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Kubernetes storage still acquisition target for IT vendors

Persistent Kubernetes storage startups like Ondat are becoming extinct as enterprise IT vendors prow the market for container native storage tech.

Akamai Technologies plans to acquire Ondat before the end of March, making it the sixth container native storage startup bought by a larger corporation in the past three years.

Storage startups creating container native storage (CNS) implementations like Ondat are being scooped up by legacy enterprise vendors or more generalist IT companies to either sell the CNS IP as a consumer product or implement the technology into existing offerings.

These buys are done under the presumption that Kubernetes adoption will continue to grow among enterprise customers or as another enhancement to existing company products that lack the ability to abstract the more complicated aspects of container storage, according to Dave Raffo, an analyst at Evaluator Group.

"As these [enterprise] applications scale to hundreds of clusters, they are going to need a separate storage product," Raffo said. "There doesn't seem to be a lot of usage yet. There's a thinking there will be."

Getting Ondat purchase

Akamai's intentions also leave the fate of Ondat's CNS up in the air. Akamai could sell Ondat as an independent product, akin to Pure Storage's handling of CNS provider Portworx, which it acquired in 2020. Akamai could also integrate Ondat into its offerings, which happened when Rakuten Symphony bought in 2022.

Akamai, a cloud content delivery network, doesn't sell storage. But its strategy of buying the IP to bolster the offering catalog may leave some Ondat customers in the lurch, according to Steve McDowell, an analyst and founding partner at NAND Research.

"If I were an Ondat customer, I'd be worried too," McDowell said. "When a storage company buys one of these [startups], there's a danger that they're going to bring it into the fold."

Ondat, previously known as StorageOS when it launched in 2016, develops and sells a CNS directly to customers. Akamai, however, is focused on connecting servers to caching content for internet access as well as some additional services related to security, such as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) protection.

Akamai declined to comment on the acquisition or its plans for Ondat, preferring to wait until the deal is completed. In a press release, Akamai said Ondat's existing employees, along with founder and CTO Alex Chircop, would "join Akamai's cloud computing business." Akamai is headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., while Ondat is currently based in London.

Just last month, CloudCasa, a Kubernetes data protection SaaS vendor, launched a storage partnership with Ondat. A statement issued last week from Sathya Sankaran, founder and general manager of CloudCasa, said Ondat "fills the distributed storage management gap in the Linode Kubernetes Environment (LKE) for the Akamai Connected Cloud" but didn't include further specifics about the status of the partnership.

Akamai acquired infrastructure-as-a-service provider Linode last year for $900 million, adding the latter company's cloud hosting services. Akamai also launched the Akamai Connected Cloud platform as a service last month, which added 11 cloud computing data centers previously run by Linode and will expand with another 10 globally this year.

Ondat, similar to Linode, would likely become part of Akamai's products rather than a separate item for sale, according to Raffo.

"It's not like Ondat has that many customers [that] Akamai would look at it as a revenue stream," Raffo said.

Pattern recognition

CNS has become a technology with buzz among storage vendors and IT companies in the past several years as adoption of Kubernetes containers within enterprise IT environments is on the rise. Kubernetes -- like other container implementations, such as its market forbearer Docker -- is meant to be ephemeral in nature as well as unable to sustain applications and data for extended periods.

A CNS is software-defined storage that enables stateful storage for applications by clustering storage pools from disks on each storage server, regardless of location in the cloud or on premises. CNS provides a faster and more direct way for container applications to interact with storage than container storage interface (CSI) drivers, which are usually developed by a vendor. CSI drivers, although usable, typically lack the more advanced capabilities of a CNS and faulter in hybrid-cloud IT environments. Such drivers can suffer from vendor lock-in.

Despite the limitations of CSI, enterprise customers prefer container storage implementations from their existing storage vendors, McDowell said. Vendors like Dell Technologies, NetApp and Hewlett Packard Enterprise provide other important tasks to maintain applications, such as data protection, snapshots and deduping, McDowell said.

"The more legacy-oriented storage vendors, they know how to do enterprise storage," he said. "Containers on storage looks very different from enterprise storage."

Out of the box

Enterprise IT usage demands a stateful and simplified storage implementation for containers to support mission critical applications. But that value of combining the two specialties -- containers and storage -- isn't going unnoticed by enterprise IT companies, Raffo said.

Perhaps there's not as much containerization as we think.
Chris EvansAnalyst and founder, Architecting IT

Beyond Portworx and, other CNS vendors purchased in recent years include MayaData, which was bought by DataCore and renamed DataCore Bolt, and IBM's recent integration of Red Hat's OpenShift Data Foundation into its own storage products.

A handful of independent CNS startups remain, including Diamanti and Ionir, according to Raffo. But while the supply of ready-to-buy CNS technology is dwindling, he isn't sure how much more demand exists among larger IT corporations and their customers.

"There's not a lot of [CNS] companies out there," Raffo said. "The real issue is, who's using it?"

If enterprises are going to continue to adopt Kubernetes and container environments, best practices and performance standards could soon form, according to Chris Evans, an analyst and founder of Architecting IT.

Kubernetes got its start in the open-source developer community. Many still make use of open source variants such as Longhorn or OpenEBS. Those self-service implementations, however, may not meet the demands of corporate IT, which would turn to CNS technologies from vendors like Ondat.

"Perhaps there's not as much containerization as we think," Evans said. "We're still in early days for the container world."

The dwindling number of CNS startups isn't cause for concern, McDowell noted. Another storage technology will soon enough draw the attention of the Fortune 500.

"Every time there's an advancement [in storage], there's a bunch of startups that rally around it and get subsumed," McDowell said. "In five years we'll see this for something else."

Tim McCarthy is a journalist living on the North Shore of Massachusetts. He covers cloud and data storage news.

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