If you blinked, you would have missed it. That’s how a future tech historian will probably characterize the virtualization era now that containers have emerged as the preferred architecture for data-driven applications.
This isn’t to say that virtualization will no longer be a part of enterprise infrastructure, but that the development and productivity gains will soon move off the virtual layer to a more container-based data stack.
Tech industry analyst Janakiram MSV points to five key signs that the enterprise is on the cusp of a post-virtual environment. Not only is the virtualization market fully saturated by now with more than 75 percent of the enterprise workload now residing on virtual servers, but companies like Docker have demonstrated the efficacy of containers so effectively that even stalwart virtualization backers like VMware and Microsoft have jumped on the bandwagon. At the same time, organizations like the Cloud Foundry Foundation, the Open Container Initiative and the Cloud Native Computing Foundation are starting to coalesce around a new computing paradigm based on containers and container management to accommodate emerging Big Data and mobile applications.
Containers are already proving themselves to be highly versatile in the face of extremely dynamic data environments, and this has led to a wealth of development activity as evidenced by the turnout at the recently DockerCon event in San Francisco. As HashiCorp founder Mitchell Hashimoto put it:
“Whereas virtualization is like the sci-fi concept of terraforming a planet, embracing containers is more akin to building many isolated biodomes on a single planet.”
Demos on the show floor covered everything from container-friendly operating systems and orchestration to storage, networking and security.
The future of virtualization is naturally a top concern at EMC, which owns 80 percent of VMware. Within the past year, EMC has been rumored to be spinning off VMware, absorbing the company entirely or, in the latest twist, actually selling itself to VMware in what is known as a downstream merger. EMC has been under pressure by activist fund Elliott Management to spin off VMware, although sources in a RE/Code article that broke the story of the merger say fund manager Paul Singer is open to the idea of EMC folding into VMware. At the very least, however, the shifting climate within EMC is testament to the uncertainty over plain vanilla virtualization and its ability to meet rising challenges.
Still, some argue that it is too soon to write virtualization off completely. Rather than a swan song, releases like vSphere 6 are better viewed as the end of one chapter in the virtualization story and the beginning of another, says InfoWorld’s Paul Venezia. First, it is hard to deny virtualization’s impact on the enterprise compared to the pre-virtualization days, particularly in Dev/Ops. The advent of containers, paravirtualization, workload partitioning and other tools merely extended the technology’s reach from the server farm to distributed, cloud-based environments. Going forward, we can expect to see tighter integration between the hypervisor and storage, and it will continue to deliver greater computing power at lower cost in the coming years.
This much is true, but as I said, technology eras are not defined by the presence or non-presence of a particular solution but by the ways in which productivity and work environments are shaped by underlying technology. The PC era is long gone but the PC is still with us.
In the era of Big Data and real-time application performance, containers offer better support than monolithic virtual environments, and the disruptor is now becoming the disrupted.
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, Carpathia and NetMagic.