Containers: Big opportunity or big distraction?
Containers are the future of scalability. However, should enterprises switch to a container-based infrastructure? David Fearne goes over the advantages and disadvantages of making the change for channel organizations.
Talk to technology specialists – particularly developers – and the subject of software containers will probably come up quite quickly. Containers have been positioned as the “next big thing” in IT around application deployment and service design, offering even greater flexibility and scale for enterprises.
According to IHS Markit, container software shipments are due to grow year-on-year by 30%. This growth is being driven by adoption in telecoms operators and hyper-scale service providers – Google itself stated at Gluecon 2014 that it starts over two billion containers every week.
But how much is this actually taking place in the enterprise market? How should channel organizations discuss this platform alongside other options? And how can you build services around containers into your work with customers in the future?
It’s important to recognize what containers do really well: scale. Using containers as a platform for microservices, applications can be designed that deliver services to thousands or millions of users, scaling up and down quicker than previous platforms.
Speed is where container-based applications come into their own. Scaling up or down is normally an afterthought in a physical or virtual infrastructure. In comparison, everything in a container solution is designed to provide rapid, seamless scaling from the outset. Other technologies such as third-party resource schedulers or load balancers need to be introduced. All of this adds complexity and application fragility.
This should sound great to customers. However, coming on the heels of investments in virtualization, cloud computing, and other large apps, containers represent another area of IT that could either be useful or a massive distraction. Educating customers on where container-based applications are right for them is therefore essential.
The plethora of platforms for enterprises
For companies that are starting from scratch – new start-ups or “born in the cloud” vendors – containers represent a fast, inexpensive route to deploying applications. For more traditional enterprises that already have invested into a range of IT infrastructure platforms, containers can offer some advantages for scale and speed. However, extending those existing infrastructures may work just as well.
For channel organizations working with enterprises, containers can provide a great discussion point around new projects. For web-tier apps and external services that would be hosted in the cloud, they represent a great fit. However, containers will not immediately replace more traditional IT options for internal services. For any existing services, any migration will require careful planning and development over time.
To build up your service offerings around containers, it’s worth looking at the following points:
Understand containers in the context of the customer
When customers ask about containers, it’s vital that you are prepared with information on where they can help, and equally where they can’t. For enterprises running large ERP applications or legacy infrastructure, containers may have limited appeal and use cases. Don’t be afraid to say so! This can be useful for your contacts, particularly if they feel they are missing out.
Use containers to augment services
As previously mentioned, containers scale very well. Containers can be a solution to any business service that requires flexibility. Think about your customer’s business processes and where the current bottlenecks are that could be fixed through greater flexibility. Even better, think about what value the business could realize from greater flexibility or a faster speed in delivering results. If the organization has always seen scalability as another VM, then introducing them to containers might fundamentally increase their business agility, which should be the goal of all digital transformation projects.
Single stage to production
In space technology, the Holy Grail has always been a rocket capable of single stage to orbit capability, lower cost, complexity, dependencies, and waste. At the time of writing, this system doesn’t exist. Back down on Earth, containers do provide a streamlined route of getting services to production quicker than before. A developer can work on a container on their laptop, test it, and deploy it to production without any changes. This is crucial in the new world of continuous integration, as new features are rolled out continuously to maintain a competitive advantage instead of the older mechanism of large annual updates.
Containers will be an important area for enterprises in the future, so it is essential that channel organizations get to grips with this technology for themselves. That said, containers could be seen as an overhead, due to the platform fatigue many enterprises are now suffering from. Improper deployment could leave customers with a negative impression of a technology that has true and unique business benefits.