A TCO Analysis of Pure FlashStack & Nutanix Enterprise Cloud

In helping to prepare this TCO with Steve Kaplan here at Nutanix, I’ll be honest and say I was a little surprised at the results.

The Nutanix Enterprise Cloud platform is the leading solution in the HCI space and it while it is aimed to deliver great business outcomes and minimise CAPEX,OPEX and TCO, the platform is not designed to be “cheap”.

Nutanix is more like the top of the range model from a car manufacturer with different customer requirements. Nutanix has options ranging from high end business critical application deployments to lower end products for ROBO, such as Nutanix Xpress model.

Steve and I agreed that our TCO report needed to give the benefit of the doubt to Pure Storage as we do not claim to be experts in their specific storage technology. We also decided that as experts in Nutanix Enterprise Cloud platform and employees of Nutanix, that we should minimize the potential for our biases towards Nutanix to come into play.

The way we tried to achieve the most unbiased view possible is to give no benefit of the doubt to the Nutanix Enterprise Cloud solution. While we both know the value that many of the Nutanix capabilities have (such as data reduction), we excluded these benefits and used configurations which could be argued at excessive/unnecessary such as vSphere or RF3 for data protection:

  1. No data reduction is assumed (Compression or Deduplication)
  2. No advantage for data locality in terms of reduced networking requirements or increased performance
  3. Only 20K IOPS @ 32K IO Size per All Flash Node
  4. Resiliency Factor 3 (RF3) for dual parity data protection which is the least capacity efficient configuration and therefore more hardware requirements.
  5. No Erasure Coding (EC-X) meaning higher overheads for data protection.
  6. The CVM is measured as an overhead with no performance advantage assumed (e.g.: Lower latency, Higher CPU efficiency from low latency, Data Locality etc)
  7. Using vSphere which means Nutanix cannot take advantage of AHV Turbo Mode for higher performance & lower overheads

On the other hand, the benefit of the doubt has been given to Pure Storage at every opportunity in this comparison including the following:

  1. 4:1 data reduction efficiency as claimed
  2. Only 2 x 10GB NICs required for VM and Storage traffic
  3. No dedicated FC switches or cables (same as Nutanix)
  4. 100% of claimed performance (IOPS capability) for M20,M50 and M70 models
  5. Zero cost for the project/change control/hands on work to swap Controllers as the solution scales
  6. IOPS based on the Pure Storage claimed average I/O size of 32K for all IO calculations

We invited DeepStorage and Vaughn Stewart of Pure Storage to discuss the TCO and help validate our assumptions, pricing, sizing and other details. Both parties declined.

Feedback/corrections regarding the Pure Storage sponsored Technical Report by DeepStorage was sent via Email, DeepStorage declined to discuss the issues and the report remains online with many factual errors and an array (pun intended) of misleading statements which I covered in detail in my Response to: DeepStorage.net Exploring the true cost of Converged vs Hyperconverged Infrastructure

It’s important to note that the Nutanix TCO report is based on the node configuration chosen by DeepStorage with only one difference: Nutanix sized for the same usable capacity, but went with an All Flash solution because comparing hybrid and all flash is apples and oranges and a pointless comparison.

With that said, the configuration DeepStorage chose does not reflect an optimally designed Nutanix solution. An optimally designed solution would likely result in fewer nodes by using 14c or 18c processors to match the high RAM configuration (512GB) and different (lower) capacity SSDs (such as 1.2TB or 1.6TB) which would deliver the same performance and still meet the capacity requirements which would result in a further advantage in both CAPEX, OPEX and TCO (Total Cost of Ownership).

The TCO shows that the CAPEX is typically in the favour of the Nutanix all flash solution. We have chosen to show the costs at different stages in scaling from 4 to 32 nodes – the same as the DeepStorage report. The FlashStack product had slightly lower CAPEX on a few occasions which is not surprising and also not something we tried to hide to make Nutanix always look cheaper.

One thing which was somewhat surprising is that even with the top of the range Pure M70 controllers and a relatively low IO per VM assumption of 250, above 24 nodes the Pure system could not support the required IOPS and an additional M20 needed to be added to the solution. What was not surprising is in the event an additional pair of controllers and SSD is added to the FlashStack solution, that the Nutanix solution had vastly lower CAPEX/OPEX and of course TCO. However, I wanted to show what the figures looked like if we assume IOPS was not a constraint for Pure FlashStack as could be the case in some customer environments as customer requirements vary.


What we see above is the difference in CAPEX is still just 14.0863% at 28 nodes and 13.1272% difference at 32 nodes in favor of Pure FlashStack.

The TCO, however, is still in favor of Nutanix at 28 nodes by 8.88229% and 9.70447% difference at 32 nodes.

If we talk about the system performance capabilities, the Nutanix platform is never constrained by IOPS due to the scale out architecture.

