Containers: Learning from the pioneers

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Today’s modernity is tomorrow’s legacy. Very few established businesses are blessed with homogeneity when it comes to the technologies and suppliers that support their IT operations. Applications are developed according to prevailing programming and deployment models. Virtualised servers allow enterprises to run established core applications on modern hardware and so avoid the potentially significant costs, risks and disruption of rebuilding.

Organisations regularly talk of transforming their operations to support new ways of engaging. Within this, the demand for modernised applications features prominently as a desired goal.

The Covid-19 pandemic has further sharpened a focus on what many see as the core of a modern application. It needs to be resilient, consistent and secure, architected as a lightweight modular programming model for rapid deployment and scalability.

A peg for the right hole

Containers, with Kubernetes, the open source container orchestration and management platform, offer a modern, lightweight application model for quick deployment of operations based on modular, transient and immutable services. They are becoming more popular as they meet the demand for applications that can scale as necessary, whether on-premise in a managed datacentre or deployed to a public or private cloud.

Importantly, containers offer consistency and resilience, and form part of the technologies built for cloud-native delivery, multicloud and broader hybrid IT operations.

However, there is a tendency for every narrative about modern applications to be framed in the context of container technology. The reality is that containers have their place in delivering optimal capabilities – but only for the right application.

To gain some insight into where containers play best, CCS Insight, commissioned by Red Hat, conducted a research study in January and February 2021. The goal was to understand the development, deployment and use of container applications and services. One of the top uses for container deployments was to simplify the integration and consistency of internal systems and components.

In fact, many of the top usage scenarios were as expected, such as providing autoscaling services for existing solutions and enabling the sharing and reuse of resources across an organisation. And although containers were being used for e-commerce services – as you might expect, given their scaling needs – in the wider market, containers are not always the chosen technology for modern app builders.

Are we there yet?

Undoubtedly, containers and Kubernetes offer many operational benefits that place them at the heart of modern application development strategies. Their ability to provide a consistent and immutable scaling model, regardless of the technology stack, highlights the productivity benefits on offer and the scope for some level of portability.

Adoption of the technology is growing, with the rise in cloud-native and cloud-first strategies as the primary focus for new application development and deployments. In another CCS Insight survey in mid-2020 that questioned IT leaders about their investment plans, 42% of 736 respondents had opted for a cloud-native or cloud-first approach. However, the same survey also revealed that only 10% had made a container-first model their top priority.

The reality is that containers, and in particular the Kubernetes container orchestration platform, have proved to be a challenging technology to navigate, implement and administer. There are many facets to containers and their management that must be addressed.

CCS Insight’s survey for Red Hat reflects many of the challenges that face the implementation of any new technology, such as a lack of skills and training, and not knowing where best to implement.

Lessons from the frontier

CCS Insight’s study differs from other similar public surveys because the respondent profile featured a more experienced set of technical skills operating with progressive processes and IT systems. Respondents’ maturity in DevOps and cloud development and deployment was notably high, as was their mix of deployment platforms.

Those embarking on a container strategy should take note of this maturity and the way pioneers have invested in education and training, allowing them to draw on a broad range of skills and technologies.

The immutable nature of container-based services, which can be deleted and redeployed when a new update is available, highlights the flexibility and scale they present. But while containers may come and go, there will be critical data that must remain accessible and with relevant controls applied.

For the growing number of developers embracing the container model, physical computer storage facilities can no longer be someone else’s concern, for example. Developers will need to become involved in provisioning storage assets with containers. Being adept with modern data storage, as well as the physical storage layer, is vital to data-driven organisations.

Bola Rotibi is a research director at CCS Insight

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