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Portworx champions container management with Docker storage

Portworx PX-Enterprise containers share elastic block storage with attached Docker instances. The converged storage fabric runs on each physical Linux host in a cluster.

The race to build enterprise-ready storage containers has a new contestant.

After previewing its beta product for more than a year, fledgling software maker Portworx Inc. has taken the wraps off its server-based storage appliance for building containerized applications with Docker and other container platforms.  

Known as PX-Enterprise, the software-defined storage runs on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud instances or x86 servers running Linux Kernel software version 3.11. Portworx sells both cloud and on-premises models via an annual subscription.

PX-Enterprise consists of scale-out persistent block storage and container-level data protection schemes. An orchestration layer schedules granular container snapshots and replication across a Linux cluster for high availability.

The Redwood City, Calif., startup said IT operations teams can place stateful application containers in production containers without custom script. Projected application use cases include big data, content management, NoSQL databases, technical computing and video processing.

"We think there's an opportunity in enterprise storage to be able to build a converged storage fabric that runs on every host," said Eric Han, Portworx's senior director of product management.

Storage industry veterans build 'storage for containers'

The Portworx executive team has roots in enterprise storage. CEO Murli Thirumale and CTO Gou Rao founded compression and deduplication vendor Ocarina Networks, which Dell acquired in 2010 and integrated across its storage platform.

Han previously served in senior product and business development roles at Google and Microsoft. At Google, Han co-founded the Google Container Engine, based on the open source Kubernetes framework for automated deployment and management of containerized applications.

We're at the intersection of storage and containers. Our difference is that we are a storage team building a storage product for containers.
Eric Hansenior director of product management, Portworx

"We're at the intersection of storage and containers," Han said. "Our difference is that we are a storage team building a storage product for containers. We aren't taking existing storage and connecting it to a container world."

Containers are viewed as a lightweight adjunct to virtual machines (VMs) for specialized application workloads. Unlike a virtual machine, a container does not require a host-based guest operating system. It takes only the sliver of the OS it needs to deliver an application's microservices.

The Portworx debut comes amid a flurry of new entrants striving to equip containers for data persistence and mobility.

"We're starting to move beyond ephemeral containers to persistent containers. You have persistent storage holding the data in a container. That's where Portworx is trying to play," said Henry Baltazar, a research director for storage at IT analyst firm 451 Research. 

Portworx virtualizes storage pool as block device

PX-Enterprise is scale-out shared block storage deployed as a container. Other Docker instances consume Portworx storage via attached Docker graph drivers. As the container moves from node to node, Portworx retains the underlying file system and provides access to a layer of mountable block storage for persistence.

Portworx requires PX-Enterprise to be installed on each physical Linux node in a cluster. There is no control node; the Portworx user interface provides a control service.

"We are our own storage layer. We implement block storage from physical direct-attached storage, NFS or an external storage array. We create a logical pool and present virtual devices [as] block storage," Han said.

"We want this to be [an] easy insertion. We don't take every storage drive; we take the storage drive you give us."

Portworx replicates containerized data at point of writes  

PX-Enterprise sits in the data path. Upon installation, the software monitors flash and disk storage for performance degradation. Portworx arbitrates between desired application service levels and exposes recommended storage tiers to IT admins.

Portworx replicates a mirrored copy of data as it is written, which also means any corruption could be mirrored as well. Han said erasure coding is on the roadmap.

Baltazar said Portworx stands out by foregoing Docker plug-ins in favor of a more agile infrastructure to provision and scale storage.

"A big part of their pitch is the container-granular and container-level replication," Baltazar said. "If you add those capabilities, managing containers becomes almost like managing VMs. You can have replication across multiple nodes."

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