When a new trend comes around and becomes an omnipresent industry buzzword, it’s worth doing some analysis of this trend and trying to figure out how much is hype and how much is transformative and should influence your IT strategy. In this blog post, we take a closer look at ‘containers,’ and we’re not talking about food or drink coolers here (although those are useful in this hot weather), we’re talking about the container technology used in software development.
So, what exactly is a container?
A dictionary definition of a container is ‘an object that can contain something’ – and this is still applicable in the IT sense, apart from the object is an abstract concept made up of a software unit. An IT container includes all the dependencies of the software: code, runtime, system tools, system libraries, and settings. Containers isolate software from its infrastructure environment and ensure that it works uniformly despite differences, for instance, between development and staging. Differences at the infrastructure level can no longer cause problems, since all the application platforms, all the software, and all the dependencies are ‘containerized.’
What benefits do containers bring?
Working with containers helps you increase your company’s flexibility. You can scale up or shift things around in no time. This is because containers have a container orchestration framework, which means they can function like a conductor in an orchestra. Imagine a conductor whose role is to instruct the orchestra how to play and bring all the musical elements together in the best way. The same applies to the containers orchestration framework which instructs the container and its components. A container can encompass entire applications, including all the prerequisites needed to run the application. The whole container can then be moved directly to a different host (e.g. server or VM) – as determined by the container orchestration framework – where the application component or service can run better, or where more capacity is available. API’s can either be used to scale up and down or are used by the components to communicate. As a result, it becomes possible to respond quickly and fluidly by upscaling application components. Containers are intended for new / re-architected applications; however containerization of legacy applications is useful in a migration scenario, as an intermediary step for an architecture change.
True beauty comes from within
Today’s IT infrastructure goes way beyond physical hardware due to the rapid uptake of abstraction layers which have been popularized through cloud platforms. So how do cloud platforms work with containers? Very well is the answer! Since containers are entirely independent, the platform they’re running on is less relevant.
Let’s take an upgrade or migration scenario in which more capacity needs to be added to a process. If this change happens within a containerized environment, then server or cloud capacity can just be added to the container platform, while the orchestration layer arranges for the application to be ‘redistributed’ or moved.
It is highly likely that the infrastructure your company is currently using will change in the future due to containerization. More collaboration about containerized environments will be seen across departments (e.g. development and operations), considering it is a necessary step to upgrade applications that are suitable for the container. If you are planning to spin up containers in large quantities, you’ll want to automate the process as much as possible. As a result, it becomes near-compulsory to document your infrastructure and processes. Infrastructure-as-a-code is the standard and necessary within a containerized environment – since a container is defined by its code. We are seeing a lot of experimentation and changes to the architecture of applications, as IT teams test different techniques to build applications. The dividing line between developers and ‘sysadmins’ is shifting as a result.
The software and technology behind containers are still the main organs of IT infrastructure. Containers require a different way of thinking about the structure of a server or cloud environment, the architectures, and how infrastructure scales. Everything is interconnected. It’s also important to know that it may not necessarily be safer and more secure to use containers. Containers do not inherently offer any security benefits or split up functionalities from a security perspective. There are lots of solutions for that issue, of course – but this isn’t about security, but about making applications scalable and ‘dynamic.’
Hype or future: that was the question, wasn’t it?
The concept of ‘containerization’ has been circulating in the IT world since 2013, and I believe it’s only going to grow. The next big question is: what can your company do with it and why?