often driven off of list price, so initial discounts don’t apply when renewals are done off of list.  And fourth, per-TB prices for storage typically decline 15-20%/year, so when maintenance renewals happen they are calculated based upon prevailing list prices from years ago and seem very expensive compared to current market rates.  These four factors often compound themselves…leading to quite a bit of customer surprise and frustration when year four comes around. They also often mean that in a world where storage gets less expensive per-TB every year, most customers have their maintenance rates actually rise per-TB over time – which doesn’t exactly seem right.

A second major frustration that customers have is engineered obsolescence in storage platforms that leads to Forklift Upgrades.  Storage platforms are unfortunately designed to be not that expandable / upgradable, so for many customers, they simply run out of either performance or capacity as the customer’s needs grow.  There are always band-aid improvements that can be made along the way: a bit more cache here, some tiering, some flash there, even sometimes the ability to add more controllers.  But more often than not, customers find they reach the end of their storage platforms far earlier then they anticipated (and budgeted for!).  The result?  No choice but to buy another storage array and incur the dreaded Forklift Upgrade.

BS Forklift Upgrade

Forklift Upgrades happen when you have to abandon ship completely, and move to a newer, faster, bigger storage array.  Storage vendors have tools to make the process a bit easier (and VMware has helped for virtualized environments), but let’s not sugar coat this one – migrations are a huge pain.  They require weeks of planning, scheduling downtime windows from your application owners, and the risk that comes along with infrastructure change.  If storage admins were accountants, Forklift Upgrades would be the equivalent of tax day.

The result?  A number of scenarios with only one answer:

  • 3 years passed and running out of capacity?  Replace your storage.
  • 3 years passed and running out of performance?  Replace your storage.
  • 3 years passed and everything running fine?  Pay us more or replace your storage.

We figured there must be a better way – so we created Forever Flash.

 

Forever Flash

Introducing Forever Flash

The Pure Storage FlashArray was designed to be continuously, incrementally, non-disruptively upgradable in the field – so that customers can frequently take advantage of advances in CPU and flash.  But we realized that we needed to marry that flexibility with a business model that matched it – so we created Forever Flash.  The Forever Flash program has two dimensions, one designed primarily for arrays that are growing in capacity and/or performance over time, and one designed for arrays that are deployed and the workload is relatively stable:

  • Fresh Every Upgrade.  First, whenever you are making a major upgrade to your FlashArray, such as adding a storage shelf for capacity or upgrading controllers for performance, we will now allow you to reset your maintenance on the entire array, and start a new support contract at the then-current rates as if the entire array were brand new.  We’ll give you a credit for any outstanding term left on your original contract, and let you purchase a new contract at the then-current rates, which typically decline over time.
  • Free Every Three.  For arrays that aren’t being upgraded or grown regularly, we wanted to find a way for  customers to also improve their storage experience over time.  So if you renew your maintenance at Year 4 or again at Year 7, we’ll upgrade your controllers to new controllers as long as you purchase two additional years of maintenance at that time.  Receiving the upgrade to new controllers dramatically extends the useful life of the array: higher-performance CPUs allow the experience to stay best-in-class, and to run additional software features that may have shipped and were incompatible with your older controllers.  Free Every Three also enables customers to pre-buy 5 years of support, and receive a controller upgrade at the end of Year 3.

Forever Flash is just part of the standard Pure Storage EULA – no additional contract is required to participate.  There’s also no requirement to take advantage of either offer.  Forever Flash is a global program available through most Pure Storage partners, but participation may vary – check with your local Pure Storage partner and your EULA for details.

Our hope is that Forever Flash enables customers to dramatically extend the useful life and typical deployment lifecycle of their storage – getting more value for their money, and avoiding the dreaded Forklift Upgrade.

 

Enabled by a Better Hardware Architecture

Pure Storage’s ability to offer Forever Flash is enabled by our hardware architecture: we believe in and have engineered for the in-place upgrade vs. the forklift upgrade.  This was a fundamental insight that was very important to the early Pure Storage team.  The FlashArray is built upon two technologies that evolve at semiconductor speeds: x86 CPUs and NAND flash.  We wanted to build a model where customers could buy and deploy only what they needed, and then upgrade and evolve our arrays in-place as their needs changed.  Three key technologies underlie this approach:

  • Upgradable Controllers.  The FlashArray is based upon stateless, independent controllers with x86 CPUs, meaning that we can ship faster controllers annually which let you upgrade the performance of your existing array – year after year after year.
  • Expandable Storage.  Flash storage changes completely every 6-9 months, so we built the FlashArray to allow for incremental expansion to take advantage of fast flash density and cost improvements.
  • Non-Disruptive Everything.  ALL FlashArray upgrades are always non-disruptive: upgrade controllers between generations, add capacity, update software…all without downtime, performance loss, or planned outages. You won’t even have to let your application team know!

So there you have it, innovative hardware coupled with an innovative acquisition and lifecycle model that drives down the total cost of storage ownership – that’s Forever Flash.  We hope you take the time to learn more: read the data sheet, download the independent brief from Enterprise Storage Group, or better yet – drop us a line and we’d be happy to show you how much Forever Flash can save over Big Storage.

About the Author

Matt Kixmoeller was employee #6 at Pure Storage, and as VP, Products is responsible for Marketing and Product Management. Matt is a storage veteran who saw first-hand the last major storage technology media upgrade: the move from tape to disk in the backup market. Matt was Vice President of enterprise product management for Symantec's Information Management products, including the NetBackup and Enterprise Vault.