The use of containers is undoubtedly one of the hot topics in the IT industry at the moment. According to predictions from 451 Research, the market is set to grow from $762 million in 2016 to $2.7 billion by 2020 as businesses continue to leverage the performance, cost efficiency and scalability benefits for running applications in the cloud.
The technology may still be in its relative infancy, but its ability to combine the security of traditional virtual machines with speed and flexibility is prompting a wide variety of businesses to take the plunge. Indeed, 42% of respondents in a recent survey said their organisation is already using container technology, while nearly a quarter (23%) are currently exploring the possibility of using containers.
Despite the technology’s growth in popularity, there are still some significant industry challenges that need to be overcome. From re-architecting legacy apps, to a lack of developer experience and ensuring application security, it isn’t all plain sailing.
The promise of container technology, however, is clearly evident, which is why the industry has seen an explosion of start-ups appearing in recent months and years. With a focus on building, managing or providing container services, these start-ups are adding to the plethora of container-based solutions released by virtually all the major cloud providers and vendors.
While this has created an abundance of choice for customers, it has also led to a huge amount of fragmentation, making it a challenge for businesses to fully understand exactly what is right for them and where their money would best be spend within the crowded market.
As a result, a disconnect has also emerged between the interest being shown in containers and actual adoption. Many enterprises are hesitating on making a decision due to security and implementation concerns – both of which are issues that the industry will be keen to solve to encourage more adoption.
Are businesses prepared to take the risk?
Despite the promise of ‘containerisation’ and the potential benefits on offer, the technology is at a stage where many businesses are yet to be fully convinced.
The financial services industry, is a good example of an area that has been quick to embrace containers, but CIOs and IT managers in other sectors are still unsure if the technology is the right option for their business.
It’s still relatively early days of course, so this hesitation is to be expected as any new piece of technology comes with risks. But, looking forward, one way of calming any fears is for the industry to establish best practice guidelines that businesses of all sizes can follow.
This is currently missing from the world of containers, primarily because early adopters are attempting to figure out what best practices should look like as they go along in an effort to get ahead of the competition. The result is that conventional wisdom is continually being challenged as businesses figure out exactly what works for them and what doesn’t.
Of course, many organisations have their own views on what container best practice looks like, but the resulting fragmentation generally raises more questions than answers.
The solution, therefore, is collaboration. By collaborating to provide recommendations for the creation, deployment and usage of containerised applications, vendors and customers can consolidate their experiences and help the industry to develop.
Not only will this provide businesses with confidence in their deployments, it will also encourage them to try new things and come up with innovative solutions to traditional business problems.
Greater standardisation will encourage adoption
As with any emerging technology, fostering greater standardisation across the industry is key to kickstarting adoption and taking it mainstream.
Traditionally, a lack of standards has held back technology from progressing. Without having common building blocks that the whole industry must adhere to, businesses can’t be sure that the technology will work in the way they expect it to.
Once most of the industry agrees on a certain base standard, technology tends to take off. Businesses get a clearer path along which to travel and can be sure that the fundamental aspects of the technology will work in the same way, regardless of the vendor that built it.
The world of containers is no exception. By creating a standard way to build and manage container technology, all customers get access to a similar set of basic services that they can be sure will meet their performance expectations and be worth the investment.
They can then pick solutions from specific vendors, whether that be Canonical, Google, Microsoft or anyone else, based on their specific business needs.
Various industry bodies are already in place to help shape the future of the industry, with the Open Container Initiative (OCI) and the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) being two of the biggest organisations seeking to tackle complex business and technology problems through open source collaboration.
The OCI, for example, was established in 2015 with the aim of creating open industry standards around container formats and runtime, while the CNCF boasts 138 members after less than two years of activity - including the world’s six largest public cloud providers – and is continuing to grow at a significant rate.
It should be noted that several standards have already emerged, highlighting just how keen people are to get involved with the container hype. The likes of the OCI Runtime Specification, the Kubernetes Container Runtime Initiative and the Docker Container Network Model are some of the most prominent and are all helping the industry to develop.
So, progress is certainly being made, but we are still very much in the early stages. More needs to be done if the true promise of containers is to be realised. The adoption of common standards and best practices will not only serve to guide the container community, it will also help businesses protect their investment and provide a more level playing field for vendors and customers.
Finally, it will also significantly increase the level of technological innovation within the industry, helping the rapidly-expanding world of containers evolve from the chaos we see today, to mainstream enterprise adoption.
Marco Ceppi, Ubuntu Product & Strategy Team, Canonical
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