StackRox nabs $26.5M for a platform that secures containers in Kubernetes

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Containershave become a ubiquitous cornerstone in how companies manage their data, a trend that has only accelerated in the last eight months with the larger shift to cloud services and more frequent remote working due to the coronavirus pandemic. Alongside that, startups building services to enable containers to be used better are also getting a boost.

StackRox, which develops Kubernetes-native security solutions, says that its business grew by 240% in the first half of this year, and on the back of that, it is announcing today that it has raised $26.5 million to expand its business into international markets and continue investing in its R&D.

The funding, which appears to be a Series C, has an impressive list of backers. It is being led by Menlo Ventures,with Highland Capital Partners, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Sequoia Capital and Redpoint Ventures also participating. Sequoia and Redpoint are previous investors, and the company has raised around $60 million to date.

HPE is a strategic backer in this round:

“At HPE, we are working with our customers to help them accelerate their digital transformations,” said Paul Glaser, VP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and head of Pathfinder. “Security is a critical priority as they look to modernize their applications with containers. We’re excited to invest in StackRoxand see it as a great fit with our new software HPE Ezmeral to help HPE customers secure their Kubernetesenvironments across their full application life cycle. By directly integrating with Kubernetes, StackRox enables a level of simplicity and unification for DevOps and Security teams to apply the needed controls effectively.”

Kamal Shah,the CEO, said that StackRox is not disclosing its valuation, but he confirmed it has definitely gone up. For some context, according to PitchBook data, the company was valued at $145 million in its last funding round, a Series B in 2018. Its customers today include the likes of Priceline, Brex, Reddit, Zendesk and Splunk, as well as government and other enterprise customers, in a container security market that analysts project will be worth some $2.2 billion by 2024, up from $568 million last year.

StackRox got its start in 2014, when containers were starting to pick up momentum in the market. At the time, its focus was a little more fragmented, not unlike the container market itself — it provided solutions that could be used with Docker containers as well as others. Over time, Shah said that the company chose to hone its focus just on Kubernetes, originally developed by Google and open-sourced, and now essentially the de facto standard in containerisation.

“We made a bet on Kubernetes at a time when there were multiple orchestrators, including Mesosphere, Docker and others,” he said. “Over the last two years Kubernetes has won the war and become the default choice, the Linux of the cloud and the biggest open-source cloud application. We are all Kubernetes all the time because what we see in the market are that a majority of our customers are moving to it. It has over 35,000 contributors to the open-source project alone, it’s not just Red Hat (IBM) and Google.” Research from CNCF estimates that nearly 80% of organizations that it surveyed are running Kubernetes in production.

That is not all good news, however, with the interest underscoring a bigger need for Kubernetes-focused security solutions for enterprises that opt to use it.

Shah says that some of the typical pitfalls in container architecture arise when they are misconfigured, leading to breaches; as well as around how applications are monitored; how developers use open-source libraries; and how companies implement regulatory compliance. Other security vulnerabilities that have been highlighted by others include the use of insecure container images; how containers interact with each other; the use of containers that have been infected with rogue processes; and having containers not isolated properly from their hosts.

But, Shah noted, “Containers in Kubernetes are inherently more secure if you can deploy correctly.” And to that end that is where StackRox’s solutions attempt to help: The company has built a multi-purposes toolkit that provides developers and security engineers with risk visibility, threat detection, compliance tools, segmentation tools and more. “Kubernetes was built for scale and flexibility, but it has lots of controls, so if you misconfigure it, it can lead to breaches. So you need a security solution to make sure you configure it all correctly,” said Shah.

He added that there has been a definite shift over the years from companies considering security solutions as an optional element into one that forms part of the consideration at the very core of the IT budget — another reason why StackRox and competitors like TwistLock (acquired by Palo Alto Networks) and Aqua Security have all seen their businesses really grow.

“We’ve seen the innovation companies are enabling by building applications in containers and Kubernetes. The need to protect those applications, at the scale and pace of DevOps, is crucial to realizing the business benefits of that innovation,” said Venky Ganesan, partner, Menlo Ventures, in a statement. “While lots of companies have focused on securing the container, only StackRox saw the need to focus on Kubernetes as the control plane for security as well as infrastructure. We’re thrilled to help fuel the company’s growth as it dominates this dynamic market.”

“Kubernetes represents one of the most important paradigm shifts in the world of enterprise software in years,” said Corey Mulloy, general partner, Highland Capital Partners, in a statement. “StackRox sits at the forefront of Kubernetes security, and as enterprises continue their shift to the cloud, Kubernetes is the ubiquitous platform that Linux was for the Internet era. In enabling Kubernetes-native security, StackRox has become the security platform of choice for these cloud-native app dev environments.”

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