Container uptake in the enterprise is moving at light speed, to the point that by the end of the year, organizations that are not using the technology in some form will be in the distinct minority.
But while deploying containers in the test bed or in limited production environments is one thing, running them at scale is quite another. And while most people agree that containers can improve the performance and flexibility of a wide swath of enterprise applications, it seems that few organizations have fully charted out the use cases within their particular data environment.
This can be dangerous because, as Miska Kaipiainen, CEO of open source container developer Kontena, points out, the way you plan to use containers is crucial when determining how they are to be configured and deployed. Are they intended to support large database applications or web services? The difference could influence the level of scale you’ll need and the degree of flexibility across the deployment. And in most cases, the core container technology is the same, but increasingly they are becoming optimized for key applications that require varying levels of security, network support and policy management.
At the moment, most containers are being deployed into application development environments, according to a recent CloudFoundry survey, although their use in production environments, where they provide versioned runtime environments, is on the rise. For one thing, says ZDNet’s Joe McKendrick, containers provide simplified version control, and they make it easier to maintain a consistent environment from development to production. For containers to truly alter the way enterprises provide application support, however, they will need much broader standardization that enhances portability across platforms.
This becomes particularly important once the enterprise starts to leverage containers for cloud-based applications and microservices, says CEM analyst Sandra O’Boyle. Many organizations have already turned to KVM, OpenStack and other open platforms for their cloud deployments, but these alone are not enough to orchestrate applications that may have to function across containers, virtual machines and bare metal. Even as container management tools like Docker and Kubernetes gain in popularity, the enterprise will have to look at much broader management platforms, many of which will require new IT skills that focus on application and service functionality rather than mere infrastructure.
And like virtualization and the cloud, container technology not only provides a better way to support the same old applications but entirely new ways of working as well. A company called Cypherpath recently launched a container-based Infrastructure as a File (IaaF) solution that purportedly makes it as easy to build and manage data center infrastructure as it is to share a file. By encapsulating a full IT stack within a container, the platform provides rapid deployment of data ecosystems on cloud-based or bare-metal infrastructure, while targeted partnerships with Tegile Systems, Quali and others provide scale-up/out capabilities on hyperconverged architectures, on-demand deployment and x86-based software-defined infrastructure. In this way, the company says, it can quickly put today’s legacy-facing data environments on a flexible, portable footing that is more in tune with modern application demands.
With a technology as game-changing as containers, it is next to impossible to determine at the outset exactly how they should be used and in what ways they will alter the infrastructure and operational characteristics of the enterprise data environment. So at this point, it would be wise to set reasonable goals for container deployments, targeting the applications and services that would benefit most from a flexible, portable support structure.
Once experience grows, however, the sky could literally be the limit in terms of driving data and application functionality into the next-generation business environment.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.