We expect 2023 to be an interesting year for container storage.
Based on 2022 events and the continuing growth of Kubernetes deployments, we should see a lot of clarity around container adoption. Storage vendors mostly have approached containers in several ways. Traditional vendors have written container storage interface (CSI) drivers to expose their storage to containers. Startups have built software-defined container-native storage (CNS) – also known as cloud-native storage – that also uses CSI drivers but runs as a set of containers on a Kubernetes clusters and integrates enterprise features. And traditional storage vendors Pure Storage, IBM and DataCore have acquired CNS startups.
Evaluator Group’s 2022 Kubernetes adoption survey of enterprise IT users shows that neither the CSI-only or CNS approach is the most commonly adopted. Our survey found that most enterprise respondents use Kubernetes in production, and 60% were running more than five applications in Kubernetes. Yet most end users (54.5%) in the survey said they used a public cloud for persistent storage for Kubernetes, with traditional on-prem storage and CNS each at under 40% of adoption rates. No CNS product has reached 30% of adoption rate according to the survey, with the top two options – Red Hat OpenShift Data Foundation (ODF) and Pure Storage’s Portworx – combining for 40% of CNS adoption.
The main traditional storage products in use are market leaders Dell EMC, NetApp, HPE, IBM, Nutanix, Pure Storage and VMware. That suggests organizations are using whatever storage they have rather than buying new storage for containers. That is also born out in interviews with respondents.
Two of the top three CNS products were part of container-native platforms. Red Hat ODF – Red Hat’s storage for OpenShift and now part of IBM – led with 28.2% adoption. Pure Storage’s Portworx was next with 11.8%. SUSE Longhorn – another storage product affiliated with a container management platform – was third with 8.2%.
Adoption of traditional storage with CSI drivers and CNS deployments are almost certain to pick up as more production workloads move to Kubernetes, and the Kubernetes clusters grow larger. An interview with one of the respondents in the Evaluator Group survey showed both the challenge – and promise – of CNS. We talked to a senior cloud engineer for professional services firm who was hired by a large retail company on a project to determine what’s the best container storage system for them. The retail company had petabytes of data in production on the Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE). The professional services team recommended a leading CNS product, but the retail firm opted to use Google Cloud Storage because it cost significantly less. Still, the cloud engineer we talked to is convinced the retail company will eventually need to implement CNS as it continues to scale its Kubernetes usage. That’s a sign that large organizations are holding off on CNS adoption until they reach the scale where they need it.
Meanwhile, Traditional storage vendors are still evolving their approaches. Dell’s Container Storage Modules (CSM) add storage features beyond CSI for Dell’s on-prem storage systems. IBM Spectrum Fusion is a containerized version of Spectrum Scale scale-out NAS, and now includes ODF. NetApp developed Astra Control to manage data inside Kubernetes, either as a managed cloud service or as software running in a Kubernetes cluster.
We expect other large storage vendors soon to move beyond only using CSI for their traditional systems. We’ve already seen acquisitions in this space. Before 2022, Pure bought Portworx, DataCore bought MayaData and backup vendor Veeam acquired Kasten for Kubernetes backup. Those were traditional storage deals where big vendors acquired startups to address technology the big vendors lacked.
In 2022, the deals weren’t your typical storage moves. Japanese telco Rakuten bought startup Robin.io container native platform and cloud storage. Rakuten rebranded the CNS product as Rakuten Symphony Symworld Cloud Native Storage in anticipation that containers will play a large role in building 5G networks. IBM acquired the storage products from IBM-owned Red Hat, a Kubernetes management leader with its OpenShift platform. The deal gave IBM ODF, which is distributed with IBM Spectrum Fusion SDS as the storage platform for cloud-based deployment.
That leaves a few startups with innovative CNS software and a bunch of storage vendors who will likely need to address that hole in their portfolios, which could make it an active M&A area in 2023.