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Tips to making the transition to containers

Con Terzis
Con TerzisCommercial Inside Sales Manager, ANZ
A Lenovo veteran of 12 years since the PC acquisition from IBM, and there has never been a dull moment. Throughout my time in sales I have seen a lot of change and it is this ever changing market that continues to excite me about working for a leading technology company. In my current role as Commercial Inside Sales Manager for ANZ, my extensive experience with both end user and channel partners allows me to guide my team on the path to delivering innovative products and solutions to our customers.

Follow me on Twitter @cterzis82

Containers are not new. Companies have been seeing the benefits of them for several years now. In 2015, two-thirds of the world’s IT professionals and decision makers were planning on enterprise adoption of containers by 2017. However, at the time, many IT professionals still had a few concerns over such issues as their staff having the adequate skills required to implement and use containers, as well as certification and security worries. Two years down the road, however, many of these concerns have been addressed, and most fears have been quelled. Containers are seen as the way forward, and 2017 is proving to be the year when mass adoption is happening.

What Are Containers

For a long time, there has been a problem that can easily occur when moving data from a certain computing environment to a different one. A specific software might run seamlessly in a test environment, but then when it goes into production problems start to occur. The same could also be true when moving data from a developer’s desktop computer to a staging environment or from a public cloud to a physical machine. These problems happen because the supporting software in the environment is slightly different, whether it is the version of an SSL library, the storage, the security policies or the type of testing platform. Basically, weird glitches start to pop up.

To solve this, the idea of a container was developed. At its core, a container is a bundled package—a complete runtime environment. This includes everything from the configuration files needed for it to run and the necessary libraries to the actual data or software and all of its dependencies. This means that when the data is moved, it is moved with everything it requires to run. In turn, this makes the infrastructure and OS distributions of the new computing environment, or the old one, irrelevant.

Sometimes, though, a container gets confused with virtualisation, which is likely one reason many organisations have been slow to adopt. The biggest difference between virtual machines and containers is that virtual machines are much heavier and use far more resources than containers do. This is mainly due to the fact that virtualisation requires an Operating System to be included in the package with the application, which means that if three virtual machines are running on a physical server, there are also three Operating Systems running. On the other hand, a physical server that is running three containers is only running one Operating System, the kernel of which is being shared by all three containers—much more concise and lightweight.

In the long-run, for any company, this can make a big difference. While a virtual machine, because of the need for its own Operating System, can take up several gigabytes of space, a container is likely only to take up a few megabytes. But it is not just about the storage space that virtualisation and containership take up; it is also about the time they take up. An application in a container can generally be started instantaneously. This is not the case for most virtual machines. It will likely take several minutes for both the Operating System and the application to boot up and run. So because of this combination of size and time, a physical server’s capacity can handle significantly more containers than virtual machines, providing serious savings for any organisation.

Container Implementation In Asia

While adoption of containers can be seen globally, regionally in Asia the growth of container use has taken many by surprise. Currently, many containers are mainly run in a public cloud. However, enterprises are beginning to follow and embrace container technology. This is mainly due to how easy containers are to both deploy and to manage, making it perfect for development use.

One example of a major shift and a container awareness creator is with Alibaba Cloud. The company has decided to partner with Docker, a container provider. Alibaba Cloud will be reselling some of Docker’s products to IT operation teams and developers as an integrated platform. This is mainly due to the demand from companies that want to make their application environments more modern. Such a partnership will finally allow organisations to scale their existing implementations into production.

And this adoption of containers seems to be an ever-growing trend in Southeast Asia. Over the past year, a shift towards micro service architecture that is supported by newer technologies has begun to take place. One Singapore-based cloud service provider, Alpha7, builds its platform and systems with containers. This use of containers makes them significantly more efficient in rolling out new features and functions, which is a big step up from what any of their competitors can do.

Another company in Southeast Asia, Dropsuite, is a backup supplier that is using containers. They are a recent adopter of the container technology and have decided to stay with it because of how simple it is to deploy in the cloud with its shipping and packaging efficiencies. For example, they can have the same stack running from several locations and easily switch from development to production on either on-premises or cloud architectures.

How To Make The Transition Easier

Risk aversion is a common trait among South-east Asian organisations. There is so much competition that the slightest hiccup can have major consequences. Because of this, many companies across Asia are holding out on adopting the latest container technology. However, a number of businesses are starting to see that it is more dangerous for them not to begin implementing containers.

The first step in illustrating to any business how helpful container technology can be is by explaining its dual-mode abilities. Dual-mode operating environments are the optimal environments for any company to be in. It allows them to both produce and beta-test simultaneously. Containers are the best way to set up this type of environment. Before container technology was available, setting up and executing in a dual-mode environment was difficult and took time. It was also expensive and risky, with low reliability in some of the old systems provisioning. All of these risks and difficulties are out the window with containers. In fact, it is probably more risky for an enterprise to attempt to operate without containers.

For many companies in Asia, this will entail swapping out legacy systems. It is the initial swap that is the difficult part. Once containers are implemented, things become cheaper, quicker, and the innovation cycle speeds up. But this initial swap will require an effort from more than just the IT division. The entire enterprise will need to prioritise container adoption as a driver of business growth and expansion. And this embrace starts at the top with the Chief Information Officer (CIO). Any IT manager or CIO needs to understand that the transition will not be fast or inexpensive. It will require support, both in terms of resources and in terms of organisational support, primarily from them. A good place to concentrate efforts is in finding outsourced labour that understands containers. As many firms outsource much of their technological labour, without outsourced container knowledge it is unlikely that the organisation will be able to implement the use of containers successfully.

So, it is simple. Once the CIO can get the enterprise leadership on board, the implementation of containers simply takes time, and quality outsourced IT labour.

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