Cloud Native / Storage

Enterprise Storage Providers Address Cloud Native Operations

27 Dec 2018 9:52am, by

This article is part of a multipart series on cloud native storage. Check back on The New Stack later this week and next for future installments. 

The enterprise world is certainly ready for cloud native storage. According to research from Cap Gemini, enterprises are building more than 20 percent of their applications in the cloud, appreciating the speed and flexibility that is being offered by the use of cloud technology.

Allied with this is rapid adoption of cloud native development to help with this process: the use of containerization is rising within enterprises, meaning that companies can react faster to changing market conditions. Cap Gemini predicts that the proportion of new enterprise apps that are cloud native will more than double by 2020.

Therefore, there’s little surprise that storage is maturing in order to embrace these demands. The introduction of containers into the enterprise landscape has meant a rethink as to whether traditional storage methods, the on-premise SAN, for example, would continue to be the way forward.

Perhaps the first sign that cloud native storage is making real traction in the enterprise world is that it now appears on Gartner’s hype cycle. The company has a clear definition as to what this means: “container-native storage is specifically designed to support container workloads and focus on addressing unique cloud native scale and performance demands while providing deep integration with the container orchestration systems.”

Gartner makes the point that the common foundation for such storage systems is a deployment based on a single, software-defined pool of storage, where containerized applications and persistent storage use the same platform, and where Kubernetes acts as the orchestration technology.

But where does this leave traditional storage vendors; companies that have a long history of providing hardware on-premise storage? Can they fit into this world? And can they update their products so that they can cope with the demands of the cloud native world?

According to Julia Palmer, research director at Gartner, there’s been a mixed bag of responses from these suppliers. It’s interesting how different vendors are reacting to the emergence of cloud, she says. “Some are embracing public cloud and not seeing it as the enemy while others still say that the future in on-prem.” It’s certainly true that there are a large number of hardware solutions still being shifted but it’s definitely not the case that all the traditional vendors are sticking with the established ways.

Take NetApp, for example, a company that has certainly been looking at the impact that containerization has on storage. This is a company that Palmer highlights when she talks about storage vendors that are looking to go down a different path.

NetApp’s Ingo Fuchs says that it’s a question of how the company is perceived. “The perception is that we are a hardware vendor, but we’re a software company that’s become a cloud company.”

NetApp reacted to the shifting sands of the industry earlier thus year by buying StackPoint Cloud, a Kubernetes specialist, enabling the company to launch its own service, NetApp Kubernetes Service, a Kubernetes platform for multi-cloud deployments.

Fuchs says that this taps into a growing trend for multi-cloud deployments. What we’re seeing is that companies are choosing to run one application with one cloud provider; for example, they may be running voice recognition in one public cloud, while using another service for something entirely different.

He says that NetApp is focusing very heavily of application lifecycle management. “The question is: how do you manage all the apps across different clouds and zones, all with a single set of tools.”

For Fuchs, this is the role of the traditional storage vendor in the cloud native world, building on its existing expertise but complementing that with a new range of skills.

When it comes to cloud native software, it’s clear that the biggest disrupter is Kubernetes itself. It’s a technology that has a major impact on the way that storage is handled.

Cloud native software providers are more skeptical however. According to Evan Powell, CEO of MayaData, there’s a considerable amount of confusion in the market. “Traditional storage vendors are claiming they provide ‘cloud native storage.’ They have so distorted the term already that I prefer the term container attached storage to describe what solutions like ourselves and Portworx offer – which is a truly cloud native architecture to deliver storage and data management services.”

When it comes to cloud native software, it’s clear that the biggest disrupter is Kubernetes itself. It’s a technology that has a major impact on the way that storage is handled. According to Powell, there are two ways in which Kubernetes has an impact. First of all, there’s Kubernetes and its role in reducing workloads but also in its role as “a platform for the building and operations of distributed software and can be used to deliver storage and data management services to distributed environments.”

But second, he says, is the related tooling. “I’m talking about solutions such Istio, Prometheus, Weavescope and others. Together all of these solutions enable storage to be delivered as a set of loosely coupled micro service; benefits to micro services are pretty clear hopefully at least outside of the storage world.”

And this has led to a change of approach from storage specialists within user organizations too. As Powell points out, their role is very different now: “Storage specialists now no longer need to provision storage or even do most operations tasks if their end users are using a solution like our MDAP based on OpenEBS or similar solution.”

He draws parallels with what happened in computing and IT security. “These specialists become operations architects, responsible for example for helping to curate storage classes that their end users developers consume. This requires an understanding of infrastructure as code or GitOps as well as observability and chaos engineering. Solutions like the open source WeaveScope for observability — which has visibility down to the persistent volumes — as well as the open source Litmus — which is chaos engineering for stateful workloads may be of use.”

But the altered role for storage specialists is not the only change that enterprises face. There’s also been a shift in the way that storage itself is handled — or rather, in the language in which storage is discussed. As NetApp’s Fuchs explains. “There’s been a shift to talk about consumption of data and that’s led to a change in language when it comes to talking about storage. We used to talk about IOPS and throughput but we don’t talk about those anymore, it’s all about speed. It’s about how quickly can we roll out a new version of a product — can you do it every three months instead of every 18 months?

What other changes can we see ahead? According to Powell, one of the biggest challenges to traditional storage is that they are generally massively slower than not using storage at all — just attaching to fast locally attached disk. “We see quite a bit of users of the OpenEBS project now using it — and related projects — to improve the provisioning and management of what is called Local PVs or persistent volumes. At KubeCon, NetApp spoke about a use case running Cassandra where they basically admitted that no storage whatsoever is needed. So, even NetApp is aware that there is a real issue here.”

The landscape is certainly shifting as traditional vendors are finding their priorities are changing. There’s much more variety in their offerings as they try to adapt to a new world. Is there still room for a more traditional approach? Put it this way, says Fuchs. “If all you care about is on-prem storage; well, that’s an interesting career choice.”

Portworx is a sponsor of The New Stack.

Feature image via Pixabay.

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