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Storage suppliers put Kubernetes platforms centre stage

How to orchestrate the orchestrator? Storage suppliers’ Kubernetes management platforms aim to meet storage and data protection challenge in containerised application environments

If there is one technology that typifies the shift we are currently experiencing in IT, it is application containerisation.

The shift we refer to here is digital transformation, and encompasses almost everything about the way organisations build, deliver and support applications.

Containerisation – usually delivered via the Kubernetes orchestration platform – typifies digital transformation because it encapsulates the continuous development of the microservices that make up a rapidly scalable application landscape across datacentre and cloud.

But a huge challenge to be overcome with Kubernetes is the provision of persistent storage and data protection to applications that are extreme dynamically changeable in terms of their lifecycles and scaling.

In this article, we will look at how the biggest suppliers in storage are bringing Kubernetes storage and data protection management to the market.

Container management platforms: Where they sit

Containers are a form of virtualisation that run directly on the host operating system, and without the hypervisor layer of virtual server environments. Containers are effectively a small, lightweight virtual machine (VM) that often provides discrete components of a larger application that are connected by code.

Kubernetes provides that orchestration intelligence for clusters and pods of containers. It organises running containers – with their code, runtime, dependencies and resource calls – into pods and above them in Kubernetes clusters.

But that layer of orchestration also needs management, not least to handle the provisioning and management of storage, data protection, backup, snapshots, replication, high availability (HA) and disaster recovery.

The requirements that arise here range from configuration of resources according to the profile of storage required by specific applications, as well as the source and target of backups and other data protection functionality, all of which can be rapidly changing.

Big six storage suppliers’ Kubernetes management platforms

All the big six storage suppliers have a container management play that addresses these tasks, and often more. It is an area of activity that offers great benefits and the ability to tame a potential infrastructure headache that shouldn’t be left unmanaged.

So, Dell EMC, IBM, HPE, Hitachi, NetApp and Pure Storage all have container management platforms. Some are container-native in that they deliver storage and data protection services via containers, making them just as flexible and scalable as any container service.

They allow developers to write storage and data protection requirements into their code more easily while also allowing traditional IT functions to ensure, for example, that data protection is covered.

All use container storage initiative (CSI) drivers in some form to offer provisioning and management of storage and backup to their own, and in some cases, any storage environment, including those in the cloud.

Dell EMC/VMware Tanzu

The infrastructure giant’s main thrust is to weigh in with Tanzu from its VMware subsidiary to provision and manage storage and backup for containers on the vSphere platform.

Tanzu does far more than that, however, and is a portfolio of products that allow customers to deploy, run and manage Kubernetes container-based applications.  

Tanzu was put together from acquisitions such as Bitnami, Heptio and Pivotal, which between them brought technology to package and deliver Kubernetes applications, plus a number of VMware initiatives aimed at running containers from vSphere.

To provision persistent Kubernetes storage for workloads, Tanzu integrates with Cloud Native Storage (CNS), a vCenter Server component that manages persistent volumes via CSI drivers.

Dynamic volume provisioning can be created on demand, with DevOps engineers issuing a persistent volume claim that references a storage class available in the namespace, which vSphere automatically provisions.  

You can back up and restore workloads on vSphere Pods and Tanzu Kubernetes clusters by installing the Velero Plugin for vSphere on that cluster.

Dell EMC’s marketing efforts centre on offering reference architectures with Dell EMC hardware and/or VMware VxRail HCI and Tanzu.

IBM OpenShift

IBM’s monstrous $34bn acquisition of Red Hat in 2018 gave it the OpenShift portfolio, which is the main site of its containerisation management efforts.

OpenShift uses Kubernetes persistent volume claims (PVC) via CSI drivers to allow developers to request storage resources. PVCs can access persistent volumes from anywhere in the OpenShift platform.

The OpenShift Container Platform supports many popular PV plugins on-site and in the cloud, including Amazon EBS, Azure Files, Azure Managed Disks, Google Cloud Persistent Disk, Cinder, iSCSI, Local Volume, NFS and VMware vSphere.

The shift to OpenShift appears to supersede IBM’s previous mouthful – Storage Enabler for Containers – which allowed the supplier’s storage to be used as persistent volumes for Kubernetes clusters and was part of IBM’s Spectrum Connect storage and backup-centric software offerings.

OpenShift can be deployed more widely than just on IBM, with hyper-converged infrastructure provider Nutanix also using it as a container deployment platform.

HPE Ezmeral

HPE as a big, full-spectrum provider obviously wants you to deploy container services in concert with its own hardware, software and services. Within that, it has developed its own Kubernetes management platform, HPE Ezmeral Runtime, which can be deployed on its Synergy system hardware.

Ezmeral is a software platform 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 any cloud. It goes further than just app deployment, however, with data management including out to the edge, and also includes machine learning and operations configuration.

Ezmeral delivers 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

In 2021, Hitachi joined the Kubernetes storage fray with Hitachi Kubernetes Service (HKS), which allow customers to manage container storage in on-premise datacentres and the three main public clouds.

HKS was built out of the IP belonging to Containership in 2019. HKS allows deployment of Hitachi Unified Compute Platform as a Kubernetes-managed private cloud across local and hybrid cloud environments. 

HKS uses CSI drivers to manage persistent volumes directly on Kubernetes nodes, which distinguishes it from the container-native offerings of other suppliers.

NetApp Astra Data Store

In October 2021, NetApp announced Astra Data Store, which uses standard network file systems via CSI as a unified data store and resource pool for containers and VMs, which is an interesting variant on this type of product. NetApp says it is because many customers will continue to use VMs even if containers use is on the rise, and to be able to access the same storage for both is a benefit.

Astra Data Store works with standard NAS clients, including those that use NetApp’s OnTap operating system but also those from the cloud hyperscalers. 

Astra Data Store complements NetApp’s two other Kubernetes services, Astra Control Service – a cloud-based service for Kubernetes clusters –  and Astra Control Center, which aims at on-premise storage managed by the customer.

Pure Storage Portworx

Portworx was a huge – $370m – buy for Pure Storage, and gives it container-native provisioning, connectivity and performance configuration for Kubernetes clusters.  It can discover storage and provision and manage it on-the-fly to provide persistent capacity for enterprise applications with access to block, file and object storage, as well as cloud storage.

Portworx allows customers to build pools of storage, manage its 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 – Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

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