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Exclusive Interview With Murli Thirumale, CEO of Portworx

Accelerating on container storage and Kubernetes

Murli Thirumale is CEO and co-founder of Portworx, Inc. since 2014 and based in Los Altos, CA. Before he spent some time at Dell following the acquisition in 2010 of Ocarina Networks he co-founded in 2007. He was CEO of Ocarina from 2002 to 2010. From 2004 to 2007, he was Group VP and GM at Citrix after Net6 acquisition. He was CEO of Net6 he co-founded in 2000. He also spent some time at Symmetricom as VP from 1999 to 2000 and HP as GM from 1984 to 1999 as GM in the communications division.


StorageNewsletter: Founded in 2014 with a total raised of $55 million, could you update us on Portworx?
Thirumale: Portworx is experiencing tremendous growth right now. Last year we closed a $27 million series C funding round led by Sapphire Ventures and the ventures arm of Mubadala Investment Company, with support from existing investors Mayfield Fund and GE Ventures, and new financing from Cisco, HPE and NetApp. 

We currently have about 130 customers, including 50 of the Fortune Global 2000. Almost all those customers are in production, deploying significant enterprise workloads. Last year we saw over 200% growth in customer bookings over 2018, with 13 six-figure deals. This growth comes from both new and existing customers, and speaks volumes about the opportunity enterprises see to speed innovation, simplify operations and move to a multi-cloud environment by adopting a container architecture. 

We also released industry-first features recently to help companies make more of their investments and run stateful containers in production. For example, PX-Security and PX-DR help companies secure and recover data running in containers, even if a failover occurs. In November, we announced PX-Autopilot for Capacity Management and PX-Backup. With PX-Autopilot, customers can save up to 65% on their cloud storage costs by paying only for the storage they actually use, and not needing to overprovision.  PX-Backup makes it easier for organizations to operationally backup and restore Kubernetes based applications in production and also comply with regulations such as GDPR and CCPA by making it faster to locate and delete precise customer data when required.

What was the trigger to start the company? What was the challenge at that time?
Enterprises were under pressure to deliver new applications and services quickly to compete better and meet customer demand. Kubernetes and containers existed, but the storage management component was too hard and inefficient. We saw an opportunity to modernize storage and data management for the age of cloud native, and we took it. We’ve been around for about five years, from the early days of containers and Kubernetes. Those technologies provide a powerful way to transform businesses across public, private, hybrid and multi-cloud environments, but companies still need enterprise-class features like security, high-availability, backup and recovery, SLA management, compliance, and more. That’s where Portworx comes in. We work with all types of storage and databases to manage and orchestrate your underlying data layer, so you can leverage the power of containers and Kubernetes with confidence and reliability, and at scale.

What’s the pitch of your platform, what is the goal of it?
Portworx lets you run containers in production.  Enterprise container adoption has grown rapidly, with 87% of businesses running container technologies, and 90% of those running containers in production. Portworx is the only storage and data management solution that delivers production operations for container-based applications. We automate everything from data storage, security, and protection, to backup and recovery, SLA management, and compliance, so companies like GE Digital, Lufthansa and T-Mobile run containers on Kubernetes  to enable their digital transformation. 

What about Kubernetes? How do you see this market?
The unspoken rule for CIO’s these days is, “Go fast and don’t mess up.” However, those things can sometimes seem mutually exclusive. A modern, well-managed container environment allows CIOs to have the best of both worlds – it allows teams to innovate and deploy new applications quickly, but in a well-managed, standardized environment where the CIO is always in control. 

You need the right stack to achieve this, and Kubernetes, while powerful, does not provide all the capabilities that enterprises need by itself. That’s the opportunity for our company. We make the data management component simple, and provide the security, high-availability, backup and recovery, automation, and other capabilities that enterprise need to run containers in production. 

What do you think of VMware strategy with Kubernetes?
VMware bet big on Kubernetes in 2019 when it announced plans to bring containers and Kubernetes into the heart of its primary business, vSphere. The move was part of a broader shift in digital transformation strategies – one where enterprises are moving their focus away from hardware infrastructure and instead devoting resources to automating apps and data via containers and Kubernetes. VMware realized that containers are where the future of business value lies, which is why they invested so heavily in Kubernetes.

Additionally, applications are no longer tied to a single data center or a single storage platform; rather, they are spread across multiple environments based on a customer’s location, service provider availability and other business imperatives. VMware recognized the need for complement their traditional offering that delivers machine centric control of the datacenter with Kubernetes which offers application centric control of apps and infrastructure across the public cloud, hybrid cloud and datacenter.  It is exciting to see them embrace innovation and accelerate the mainstreaming of Kubernetes.

