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Johnson Controls opts for container-based app delivery with Portworx

Buildings management giant built a suite of customer-facing products using containers and opted for Pure Storage Portworx for hybrid cloud container management and data protection

Buildings management company Johnson Controls has standardised on Pure Storage’s Portworx container management platform to provide data protection for customer-facing smart building products, with up to 30,000 containers under management.

Multinational Johnson Controls is headquartered in Ireland but operates globally, with about 100,000 employees in 1,100 offices worldwide. It provides fire, heating and ventilation, security and buildings control systems.

Core to its customer offer – in addition to physical building plant – is its OpenBlue application services portfolio. Customers can choose from 20-plus smart building apps to help run their properties with OpenBlue providing features such as touchless data access, adaptable building environments, and ventilation and sanitation systems. 

OpenBlue includes apps like OpenBlue Enterprise Manager (OBEM), which runs building management systems to monitor and control energy consumption; Central Utility Plant (CUP), which optimises building equipment; and Metasys building automation controls.

Products like these were originally built in a legacy environment with little in the way of synergies between them functionality-wise. And they were often complex to manage, said technology and platform engineering vice-president at Johnson Controls, Suresh Mothikuru.

“Product engineering teams developed and ran their own software in their own cloud. It was all VM [virtual machine]-based with no consistency from deployment onwards and very complex,” said Mothikuru. “Costs were super-high and it all required more storage than needed. We weren’t able to deploy new products quickly. It took months.”

Mothikuru said OpenBlue was intended as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offer to customers, but had been built in such a way that this was cumbersome to deliver.

“With OBEM, for example, we knew the value of it, but it was becoming a big monolith, and it was making it difficult to sell its services to customers,” he said. “Elsewhere, products like CUP were running standalone and not talking to other products where they could.”

OpenBlue, built on Johnson Controls’ technical platform Polaris, had run with Red Hat container management, but this had proved complex to manage for the company’s engineering teams. A decision was made to move to Pure Storage Portworx.

Now Johnson Controls runs anything up to 30,000 containers for more than 20 OpenBlue services, with fast deployment, different RPOs and RTOs possible for different customers, and workloads that run between company datacentres and public cloud.

Portworx is Pure’s container storage and data protection management platform. It offers a range of functionality, including persistent storage for containers, container platform management, data protection functions such as backup, high availability, snapshots and disaster recovery, plus data services such as databases for containers.

It has been a pioneer among the increasingly container-focused efforts on the part of storage and backup product makers.  

“We promised the board we’d make OpenBlue SOC2 compliant and we wanted to make things simple,” said Mothikuru. “So, Portworx was brought in to manage the Kubernetes platform, to move data, to deal with backups, to provide high availability and for snapshots to allow for quick rollback, in ransomware situations for example.”

While Mothikuru said the company did not have hard metrics for benefits associated with the Portworx roll-out, he was clear it had increased reliability and boosted recovery times.

“Before Portworx we couldn’t tell if we’d recover data from backups,” he said. “Backups went to disk, and if you ever wanted to retrieve it, it’d take days or weeks, and possibly just losing it. Portworx happens in hours or almost real time.

“In general terms we want customer data to be reliably backed up and able to be recovered fast. Portworx makes sure we can provide that.” 

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