Bringing containers and clouds together

Deloitte on Cloud Blog

It’s hard to blame anyone for the platform lock-in that afflicts cloud computing. Heavy demand for public and private cloud services, including software as a service (SaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS) deployments, has long kept portability on the backburner for platform providers. Things are heating up, though, in containers.

June 26, 2018

A blog post by David Linthicum, managing director, chief cloud strategy officer, Deloitte Consulting LLP

An old approach finding new uses, containers, together with container cluster managers, such as Google’s Kubernetes, offer a common abstraction layer. Applications can be localized within a container and then ported to other public and private cloud providers that support the container standard.

Containers also offer efficiencies in creating cloud-to-cloud-transportable workload bundles. Virtualization is proving to be a cumbersome approach to workload migration in many cases. Meanwhile, containers offer a foundation for moving workloads around hybrid clouds and multiclouds with little need to alter the application.

Among the potential benefits of containers are:

  • Reduced complexity through container abstractions
  • Increased portability through use of automation with containers
  • Improved security and governance with services placed around instead of inside containers
  • Expanded distributed computing capabilities; applications residing in containers can be divided into many separate domains
  • Provision of automation services with policy-based optimization and self-configuration

Portability is the main draw of containers at the moment. In the future, they will likely offer diverse forms of value, whether deployed in the cloud or not.

Getting from here to there

While the use of containers in cloud environments is expanding, persistence and effort will be needed to realize their potential. For starters, the types of automation required are beyond the capabilities of today’s automation and orchestration technology. Machine instances, and even containers, can certainly be managed using basic policy and scripting approaches. However, more work is needed to enable movement of containers from cloud to cloud using policy-driven automation, including auto-configuration and auto-localization.

Complexity looms, too. Denser, more distributed architectures could emerge from the use of containers for platform abstraction. Applications may reside in hundreds of containers running on disparate cloud models and brands.

The increased exposure to operational issues caused by this complexity may point to containers as a more effective approach to building cloud applications. While platform as a service (PaaS) and IaaS clouds are still likely to provide platform foundations and development capabilities, commoditization of these services may transform them into container hosts. Large providers may consider assuming that role given their expressed interest in containers.

Uncontained potential?

How should the many organizations already neck deep in cloud migration view the use of containers? Should they redirect resources toward the vision of application hosting on cloud-based platforms?

Containers provide a long-sought tool: A standard application architecture that offers both managed distribution and service orientation. Look for them to proliferate as cloud application architectures improve using approaches that account for both automation and portability.

It’s early in the container journey, and much is yet to be revealed about their potential and limitations. We know from the past that while standards are important, the quest for market share can lead vendors and providers to pursue proprietary aims. Doing so with containers could cripple realization of their potential.

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