April 28, 2017

Persistent storage for containers has improved to the point that one of the first companies to offer containerized storage has now folded. That’s the takeaway from the announcement this week that ClusterHQ has gone out of business.

If you have been using containers since Docker’s early days, you know that providing persistent storage for containers is difficult. That’s because, by design, any data that lives inside a container disappears forever when that container shuts down, unless you deliberately move it elsewhere before the container stops.

ClusterHQ became famous as one of the first companies to try to solve that conundrum. In 2014, it launched a persistent storage solution for containers called Flocker.

Unlike Data Volumes, Docker’s more primitive persistent storage solution for containers, Flocker made it easy to move containerized data between hosts and to keep data volumes attached to particular containers as they move around a cluster. (OK, you can do that with Docker Data Volumes, too, but I don’t think it’s as easy.)

Flocker was one of the first platforms designed to provide a truly painless solution for managing data on containerized infrastructure. It appeared at a time when most people were still assuming that Docker could never be used for hosting “stateful” apps that require persistent data storage.

Flocker was popular with not only DevOps folk, but also investors. ClusterHQ raised $18 million in venture capital.

ClusterHQ’s Demise

But startups fail—even those that have good ideas, good technology and solid capital. On Dec. 22, ClusterHQ entered the dustbin of Silicon Valley history.

In a particularly well-titled blog post, ClusterHQ CEO Mark Davis blamed the company’s failure on the fact that a lot of other persistent storage options for containers have evolved in recent years, which made Flocker less of a big deal than it once was.

From an ecosystem perspective, ClusterHQ’s shuttering doesn’t mean much. Flocker, which is open source, still lives on on GitHub and people can keep using it. (Whether developers will keep maintaining it remains to be seen.) That’s good, because persistent storage for Docker still is arguably not as elegant as it needs to be to make Docker a dead-simple choice for people who just want it to work without tediously configuring data volumes.

Also notable is the fact that ClusterHQ has become one of the first significant container startups to fail. Does that bode ill for the dozens of other young companies in this space in the new year? It may. The container ecosystem is burgeoning with lots of good ideas and good companies, and ClusterHQ’s fate suggests that only the lucky—not necessarily the best—will survive.

Christopher Tozzi

Christopher Tozzi has covered technology and business news for nearly a decade, specializing in open source, containers, big data, networking and security. He is currently Senior Editor and DevOps Analyst with Fixate.io and Sweetcode.io.