Containerisation typifies the biggest current shifts in IT. Containers are intended as lightweight and portable – between systems, between datacentre and cloud – and are a cornerstone of digital transformation and cloud-native application development.
But while containerisation potentially simplifies the development, deployment and operation of application environments, behind the veil is a great deal of complexity.
Not least, that’s found in storage, where capacity must be provisioned for containers, then managed, maintained and protected. That can become a difficult and opaque process, which must be made visible and trackable.
For that reason, all the big storage suppliers – and a number of startups not dealt with here – have developed or acquired container storage platforms, or something like them. In fact, they often do more than simply storage, with data protection and advanced functionality of other types added in.
In this article we look at the container storage and data protection platform offerings from the big six, namely Dell EMC, HPE, Hitachi, IBM, NetApp and Pure Storage.
We looked at the same subject a year ago, and it’s quite noticeable how things have moved on.
While Pure Storage led the way with Portworx, others have made significant additions to their portfolios in the space of a year. Dell EMC has its Container Storage Modules where once it rested on VMware Tanzu (now departed, of course), IBM has tailored its storage around Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform with Spectrum Fusion, and NetApp has folded its Astra container management portfolio into BlueXP.
Dell EMC Container Storage Modules
Dell EMC made its Container Storage Modules generally available in October 2021. CSM comprises several plug-ins that provide storage and data protection management with Kubernetes that goes beyond basic CSI functionality.
CSI drivers typically help provisioning, deleting, mapping and unmapping volumes of data. But, Dell EMC aims CSM at enterprise customers looking for more in terms of automation and control via a relatively simple UI.
CSM users can access storage array features to which they normally wouldn’t have access. Customers can make their existing storage container-ready via data features on Dell’s storage arrays rather than using additional software.
HPE developed its own Kubernetes management platform, HPE Ezmeral Runtime, which can be deployed on its Synergy system hardware.
Ezmeral is designed to deploy cloud-native and non-cloud-native applications using Kubernetes and can run on bare-metal or virtualised infrastructure, on-premise or in the cloud. It includes app deployment functionality, with data management including out to the edge, plus AI/ML and operations configuration.
Ezmeral provides persistent container storage and configuration automation to set up container HA, backup and restore, security validation and monitoring to minimise manual admin tasks.
Hitachi Kubernetes Service (HKS) allows Hitachi Unified Compute Platform systems to manage file volumes and objects on clustered Kubernetes nodes.
HKS allows UCP nodes to be deployed as a Kubernetes-managed private cloud with container management across on-premise and hybrid cloud environments. The software behind HKS originated with Containership, which Hitachi acquired in 2019.
IBM Spectrum Fusion
It’s not a container storage platform in the same way as that from Dell EMC or Pure, for example, but Spectrum Fusion is aimed at being storage for Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform. The company has tailored its products for use with Red Hat software since its $34bn acquisition of the open source software vendor in July 2019.
Spectrum Fusion merges elements of Spectrum Scale’s General Parallel File System (GPFS), Spectrum Discover to catalogue and index metadata, and Spectrum Protect Plus for backup and restore. Fusion also supports S3 object storage on-prem or in the cloud. Customers can manage Spectrum Fusion through a single portal.
The first Spectrum Fusion release was a hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) system that came with Red Hat OpenShift. Now it is available as a software-defined product that can run on any x86 hardware that can run OpenShift.
Initially, the hardware setup of Spectrum Fusion required six nodes minimum, or six appliances. With the new software-only Spectrum Fusion it’s down to three. Clouds supported include AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and IBM Cloud.
The software-only release also included data protection for containers plus monitoring and analytics integration with IBM Turbonomic, an application resource and network performance management software that uses automation and AI for optimisation.
NetApp announced Astra Data Store in October 2021 as a unified data store and resource pool for containers and VMs, but that was superseded in November 2022 by BlueXP as a single control plane across Astra and NetApp’s on-premise and cloud storage products.
Astra has data protection features such as snapshots that allow customers to roll back Kubernetes clusters to a previous state if something goes wrong. Customers can also take full application-aware backups and restore applications to another Kubernetes cluster. Entire applications and their data can be cloned and moved between Kubernetes clusters too.
Meanwhile, Astra Control Service is a cloud-based service for Kubernetes clusters managed by NetApp while Astra Control Center provides similar functionality for on-premises storage managed by the customer.
Pure Storage was arguably the bellwether for storage suppliers as they oriented towards containerisation when it bought Portworx in 2020 for $370m.
Portworx builds in container-native functionality to allow discovery, provisioning and management from inside Kubernetes clusters. It can discover, load balance and manage Pure Storage FlashArray and FlashBlade hardware natively from deployments in Kubernetes.
From the version 2.8 upgrade in early 2021 Portworx can run entirely from containers in Kubernetes (and other container orchestrators) and to provide persistent capacity for enterprise applications.
In early 2022 Portworx PX-Backup got anti-ransomware object locking as well as the Portworx Data Services database-as-a-service offering and PX-backup-as-a-service. Portworx will get SafeMode immutable snapshot at some point, too.
Portworx is effectively a suite of software-defined storage, data protection and data services products that runs from containers to build pools of storage, manage provisioning and provide advanced storage functionality – including backup, disaster recovery, security, auto-scaling and migration – on storage local to Kubernetes cluster servers, on external storage arrays and capacity in the main cloud providers, AWS, Azure and GCP.