Containers Verging on the Mainstream

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    Containers have been in the headlines and in the dev/test environment for some time now, and while the initial results are encouraging there is very little data as to how they perform in real-world production environments.

    But this is about to change. As enterprise workloads gravitate steadily toward virtual, distributed architectures, containers are emerging as a key element for supporting the twin objectives of greater flexibility and lower costs. Not only do they simplify software distribution and licensing issues, they are extremely portable, enabling full application operating environments to be created, deployed and managed across a wide variety of data center and cloud-based systems.

    The first group to realize the power of containers, of course, is the development team. According to a recent survey by application deployment company Shippable, 74 percent say they are able to push software to users faster with containers, particularly over public, private and hybrid cloud infrastructure. The leading development platform for containerized applications appears to be GitHub, which is used by more than half of respondents, while Google Compute Engine is the most popular destination.

    Containers are also proving popular among SaaS providers, which can leverage the portability aspects of the technology to more easily deliver services to users. RightScale recently incorporated an entirely new backend deployment infrastructure around the Docker platform in an effort to reduce costs and accelerate deployment. VP of Engineering Tim Miller has branded “Project Sherpa” a resounding success, containerizing 48 of the company’s 52 services and reducing the number of cloud migrations from more than a thousand to 670. Miller also reports that standardization within the container environment speeds up tasks like debugging and integration, and allows even non-developers to examine feature sets and capabilities without hampering the development process.

    Meanwhile, a company called Zoomdata is applying containers and microservice architectures to its Big Data and IoT platform as a means of simplifying the complex process of pulling data from distributed sources, such as sensors, and querying it in a coordinated fashion. CEO Justin Langseth tells ITBE’s Mike Vizard that containers allow the company’s visualization tools to interact natively with Apache Spark and other systems while also enabling multiple independent services to be brought in as needed. Meanwhile, as a Java platform, Zoomdata can leverage middleware like Mesos to scale workloads up and down while maintaining strong multitenancy and security policies. And to add icing on the cake, containers also allow the company to write a common API so users can embed Zoomdata within other applications.

    Containers are also starting to make their presence known beyond the tech industry into consumer-facing areas. The Royal Bank of Scotland recently deployed a new platform called Open Experience using Red Hat’s OpenShift and Mobile Applications frameworks to foster improved collaboration and financial services distribution. Using containers within the OpenShift platform, the bank is able to quickly develop, host and scale applications into the cloud using multiple languages, development tools and related open systems. This allows third-party developers to lower their costs and work in the environments they are most comfortable in, all the while taking advantage of the automation and provisioning capabilities of the Kubernetes management stack, which OpenShift supports.

    As the old saw goes: Where there is smoke, there is usually fire. There has been plenty of smoke surrounding containers since they first broke on the scene more than two years ago, fanned by eager developers hoping to usher in an entirely new way of working. And if all goes as planned, containers should emerge as a roaring fire in the enterprise campground by this time next year.

    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.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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