Why containers are important…and why you should care

Published on the 31/10/2017 | Written by Robert Merlicek

Importance of software containers_TIBCO

TIBCO’s Robert Merlicek makes the case for containerisation…

As organisations strive to make technology infrastructure more flexible, adaptable, and scalable, increasing attention is being given to the software containerisation deployment technique.

One way to understand the benefits of software containers is to consider the value added by their namesakes in the shipping industry. Invented in the 1950s, shipping containers revolutionised transportation by introducing a system of standards that allowed goods to be efficiently handled and shifted between locations.

Before shipping containers, moving goods was painful. Cargo of different shapes and sizes meant ports and warehouses had no way of efficiently dealing with them. Standardisation had a dramatic and positive impact for all involved.

The concept holds true for software containers. They are an operating system-level virtualisation method that standardises the way application code is deployed and run, abstracting applications from the environment in which they run. This makes it much easier to manage and move software applications as required.

An evolution of virtualisation
When virtualisation first appeared, it introduced the concept of virtual machines (VMs). These were designed to abstract applications away from the hardware and operating system they were running on, allowing them to be readily spun up and down or moved to a different location.

Containers further streamline this approach as they are designed for deploying and running applications without the need to launch an entire VM each time. Instead, each container shares the resources of a host operating system with other containers.

Containers are also ‘lighter’ with greater portability when compared with a VM, which uses isolated resources and requires a full operating system. Only application code and its dependencies are packed into a container, so it can run anywhere. Also, because they are small, it’s possible to run a lot of containers on a single computer.

According to Gartner, currently only around 22 percent of computing workloads use containers in at least one stage of the application lifecycle. However, this is forecast to grow to more than 50 percent by 2018. Gartner says 31 percent of organisations are evaluating switching to containers and, of that group, 64 percent are hoping to implement them within the next 12 months.

The benefits of containers
Containers offer faster application deployment times, lower development overheads, massive and smooth scaling, easier migration, and faster restarts.

Containers also enable development of microservices. Typically, microservices are developed, deployed and scaled independently and so containers provide the best environment in which they can be run. If a microservice needs to be updated, it’s simply a matter of creating a new container to replace the old one. This approach allows for faster and error-free software development.

While there are some concerns that there is a lack of isolation between containers and the underlying operating system, Gartner asserts that applications deployed in containers are more secure than applications deployed on the bare OS. Even if a container is cracked, any damage is limited because applications and users are isolated on a per-container basis. For this reason, an attacker cannot then compromise other containers or the host OS itself.

A bright future
Containers are currently being implemented by newer companies faster than older, and larger companies still focusing solely on localised on-premise architectures. However, some of the biggest companies around the world are starting to recognise their benefits are moving towards implementing containerised environments within their IT infrastructures.

By using containers, an organisation gets to enjoy the flexibility to move between cloud environments without rewriting applications and with little configuration changes. This is a boost both for business efficiency and the financial bottom line.

writer_Robert Merlicek2ABOUT ROBERT MERLICEK//

Robert Merlicek is Chief Technology Officer – Asia Pacific and Japan, TIBCO

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