Based on Pure Storage advertised performance and a conservative 20K IOPS (@ 32K) per Nutanix node, we see (below) that Nutanix IO capability is always ahead of Pure FlashStack, with the exception of a 4 node solution based on our conservative IO assumptions. In the real world, even if Nutanix was only capable of 20K IOPS per node, the platform vastly exceeds the requirements in this example (and in my experience, in real world solutions) even at 4 node scale.


I’ve learned a lot, as well as re-validated some things I’ve previously discovered, from the exercise of contributing to this Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) analysis.

Some of the key conclusions are:

  1. In many real world scenarios, data reduction is not required to achieve a lower TCO than a competing product which leverages data reduction.
  2. Even the latest/greatest dual controller SANs still suffer the same problems of legacy storage when it comes to scaling to support capacity/IO requirements
  3. The ability to scale without rip/replace storage controllers greatly simplifies customers sizing
  4. Nutanix has a strong advantage in Power, Cooling, Rack Space and therefore helps avoid additional datacenter related costs.
  5. Even the top of the range All Flash array from arguably the top vendor in the market (Pure Storage) cannot match the performance (IOPS or throughput) of Nutanix.

The final point I would like to make is the biggest factor which dictates the cost of any platform, be it the CAPEX, OPEX or TCO is the requirements, constraints, risks and assumptions. Without these, and a detailed TCO any discussion of cost has no basis and should be disregarded.

In our TCO, we have detailed the requirements, which are in line with the DeepStorage report but go further to make a solution have context. The Nutanix TCO report covers the high level requirements and assumptions in the Use Case Descriptions.

Without further ado, here is the link to the Total Cost of Ownership comparison between Pure FlashStack and Nutanix Enterprise Cloud platform along with the analysis by Steve Kaplan.

Sizing infrastructure based on vendor Data Reduction assumptions – Part 1

One of the most common mistakes people make when designing solutions is making assumptions. Assumptions in short are things an architect has failed to investigate and/or validate which puts a project at risk of not delivering the desired business outcome/s.

A great example of a really bad assumption to make is what data reduction ratio a storage platform will deliver.

But what if a vendor offers a data reduction guarantee and promises to give you as much equipment required if the ratio is not achieved, you’re protected right? The risk of your assumption being wrong is mitigated with the promise of free storage. Hooray!

Let’s explore this for a minute using an example of one of the more ludicrous guarantees going around the industry at the moment:

A guarantee of 10:1 data reduction!

Let’s say we have 100TB of data, that means we’d only need 10TB right? This might only be say, 4RU of equipment which sounds great!

After deployment, we start migrating and we only get a more realistic 2:1 data reduction, at which point the project stalls due to lack of capacity.

I go back to the vendor and lets say, best case scenario they agree on the spot (HA!) to give you more equipment, its unlikely to be delivered in less than 4 weeks.

So your project is delayed a minimum of 4 weeks until the equipment arrives. You now need to go through your change control process and if you’re doing this properly it would be documented with detailed steps on how to install the equipment, including appropriate back out strategies in the event of issues.

Typically change control takes some time to prepare, go through approvals, documentation etc especially in larger mission critical environments.

When installing any equipment you should also have documented operational verification steps to ensure the equipment has been installed correctly and is highly available, performing as expected etc.

Now that the new equipment is installed, the project continues and all 100TB of your data has been migrated to the new platform. Hooray!

Now let’s talk about the ongoing implications of the assumption of 10:1 data reduction only resulting in a much more realistic 2:1 ratio.

We now have 5x more equipment than we expected, so assuming the original 10TB was 4RU, we would now have 20RU of equipment which is taking up valuable real estate in our datacenter, or which may have required you to lease another rack in your datacenter.

If the product you purchased was a SAN/NAS, you now have lower IOPS/GB as you have just added a bunch more disk shelves to the existing controllers. This is because the controllers have a finite amount of performance, and you’ve just added more drives for it to manage. More drives on a traditional two controller SAN/NAS is only a good thing if the controller is not maxed out, and with flash ever increasing in performance, Controllers will be assuming they are not already the bottleneck.

If the product was HCI, now you require considerably more network interfaces. Depending on the HCI platform, you may require more hypervisor licensing, further increasing CAPEX and OPEX.

Depending on the HCI product, can you even utilise the additional storage without changing the virtual machines configuration? It might sound silly but some products don’t distribute data throughout the cluster, rather having mirrored objects so you may even need to create more virtual disks or distribute the VMs to make use of the new capacity.

Then you need to consider if the HCI product has any scale limitations, as these may require you to redesign your solution.

What about operational expenses? We now have 5x more equipment, so our environmental costs such as power & cooling will increase significantly as will our maintenance windows where we now have to patch 5x more hypervisor nodes in the case of HCI.

Typically customers no longer size for 3-5 years due to the fact HCI is becoming the platform of choice compared to SAN/NAS. This is great but when your data reduction assumption is wrong, (in this example off by 5x) the ongoing impact is enormous.

