Pure Storage Adds Free DirectCompress Accelerator Card to FlashArray//XL

Pure Storage has announced that new FlashArray//XL arrays will come with a free DirectCompress data compression FPGA accelerator card built in.

FlashArray//XL arrays already perform inline data compression, but using the main CPU. By adding the DirectCompress accelerator card, Pure are claiming a 30% boost in inline compression by offloading the work from the CPU.

A comparison of the data compression path with and without a DirectCompress accelerator card. (Source: Pure Storage)

A comparison of the data compression path with and without a DirectCompress accelerator card. (Source: Pure Storage)

This frees up the CPU to perform other services.

Given the FlashArray//XL is used for larger datasets than other arrays, and they are often under substantial load, freeing up CPU will be attractive for customers of this array. Ordinarily, inline compression is performed opportunistically when the CPU has spare capacity. That’s because FlashArrays exist to serve data, not to compress it, so compression shouldn’t get in the way. But compression is useful and helps customers store more data on these arrays. An accelerator card makes it easier for customers to get both.

Given the extra value, one might wonder why Pure is bundling the card in for free, rather than making it an optional extra. The card uses a fairly standard PCI interface, as you can see from the product picture below.

A Pure Storage DirectCompress FPGA accelerator card. (Source: Pure Storage)

A Pure Storage DirectCompress FPGA accelerator card. (Source: Pure Storage)

“We saw this as an opportunity to further add value to our product and differentiate in a competitive market,” said Dan Kogan, VP, Product, FlashArray. “It was really as simple as that. It’s something that we felt adds a strong advantage to us that we don’t want to charge extra for. It’s just another reason to choose Pure in a competitive market.”

Existing customers won’t be able to purchase a card to add to existing systems, but this isn’t a big deal. FlashArray//XL arrays perform a second stage “deep compression” pass on the data, so arrays that have been running for a while will have already compressed data. The DirectCompress card is for inline compression of new data, not compressing existing data on the array.

Given the type of data on FlashArray//XLs and the workloads they’re used for, existing customers probably won’t see enough benefit from adding a card to make it worth the hassle. It also doesn’t make much sense for Pure to add the extra costs of managing a separate SKU for such a marginal case. This also goes some way to explaining why Pure has chosen to bundle the card into new arrays and give customers some bonus value.

An FPGA also makes sense from a future value perspective: Pure can ship new software to customers as its compression algorithms improve. FPGAs can be reprogrammed, unlike ASICs that are cheaper to manufacture in large volumes, but have a static design and lengthy update cycles. The relatively more expensive FPGA option makes a lot of sense here, particularly as the FPGA hardware itself is apparently an off-the-shelf item that Pure incorporates into these cards.

Pure isn’t sure yet what the future plans are for this accelerator card. It will probably make its way into other FlashArrays where it makes sense to do so. And for customers that have signed up to some flavour of Evergreen, it’s unclear if they will or won’t get a DirectCompress-enabled FlashArray//XL come upgrade time. That’s a detail that Pure is yet to work out.

Customers who just purchased a FlashArray//XL without a card are likely to be able to swap to the accelerated version if they ask nicely. “We typically take pretty good care of our customers in those situations,” said Kogan. There’s no need to get grumpy and wish you’d waited a few extra weeks.

In the end, this is just a nifty improvement to the FlashArray//XL that does pretty much what you’d expect. If you were already looking at a FlashArray//XL, you’ve now got an extra reason to buy one for no extra money.

It’s hard to argue with that!

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