NetApp cans Kubernetes and Cloud Volumes services on HCI. But what is waiting in the wings?

NetApp is shuttering NKS on HCI and Cloud Volumes on HCI, with effect from April 20. In their place, the storage giant is readying “some very cool things in the works for NetApp and Kubernetes where there is more value than NKS (NetApp Kubernetes Services) was and is,” a source close to the company told us.

NetApp said yesterday via a customer communique it would simplify and unify Kubernetes services across ONTAP and other product lines. “Both partners and customers have asked NetApp to adopt a distribution-agnostic approach to Kubernetes… Our goal will be to make applications and associated data highly available, portable, and manageable across both on-premises and clouds through a software-defined set of data services.”

Accordingly, “to accelerate our Kubernetes strategy, we have decided to end availability of NetApp Kubernetes Service/NetApp Kubernetes Service on HCI and Cloud Volumes Service for On-Premises/Cloud Volumes on HCI.”

A tech analyst, who asked not be named, said: “My guess is NetApp will kill the HCI product in less than 12 months, probably citing market conditions due to COVID-19. I’m sure something else is coming.”
Sounds like the analyst has already had an early briefing under NDA. Meanwhile our source told us: “NKS was proprietary and focused on the application layer and a competitor to [Red Hat] OpenShift… Stay tuned. In a few weeks there will be an announcement that puts all of this into context.”

Increasing Kubernetes investment
NetApp said in its communique that it is shifting focus on Kubernetes and is increasing overall investment in the technology. “NetApp’s goal is to transform our converged and hyperconverged storage platforms, including NetApp HCI, to a software-defined architecture, and become a leading on-premises hybrid cloud platform capable of automating infrastructure for Kubernetes.”

NetApp’s hyperconverged storage platform is Elements HCI, based on Solidfire. The converged storage platform is FlexPod and FlexPod SF, with Solidfire storage. The platforms are reference architectures that use Cisco servers and networking products.

What about NKS capability?

Chris Evans, a prominent data storage architect, told us the “capability of the NKS technology isn’t in question, but rather the direction of travel suggested by a move to workload automation. As a storage and data management company, does it make sense for NetApp to become a workload orchestration company or one that makes use of workload management tools to help manage data?”

He thinks the latter path is more appropriate: “I hope we see NetApp retain the NKS capability as part of the Fabric Orchestrator strategy to manage data movement and migration, rather than as a standalone tool. But the cost and effort of shadowing Kubernetes development has clearly been assessed as not worth the cost.”

Evans was “more intrigued by the move away from Cloud Volumes Service on premises and HCI. This move seems to detract from a hybrid data strategy of agnostic storage in many locations. It may be that customers simply weren’t ready or didn’t need this capability and are happy with on-premises ONTAP appliances.”

NKS and Cloud Volumes

NKS is a SaaS offering that enables customers to build Kubernetes clusters on-premises (NetApp HCI and FlexPod) or in the public cloud (AWS, Azure and GCP). A provisioning process creates load balancers, builds virtual instances and deploys and configures Kubernetes on each server in the cluster. The user can then create cloud-native projects using Kubernetes and a kubectl configuration file.

Cloud Volumes is a way of making file services in the public cloud, usable, for example, by containerised applications. Cloud Volumes ONTAP is the ONTAP storage service running in AWS and Azure and there is a Cloud Volumes service for GCP.

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