Portworx takes Kubernetes magic carpet ride into enterprise data centres

Portworx, a venture-backed startup that specialises in storage for container deployments, is banking on enterprises adopting Kubernetes to orchestrate all their apps – not just containerised versions.

The company was founded in 2015 by CEO Murli Thirumale and CTO Gou Rao and has bagged $55.5m in three funding rounds, including $27m last year. There are around 100 employees. Sales grew 500 per cent from an undisclosed number in 2016 to 2017 and 100 per cent from 2018 to 2019. The company hopes to grow at the same rate in 2019 – 2020.

Portworx is not yet making an operating profit but claims to be the most widely used Kubernetes storage platform. It has around 140 customers which include Adobe, Carrefour, Comcast, the Department of Homeland Security, DreamWorks, Ford, IBM, GE, Lufthansa and Verizon. An average sales cycle lasts four months and the average deal size is $100K.

The company provides block storage and has added file capabilities to its roadmap. Minio software is used to provide object storage.

Portworx aims to win enterprise storage business on Kubernetes’ coat tails. Thirumale told a Silicon Valley press briefing last month. “Tomorrow Kubernetes will manage apps and infrastructure for all workloads. The lifecycle of containerised apps will be managed by Kubernetes with HA, DR, backup and compliance extensions.”

Murli Thirumale (left) and Gou Rao

“Kubernetes will become the new control pane for the data centre and the cloud.” He cited VMware’s Project Pacific as an example of how even VMware is being forced to recognise Kubernetes’ dominance.

Machine vs app-centric

Data centre workflows will become app-centric and move away from today’s machine-centric workflows, according to Thirumale.

Machine-defined vs app-defined characteristics; Portworx slide.

Today, admin staff manage and provision virtual machines and their storage resources (block volumes) but tomorrow, end user application owners will drive application IT resource provisioning and management through Kubernetes.

Kubernetes will orchestrate everything an app needs, enabling cloud native ones to run anywhere in the on-premises and multiple public cloud environments. This will give enterprises freedom to run their apps in the best location and move them freely.

When or rather if this switch occurs, storage will have to fit in with Kubernetes and become part of the cloud native application stack. This will require containerised storage management resources, subject to Kubernetes’ control, and capable of using any underlying physical storage. Non-containerised storage will be unable to keep up.

Portworx CTO Gou Rao said Kubernetes increases the density and frequency of storage operations; “You can’t attach and detach an iSCSI volume in 15 secs. Containers can live and die in five seconds.”

Legacy storage such as VMware’s vSAN is built for machine-defined storage, for providing block storage volumes, said Rao. “Container-granular storage is different. You can’t provision hundreds of volumes to containers. You have to use different language and different control.”

In the Kubernetes world, storage services include services such as high-availability, disaster recovery, backup, migration, security and compliance. Kubernetes becomes the control plane for these services, talking to a storage function through its CSI (Container Storage Interface.) 

The Portworx Enterprise platform delivers this function and is a ready-made good storage citizen in the Kubernetes universe, Thirumale said Portworx is a storage overlay for Kubernetes in the sense that it is the Kubernetes’ interface to actual storage resources. 

The Portworx storage overlay for Kubernetes;

Rao said: “Portworx is a storage overlay built for containers driven and managed by Kubernetes. There’s no storage admin. Everything is done through Kubernetes – it’s literally deploy and forget.”

Portworx extolled the simple enterprise storage credentials of its product in this Kubernetes world. For instance, say a user/app calls for a 1GB virtual volume via Kubernetes and the YAML interface. Portworx provisions that volume and handles its block IO. Data goes directly from the active container to the Portworx storage volume with no sideways hop through the Linux kernel, making storage access faster.

A user (app) can purchase cloud storage capacity automatically if running in the public cloud. Portworx provides high-availability, backup, continuous replication and disaster recovery on top of basic provisioning. 

The company aims to provide a one-stop shop for containerised enterprise storage, removing the need for the separate purchase of backup and disaster recovery products, for example. “Our competition is behind us in providing HA and DR,” Rao claimed

Net:net

Portworx is betting the farm on the enterprise adoption of Kubernetes. But that just gets it an entry ticket to the ball. The company must then persuade customers that it delivers a better set of storage services inside the Kubernetes house than legacy suppliers that bolt on a CSI gateway to their products. 

If it pulls that off then it gets to dance at the storage buyers’ ball, and has a promising future. If not…

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