IBM Extends Storage Made Simple to Encompass Containers

Recall Albert Einstein saying that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” This seems to accurately reflect the “storage made simple” mantra that has driven IBM storage throughout 2020. The company now concludes its year of extensive announcements by recognizing the increasing importance of container technology in conjunction with storage. Let’s examine this announcement more closely.

Creating container-friendly storage environments

Enterprises typically connect storage to servers in up to three ways: the traditional method or with one of two virtual technologies, namely virtual machines (VMs) or containers. The use of containers with storage initially focused (from 2017 to the present) on container-ready storage. That is accomplished through the use of a container storage interface (CSI) that enables provisioning, automation and snapshots from the original storage pool to what can become a container-native storage pool. More recently (from 2019 and continuing into the future) vendors have focused on container-native storage, which is storage deployed inside of containers.

IBM uses Red Hat OpenShift to create a container storage environment to enable a maturing set of common enterprise-level data management services, such as protect and move, to support the mission-critical applications enterprises want to containerize. (See IBM Continues Its Focus on Innovative Storage Research for information on how IBM is moving to integrate container environments into the hybrid cloud.)  Kubernetes, IBM’s preferred method for delivering a microservices architecture, is also deployed. Let’s see a key example that involves Spectrum Protect Plus.

Containerized storage for cyber resilience and modern data protection

Recall that Spectrum Protect Plus is designed for virtual architectures in the hybrid cloud, that is in contrast with its older brother, Spectrum Protect, which has long served traditional IT infrastructures. IBM’s new Spectrum Protect Plus Server is deployed in a container using a certified Red Hat OpenShift “operator.” That operator is a means for packaging, deploying and managing a Kubernetes-native application which is then managed with Kubernetes APIs along with its kubectl tooling capabilities.

The fact that the operator is certified is very important for customers as it can help reduce interoperability failures or security risks. Plus, by using components that have been pre-tested on OpenShift, users can deploy applications and workloads faster, which improves time-to-value.

Not only does Spectrum Protect Plus extend modern data protection into the world of containers, but it also adds container-focused cyber resilience. This is done through support for IBM Cloud Object Storage immutability features.

Storage for data and AI in containers

IBM Spectrum Scale now delivers container-native storage access by enabling the creation of storage for a Kubernetes environment in mere seconds with what IBM calls a simple container application. Recall that a fundamental strength of Spectrum Scale is its powerful global parallel file system that supports both parallel access and a single global namespace. Parallel access enables enhanced throughput to storage resources that improves performance.

This transparent access to a single pool of data no matter where the data resides in the organization eliminates not only the problem of having to discover data that has been isolated in silos (and thus hard to find), but also the need to create duplicate copies of the data. This lowers costs and improves the multiple location access to data that is inherent in a hybrid cloud and also improves the experience of everyone who has to work with the data.

Storage for hybrid cloud with containers

Remember that the IBM storage portfolio has two important sides: Storage for data and AI and storage for hybrid cloud. Recall also that the movement to container-native storage is not complete. The big news on the hybrid cloud side of the house is the following statement of direction by IBM:

“IBM intends to deliver a software-defined container-native storage solution for Red Hat OpenShift and Kubernetes container environments.”

IBM’s ongoing commitment should be welcome news  to end users who plan to exploit, enhance, and evolve the role of containerization in their enterprise.

Mesabi musings

The world of containers, which offers a number of benefits including easy scaling and portability, is ideal for a hybrid multi-cloud where the agility to move applications and data from place to place as needed is essential. A major key to making the best use of containers is making sure that containers play nicely with storage. IBM has already done a lot of work in getting storage container-ready and has now turned its attention to making storage container-native.

Two of the key areas that IBM has addressed in getting containers to work harmoniously with storage are data protection with Spectrum Protect Plus and storage for data and AI with Spectrum Scale. In addition, IBM has publicly announced that it plans to keep the container- native pipeline full. So storage made simple still has a lot of life left in it, both today and well into the future efforts of IBM Storage.