This means as you scale, you need to scale at 5x the rate you originally designed for. That’s 5x more rack units (RU), 5x more Power, 5x more cooling required, potentially even 5x more hypervisor licensing.

What does all of this mean?

Your Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and Return on Investment (ROI) goes out the window!

Interestingly, Nutanix recently considered offering a data reduction guarantee and I was one of many who objected and strongly recommended we not drop to the levels of other vendors just because it makes the sales cycle easier.

All of the reasons above and more were put to Nutanix product management and they made the right decision, even though Nutanix data reduction (and avoidance) is very strong, we did not want to put customers in a position where their business outcomes were potentially at risk due to assumptions.


While data reduction is a valuable part of a storage platform, the benefits (data reduction ratio) can and do vary significantly between customers and datasets. Making assumptions on data reduction ratios even when vendors provide lots of data showing their averages and providing guarantees, does not protect you from potentially serious problems if the data reduction ratios are not achieved.

In Part 2, I will go through an example of how misleading data reduction guarantees can be.

Enterprise Architecture & Avoiding tunnel vision.

Recently I have read a number of articles and had several conversations with architects and engineers across various specialities in the industry and I’m finding there is a growing trend of SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) having tunnel vision when it comes to architecting solutions for their customers.

What I mean by “Tunnel Vision” is that the architect only looks at what is right in front of him/her (e.g.: The current task/project) , and does not consider the implications of how the decisions being made for this task may impact the wider I.T infrastructure and customer from a commercial / operational perspective.

In my previous role I saw this all to often, and it was frustrating to know the solutions being designed and delivered to the customers were in some cases quite well designed when considered in isolation, but when taking into account the “Big Picture” (or what I would describe as the customers overall requirements) the solutions were adding unnecessary complexity, adding risk and increasing costs, when new solutions should be doing the exact opposite.

Lets start with an example;

Customer “ACME” need an enterprise messaging solution and have chosen Microsoft Exchange 2013 and have a requirement that there be no single points of failure in the environment.

Customer engages an Exchange SME who looks at the requirements for Exchange, he then points to a vendor best practice or reference architecture document and says “We’ll deploy Exchange on physical hardware, with JBOD & no shared storage and use Exchange Database Availability Groups for HA.”

The SME then attempts to justify his recommendation with “because its Microsoft’s Best practice” which most people still seem to blindly accept, but this is a story for another post.

In fairness to the SME, in isolation the decision/recommendation meets the customers messaging requirements, so what’s the problem?

If the customers had no existing I.T and the messaging system was going to be the only I.T infrastructure and they had no plans to run any other workloads, I would say the solution proposed could be a excellent solution, but how many customers only run messaging? In my experience, none.

So lets consider the customer has an existing Virtual environment, running Test/Dev, Production and Business Critical applications and adheres to a “Virtual First” policy.

The customer has already invested in virtualization & some form of shared storage (SAN/NAS/Web Scale) and has operational procedures and expertises in supporting and maintaining this environment.

If we were to add a new “silo” of physical servers, there are many disadvantages to the customer including but not limited too;

1. Additional operational documentation for new Physical environment.

2. New Backup & Disaster Recovery strategy / documentation.

3. Additional complexity managing / supporting a new Silo of infrastructure.

4. Reduced flexibility / scalability with physical servers vs virtual machines.

5. Increased downtime and/or impact in the event hardware failures.

6. Increased CAPEX due to having to size for future requirements due to scaling challenges with physical servers.

So what am I getting at?

The cost of deploying the MS Exchange solution on physical hardware could potentially be cheaper (CAPEX) Day 1 than virtualizing the new workload on the existing infrastructure (which likely needs to be scaled e.g.: Disk Shelves / Nodes) BUT would likely result overall higher TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) due to increased complexity & operational costs due to the creation of a new silo of resources.

Both a physical or virtual solution would likely meet/exceed the customers basic requirement to serve MS Exchange, but may have vastly different results in terms of the big picture.

Another example would be a customer has a legacy SAN which needs to be replaced and is causing issues for a large portion of the customers workloads, but the project being proposed is only to address the new Enterprise messaging requirements. In my opinion a good architect should consider the big picture and try to identify where projects can be combined (or a projects scope increased) to ensure a more cost effective yet better overall result for the customer.

If the architect only looked at Exchange and went Physical Servers w/ JBOD, there is zero chance of improvement for the rest of the infrastructure and the physical equipment for Exchange would likely be oversized and underutilized.

It will in many cases be much more economical to combine two or more projects, to enable the purchase of a new technology or infrastructure components and consolidate the workloads onto shared infrastructure rather than building two or more silo’s which add complexity to the environment, and will likely result in underutilized infrastructure and a solution which is inferior to what could have been achieved by combining the projects.

In conclusion, I hope that after reading this article, the next time you or your customers embark on a new project, that you as the Architect, Project Manager, or Engineer consider the big picture and not just the new requirement and ensure your customer/s get the best technical and business outcomes and avoid where possible the use of silos.