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Containers and storage: Array suppliers’ container capabilities

We look at what the big five storage array makers – Dell EMC, Hitachi, HPE, IBM and NetApp – are doing to provide persistent storage for container-based deployments

Containers are taking the datacentre by storm, with billions spun up every week. At the cloud giants, for example, such as Google, containers handle everything from search to email to video delivery.

So, what impact does that have on storage and what have the big storage players brought to the container storage market? First, a quick recap on containers.

Containers are attractive because they package everything that’s needed to run an application or service into a lightweight runtime bundle that can be spun up, run and decommissioned rapidly.

Unlike “traditional” virtualisation, containers do away with the need for guest operating systems that run under a hypervisor. Instead, they run from the Docker engine – Docker is now more or less established as the de facto standard container format – right on top of the server OS, with calls to resources packaged into the container and shared from the environment in which they are running.

Containers started out with stateless storage. That is, storage was not persistent and disappeared when the container was run down. But that proved inadequate to enterprise needs and persistent storage is now seen as vital.

This has led storage suppliers to offer persistent storage for their products via two main approaches.

All the big storage suppliers offer Docker volume plugins for at least some of their products. These give persistent storage capability for Docker containers.

At the same time, most suppliers have built container storage management frameworks.

These are usually Open Source, and range merely collections of Docker plugins for their products to wider platforms that aim to provide container storage management functionality that connect to the key container management platforms, such as Docker Swarm, Kubernetes, Mesosphere Marathon and Red Hat OpenShift.

Dell EMC

Dell EMC is hitching its wagon to the Container Storage Interface (CSI), an open source endeavour to develop an industry standard API specification that will allow storage makers to write plugins to connect to the key container platforms.

Dell EMC was first on board, last September, with the first and embryonic product/project to support the Container Storage Interface.

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This was REX-Ray version 0.10, which came out of Dell EMC’s open source {code} hatchery, and uses CSI to work towards persistent storage for container workloads with the aim that it can be adapted to provide hooks between any container platform and any storage platform.

On release file (NFS), block and virtual file system drivers were available, plus a further 13 storage drivers.

REX-Ray has Docker volume plugins for Amazon Elastic Block Storage, Elastic File System and S3, plus Dell EMC Isilon clustered NAS and ScaleIO software-defined block storage.


HPE offers its Persistent Storage Platform. This comprises a set of plugins for HPE 3Par and Nimble storage from key container management environments Docker Swarm, Kubernetes and Mesosphere and includes the ability to work between on-premise deployments and HPE Cloud Volumes in AWS and Azure.

The Persistent Storage Platform allows container environments to take advantage of HPE arrays’ storage functionality, including provisioning, QoS, snapshots, clones and encryption.

Platform components include: 3Par volume plugins for Docker and Mesosphere; Nimble storage volume plugins for Docker and Mesosphere; and Dory, which is HPE’s open source plugin to allow container storage management from Kubernetes and Red Hat’s OpenShift platform.

Hitachi Vantara

The company launched the Hitachi Enterprise Cloud Container Platform in September 2017. It provides hybrid cloud resources for DevOps that combines Hitachi infrastructure with the Mesosphere platform to provide a container engine, scheduling, orchestration and workflow.

Meanwhile, the Hitachi Storage Plugin for Containers enables stateful applications such as databases to maintain data after the container has been spun down. It provides the software components required to run containers via Docker Swarm or Kubernetes with storage from Hitachi VSP G and F series all-flash and hybrid flash storage arrays that make use of those products’ high availability, replication and other functionality.

Hitachi also provides managed services – partnered with VMware and Mesosphere – with Hitachi Enterprise Cloud support for DevOps.

Hitachi Vantara products such as Hitachi Content Intelligence, Pentaho business intelligence and the Lumada internet of things platform all make use of containers too.


IBM’s open source container storage platform is in pre-release and is called Ubiquity. It enables persistent storage for Docker Swarm and Kubernetes and was first launched to provide container storage in IBM Spectrum Scale (formerly GPFS), the company’s scale-out file system. That was later extended to the IBM Spectrum Virtualize platform and the block storage Spectrum Accelerate platform.

Ubiquity also has a Docker volume plugin to allow access to storage in Ubiquity configured volumes.


NetApp also has NetApp Docker volume plugins, which integrate FAS/AFF, E-Series and SolidFire storage with the Docker environment.

NetApp has also gone down the route of supporting an open source set of connections, but to its storage hardware.

Trident is a Kubernetes-based open source dynamic container storage provisioning environment to which developers can issue persistent volume claims for a specific class of service, with these then presented to Kubernetes or OpenShift.

Claims to persistent storage are to NetApp’s FAS, AFF E-Series, SolidFire and hyper-converged storage.

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