The Future Containerised…

As seen published in Neworks Europe.

Industry sceptics may view containers as “over-hyped” and yet with organisations like Microsoft spearheading the way with large investments into combined containerised approaches for its data centres, predictions are set to see a huge increase in the use of modular or containerised server systems.

DevOps Skills Shift and the Growth of Containerisation

Up until now there has been a considerably slow uptake for containerised data centres; however, this is not because of the lack of technology. Containers, as an idea, can be traced back to 1979 when the chroot system call was introduced during the development of Unix V7 which brought about the beginning of process isolation. Jump forward four decades and containers have exploded in popularity with Docker making huge leaps with the development of containerised software.

This growth of containerisation has highlighted the move away from complex bricks-and-mortar data centres that were cumbersome with their innumerable servers and required purchasing, implementing and maintenance. Organisations are beginning to see the appeal of containerised data centres that promise fully functioning “engineered systems”. This seismic change in approach has exposed the growing demand for IT talent in the market today; as illustrated by BMC Software’s new report highlighting that over the next two years, IT decision makers believe that IT spending will move towards investments into workload automation, containerisation and DevOps training.

DevOps in the enterprise has always been mostly focused around tooling and processes in the development of software, with “operations” such as support and monitoring still handled by separate teams. However, utilising deployment platforms such as containers brings that final piece of the puzzle back to the development teams; meaning that the skills required in maintaining a containerised infrastructure extends beyond that of traditional enterprise skills. Where the traditional enterprise developer or operator is used to applying highly specialized skills with narrow focus, they may struggle to flex their capability to build and develop a containerised architecture. Containerisation needs a radical change in mentality from managing machines to operating clusters of clusters. To get the most value, organisations must change the way they think about building applications.

With the shift in demand for DevOps IT skills and the rise of containerisation in data centres, the familiarity of traditional practices are starting to fade. Companies are looking for cheaper, quicker, leaner and more flexible practices to allow for digital transformation in today’s modern world – and data centres are integral to this.

Speed Demon: Containerisation vs. Virtual Machines

Despite industry scepticism, containerisation is increasingly gaining recognition from organisations across all major industries as an exciting method of OS virtualisation – an alternative to virtual machines. When implemented correctly, containers enable organisations to fit approximately four to six times more virtual servers on hardware than ‘standard’ virtualised estates permit. Containers offer a leaner, more agile and efficient environment for operating data centres.

Across all industries, digital transformation is on the business agenda with a keen desire and need to grow a company globally. Therefore, speed is everything and by having a scalable and adaptable platform with systems that offer flexibility when they have to change or adjust applications, is essential. When operating containers within data centres, they are kept as resource-efficient and slimmed down as possible. More containers can therefore be packed onto the same server, making it a lot faster, with containers able to start up in seconds rather than minutes.

Companies are adopting containers incredibly quickly, and industry leaders are containerising everything from their data centres to their software platforms. Coats, a 250 year old international thread manufacturer, recently announced the launch of its customer web portal on a container-based platform, marking them the challenger to industry sceptics who define container solutions as simply ‘hype’. The decision to use containers came from Coats’ requirements for an adaptable, scalable and easily manageable platform that would adhere to the strict regulations of international trading. The platform will help further the company’s commitment to digitally transform its services. For companies where Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is severely monitored, this advantage of application upgrades and changes is vital, especially when, like Coats, they are committed to digitally transform their services – without the added costs legacy systems can bring

Even though a containerised approach towards the construction and deployment of data centres can result in rapid deployment as well as lower operating and capital costs, it isn’t a magic fix for all. Though both legacy and new applications can operate in containers, for some older, monolithic applications favoured by traditional enterprises, containerization is not necessarily suitable. In these scenarios some applications may need to be rebuilt form scratch in order to be containerised.

Similarly, with the shift in IT skills, those organisations reliant on monolithic applications must ensure their in-house infrastructure is ready for containerisation before any commitment can be made. As Steve Sams, vice-president of Site & Facilities, IBM’s Global Technology Services Division puts it, “the real inhibitor is skills in the marketplace, not people’s desire to buy this.

Organisations like Coats are working with agile, cloud-first consultancies like Amido, to revolutionise the perception of container solutions. Containers can no longer be dismissed so readily, and with the growing investment into containerisation, coupled with the shift in demand for IT skills, enterprises of all sizes will soon seek to reap the benefits of containers.

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