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How a storage start-up scored an HBO cameo

'Silicon Valley' executive producers and cast
Drew Altizer Photography

In Sunday night's episode of HBO's "Silicon Valley," the fictional start-up Pied Piper is shown using some high tech data center hardware that enables it to compete with the Google-inspired Internet giant Hooli.

One piece of machinery shown at the Pied Piper hacker house was from a real life Silicon Valley company named Pure Storage, which develops high speed flash storage arrays to take on legacy storage vendors like EMC and NetApp.

Pure is by no means a fledgling start-up. The Mountain View, California-based company was valued at over $3 billion a year ago in a $225 million financing round that included investing heavyweights T. Rowe Price and Tiger Global.

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Still, Pure lacks mainstream name recognition, so having its logo show up on 1.7 million or so TV sets is an efficient way to get some free marketing. (Tweet This) But it was a subtle appearance, recognizable only to those in the know.

The scene doesn't include Pure's name, and the box is noticeable for the company's orange open hexagon logo that from an angle resembles a P.

Pied Piper was able to afford the equipment ($70,000 worth) because three episodes prior, it backed out on fancy new office space at the last minute to instead spend its last few venture dollars on setting up its own data center in the garage of the hacker house.

Importantly for Pure, the show illustrates how a complicated box that sits in the guts of the data center can be easily set up by a single coder.

"Our founder's 8-year-old son can set it up," said Amy Cronk, director of communications at Pure. "The owner's manual is the size of two business cards."

Here's how the deal went down:

In September, a few months after the debut season of "Silicon Valley" concluded, Pure CEO Scott Dietzen spoke at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, and was joined on stage by Mike Speiser, a Pure board member and managing director at Sutter Hill Ventures.

After the discussion, as Dietzen and Cronk were headed out the door, they were approached by one of the "Silicon Valley" producers, who said the show may be interested in including Pure's technology in the upcoming season. They exchanged business cards.

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Two months later, Dietzen got an email from Andrew Nash, an Internet company executive and senior technical adviser for the show, who copied associate producer Jonathan Dotan to handle the back-and-forth with the Pure team.

Dotan didn't lay out all the specifics for Dietzen and Cronk, but provided enough confidence that the machine would be used in a positive (and conceivable) fashion. And no money was being exchanged.

The premise is that Pied Piper, the centerpiece of "Silicon Valley," is developing algorithms for compressing big files. Hooli, the Internet Goliath led by Gavin Belson (played by Matt Ross), wants to own the market and is throwing resources at it.

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Pied Piper's Bertrand Gilfoyle (played by Martin Starr), convinced his team three episodes ago that he could build a configuration that would blow away anything they could get from other providers.

"We're about precision, about shaving yoctoseconds off latency at every layer in the stack," Gilfoyle said. "If we rent from a public cloud we're using servers that are by definition generic and unpredictable."

To make the scene happen, Cronk shipped via FedEx two Pure FlashArray 420 units, each about the size of a microwave, to the "Silicon Valley" crew in Culver City, California.

A product expert on Pure's marketing team had multiple calls with the producers to make sure they could turn the arrays on and that they had the appropriate terminology down for the show.

By the early part of February, the filming was complete and the arrays were sent back to Mountain View.

The episode aired a day before Pure launched a series of new products to modernize storage.

Pure's Evergreen Storage, introduced on Monday, combines software and hardware so that customers can deploy the system once and upgrade it continuously, rather than buying hardware every three to five years. Pure1 is a cloud-based management system that allows IT managers to control their storage remotely, whether at home or on the beach, from mobile devices.

Dietzen called it a "watershed moment" for the company, which came out of stealth in 2011.

"We are the first in our category to custom build a storage system that combines software and now hardware, both optimized for flash memory," he said.

Pure was recently named to CNBC's Disruptor 50 list for a second straight year. Dietzen is in New York on Monday for the launch and an appearance on CNBC.

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