What about your cloud strategy?
Not long ago, hardware upgrades drove innovation (buy a more powerful server, develop new software, introduce new processes). However, cloud removed the limitations of hardware and allowed applications to be deployed at scale far more quickly and affordably than before. Now, businesses are moving into multi-cloud environments that span multiple public and private clouds – including their own data center. The cloud can be everywhere, because the same cloud native stack that enabled speed and innovation in the cloud can also be deployed in the private data center.  So the cloud model has expanded to include all environments, and Portworx is one of the companies enabling this “cloud everywhere” model. 

What are the drivers for Kubernetes adoption?
Although Docker is credited with kicking off the container movement, it was the release of Kubernetes that allowed containers to flourish. In our 2019 container adoption survey, increased developer speed and efficiency were listed as the primary drivers of container adoption. These were closely followed by increased agility and an improved ability to run containers on multiple clouds and avoid vendor lock-in. Having Kubernetes supported natively by the major cloud vendors, with Amazon EKS, Azure AKS and Google GKE, makes it even more appealing.

How do you see the Docker Enterprise acquisition by Mirantis? And what about Docker generally?
What was interesting about the Docker acquisition is who didn’t buy it – notably Microsoft. Docker had been focusing on Windows and trying to woo Microsoft, but Microsoft clearly didn’t think it needed Docker’s customers or its technology. It was interesting that none of the other big cloud vendors were interested either. 

To me, that shows that Docker never managed to build a successful commercial business. On the container side, Docker’s packaging technology is the de facto standard for containers, but it’s available freely as open source. On the orchestration side, Docker’s technology was beaten out by Kubernetes, which is now the de facto standard for orchestration.

Docker was one of the giants of cloud native 5 years ago, but they never built a successful commercial business and now they are less relevant in the broader industry landscape.

What are your differentiators vs. the growing competition?
While other solutions provide distributed storage services for cloud-native and container-native environments, Portworx is the only vendor that provides the reliability, security, availability and data protection that customers need for enterprise class applications need in production. Those other solutions don’t meet complex business requirements from a Kubernetes perspective, which we solve with a deep integration with Kubernetes, and a storage management system that is reliable and secure. 

What is your go-to-market strategy? Do you have OEMs and specific alliances?
Our go-to-market strategy is based on direct sales along with a robust partner program that includes AWS, IBM, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and VMware. We are also certified with companies like Red Hat and Suse to ensure our product works seamlessly with their software and services. Our partnerships come in 2 different flavors – we have solution partners and channel partners like IBM and D2IQ that resell our product and provide services to joint customers, and we have technology partners like Google Cloud and AWS that have active product integrations with Portworx.

You recently started EMEA operations, what are the objectives there?
Our goal is to ensure every business can leverage containers and Kubernetes to drive business transformation – and to do that on a global scale. We started expanding to EMEA in 2018 and have some truly iconic customers in deployment with us there.  We are proud to say that we serve dozens of the Fortune Global 2000 and are continuing to rapidly expand.

What are Portworx’s 2020 directions? What can we expect?
I can’t give too much away right now, but you’ll see us add more features and capabilities to meet our enterprise customers’ evolving needs. You can expect us to expand our solutions in backup and data protection, offer integrated solutions  with leading brands in enterprise technology and bring more customers to production with Kubernetes. 2020 is going to be another great year for us and for the whole Kubernetes ecosystem.

Read also:
Portworx Joins Google Cloud Anthos Ready Storage Initiative
Enhancing enterprise readiness of data services running on cloud
February 26, 2020 | Press Release
Portworx Into Enterprise Backup Market With Kubernetes Backup Solution
And launches automated capacity management product to deliver on cloud’s promise to only pay for what you use
November 29, 2019 | Press Release
Portworx Enterprise Storage Platform for Kubernetes Being VMware Ready
Supported on VMware Enterprise PKS 1.5 for production environments
November 13, 2019 | Press Release
Portworx Lands Oversubscribed $27 Million Series C
Total of $55.5 million in financing to date
March 21, 2019 | Press Release
Portworx Got $20 Million in Oversubscribed B Round, Total at $28.5 Million
And signs GE Digital and Lufthansa Systems as customers.
April 6,  2017 | Press Release
Start-Up Profile: Portworx
In scale-out block storage software for Linux containers
by Jean Jacques Maleval | July 2, 2015 | News