Containerization to Reach Midmarket: Portworx Co-Founder
For the past several years, containers and Kubernetes has been a game played by larger enterprises. According to Murli Thirumale, vice president and general manager of Pure Storage’s Cloud Native Business Unit, the cloud storage company has more than 8,000 customers. About 85 percent of the cloud business unit’s users are running Kubernetes in production.
They’ve been able to leverage the myriad benefits of containers, key of which are application agility and portability. Developers essentially can use containers and microservices to easily make changes to parts of code and then deploy the apps anywhere.
“That’s the old Java phrase — you code once, run anywhere,” Thirumale, co-founder of Portworx, a startup that created a Kubernetes-based cloud storage platform and was bought by Pure in 2020 for $370 million, told The New Stack. “The larger enterprises particularly have been deploying Kubernetes now in production for maybe two-plus years. And there’s more and more of them. The benefits … have been very recognizable by large enterprises. What we’re seeing, as a result, is more and more apps being onboarded onto a container. More users, more apps.”
Coming to the Midmarket
However, that’s beginning to change. Midmarket enterprises are now beginning to adopt containers and Kubernetes, which until recently were out of reach for many of them. A maturing Kubernetes space, stabilizing APIs and an ongoing shift to as-a-service consumption models have opened the door for developers at these companies to adopt containers and leverage the advantages they bring. For a vendor like Pure, that’s a big deal.
Thirumale estimates that 8% to 10% of Pure’s customer base are midmarket enterprises, those with 1,000 or fewer employees.
“That’s a big market,” he said. “Now the opportunity exists for them to start to use [containers and Kubernetes]. Now we’re beginning to see more and more doing so.”
Thirumale launched Portworx in 2015, after years of working for established vendors like Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Dell and Citrix and also founding other startups like Ocarina Networks (bought by Dell in 2010) and Net6 (acquired by Citrix in 2004). With Portworx, he saw an opportunity to use the Kubernetes container orchestration technology to benefit companies that were adopting cloud-based storage. Pure, a storage software and services provider, grabbed Portworx to build out its own cloud native data services capabilities.
A Good Marriage of Pure and Portworx
It was a good move for Pure. According to 451 Research, in 2020, 95% of new applications were developed in containers. Gartner analysts predict that 85% of businesses worldwide will run containers in production by 2025. The entrance of more midmarket companies into the container and Kubernetes space will help fuel that growth.
There are a number of hurdles that have slowed midmarket adoption of emerging technologies — not only containers but also others like artificial intelligence and data analytics. In particular, they don’t tend to have the same skillsets or IT departments of their larger brethren, so bringing in new and testing new technologies is a challenge.
“They are not in the business of building it or putting it together to overly test it or even fix it in some cases,” he said. “They are consumers as opposed to builders of that IT infrastructure. They want an IT infrastructure that’s consumable and what they are trying to do is pick the best ones and just keep it together. It’s more of a Lego kit kind of environment. They’re not out there building this brick by brick. They’re using that Lego kit.”
Lower Barrier to Entrance
What’s happened in the container market over the past couple of years that has lowered the barrier to the entrance? Key among them is a maturing of the market, which in a key respect has meant standardizing around Kubernetes as the container platform of choice. In 2017, there not only was Kubernetes — which was developed by Google and contributed to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) in 2014 — but also Mesosphere, Docker Swarm and others. Now the midmarket has a de facto platform rather than having to choose among many.
“There’s not too many competing ways to do the technology, so a large part of the market now could come up to speed faster because it’s one flavor,” Thirumale said. “You’ve got a lot of Kubernetes. That’s it. That technology itself has matured. It’s become a stable standard. It’s very, very easy to use. It’s stable. The technology maturity has resulted in much more stable builds, much more stable APIs and interfaces, and much more reliable versions of the software.”
Most offerings based on Kubernetes are in their third generation, making them more stable and reliable, he said.
Consolidation Helps Stabilize the Market
Similarly, consolidation means that there are few Kubernetes vendors — Red Hat with OpenShift, SUSE with Rancher and the top three public cloud services providers, Amazon Web Services (with EKS), Microsoft Azure (AKS) and Google Cloud (GKE). This again simplifies things for midmarket enterprises.
In addition, the CNCF has moved from defining Kubernetes to defining extensions to Kubernetes, including data, security and networking extensions, Thirumale said.
“As a result, these APIs have stabilized, so everybody is designed to the same API,” he said. “Customers are able to put these together. Even a reseller can put some of these solutions together. They don’t need a Kubernetes expert. The problem is that before, companies needed to have these DevOps and Kubernetes experts, these software experts. Now you don’t. Now you just need somebody who knows how to use it. APIs are much more well-developed, and they’ve tested and integrated together.”
The As-a-Service Trend
He also noted the ongoing shift in the cloud native field to as-a-service models, part of a trend in the larger IT industry of vendors — including Pure — and cloud providers offering technology that is delivered as a service and managed by them or third parties and paid for in a cloud-like per-use manner rather than to buy the technology upfront.
Thirumale pointed to the Kubernetes platforms offered as a service by AWS, Azure and Google as examples of how this is being done.
“If you want to go do something with containers and Kubernetes, just go get an EKS instance and it’s got everything baked in,” he said. “It just runs. The midmarket is this huge consumer of as-a-service.”
The as-a-service method is easy to use — “It’s a pipe with SLAs,” he said — the economic model makes the technology more accessible. The combination of the benefits of containers and Kubernetes, the ongoing stabilization of the technology and the trend toward as-a-service are driving the expansion of adoption from early innovators to mainstream enterprise and midmarket companies.
“It’s coming to turning the curve on an early majority,” Thirumale said. “It’s still early days for that early majority market. What’s going to happen is the technology will continue to keep getting easier. The biggest difference is going to be as-a-service offerings will start to pop up, particularly in production.”
A Few Unknowns
That said, there are still some unknowns, he said. It’s still the early days for container technology, so it’s unclear how quickly vendors can simplify their products and offer software-as-a-service (SaaS) versions. He also expects greater verticalization of containers as channel players begin to offer services.
“The other thing that is to be determined is, does this mean that now there will be greater adoption internationally than maybe in the U.S.?” Thirumale said. “This technology has been more U.S.-centric, maybe with a few more developed countries. We haven’t seen as much adoption in the world. … It’s not just a midmarket thing. It is also a geographical adoption of containerization.”