IT is under immense pressure to improve the agility of its service delivery to business & end customers. IT is also under significant pressure to deliver new functionality to the lines of business which empower and accelerate business growth. Businesses are on the quest to transform digitally. This is leading to them demanding applications with immediacy and high frequency.
A significant demand impacting IT is the pressure of deploying new code or enhanced application code to aid the demands of digital transformation.
Behind the scenes and under the application layer, the problem is more complex. It is further amplified by challenges of computing infrastructure. Challenges such as how long does it take to provide a platform to the software development team, Or, how complicated is it to build a test system which emulates the production environment adequately.
This is where containers come in.
What are containers?
Containers are lightweight software components. They offer a logical packaging mechanism in which applications are abstracted from the environment in which they run. The decoupling allows container-based applications to be deployed with ease and consistency. Whether the target environment is a private data centre, the public cloud, or a laptop, containers allow for the same ease of deployment.
Containerisation also helps provides a clear separation of focus. Developers focus on application logic and associated dependencies. IT Operations focus on deployment and management with little to no regard for application details such as software versions and application configuration.
For those who are well versed with virtualisation environments, the parallels between containers and virtual machines (VMs) are often drawn. Like VMs, containers allow you to package your application together with libraries and other dependencies. This helps provide isolated environments for running software services. However, containers are a more lightweight unit for developers and IT Ops teams to work with, carrying a myriad of other benefits.
Containers help bundle the application, the associated dependencies and the configuration on to a single image. Containers run in isolated user environments on a traditional operating system on a traditional server or in a virtualised environment. In effect, they are a lightweight virtualisation architecture that allows you to deploy individual applications, even, complete operating systems, inside portable, isolated environments.
Containers share system resources with the host server rather than emulating a virtual operating system. This makes them more efficient than virtual machines.
Containers isolate an application from the external host environment. This enables frictionless application deployment. The keyword here is ‘isolated’. Isolation relates to speed. Containers are smaller entities. As such, they can be deployed much faster. Isolation also relates to responsiveness. Start-up times for containers are short. Isolation also relates to versatility. Containers are highly portable between different platforms and different cloud vendors.
Containerisation allows you to move containerised applications relatively easily between hosts.
Why are containers important?
The concept of ‘Containerisation’ is a recent development in cloud computing.
Instead of virtualising the hardware stack (which is the approach of virtual machines), containers virtualise at the operating system level. Multiple containers can run above the OS kernel directly.
Containers are far more lightweight: they start fast, they share the OS kernel, they use a fraction of the memory compared to booting an entire OS.
Many organisations are looking at containers as a means to improve application life-cycle management through capabilities such as continuous integration and continuous delivery.
Containers form the foundation of private clouds. Private clouds have rapidly become the platform of choice to consume multiple cloud services in a controlled and secure manner. This is typical of situations where organisations are running both existing application workloads and new application workloads in the cloud.
Containers help satisfy three key use cases that enterprises require to run their applications in the cloud:
Modernise your existing applications.
Create new cloud-native enterprise applications.
Open your data centre to work with cloud services.
What are the advantages of containers?
Easier Deployment and Configuration
One of the key benefits of leveraging containers is that they help simplify and speed up the process of deployment and configuration. A container very easy to deploy behind a firewall, or in cloud environments, or built on a laptop, or launched into a web farm.
As easy as containers are to deploy, destroying containers too is also relatively effortless. This too is a huge advantage of containers.
For example: When an organisation launches a product, service or campaign and cannot estimate the size of the traffic the launch will create, containers provide the flexibility to handle the growing traffic. Containers can also be destroyed to reduce your cost in your cloud environment.
Containerisation also allows the running of any platform with its own configuration on top of the infrastructure without the overhead of a virtual machine (VM). For instance, you can run the same Docker configuration in a variety of environments. You can then run your applications across multiple IaaS/PaaS environments. This dissociates infrastructure requirements from your application environment.
Containerisation allows you to scale a specific desired function without impacting the entire application.
By increasing the number of containers, you can increase scalability in seconds, without the need to add more servers.
Software delivery is a complex process that involves several steps. There are various phases in software development; from designing the application, to writing the code, to testing, to finally delivering the app to users.
Containers ease the overall software development process from development through to production by providing a consistent test environment. This allows developers to place the application inside an easily portable container. This environment is abstracted from the host system, which enables developers to achieve zero change in application runtime environments through production.
Containers allow developers to achieve higher degrees of efficiency in software delivery. They also allow the saving of time and resources by reducing or eliminating many challenges associated with traditional virtualisation.
Containers allow the dev environment to be fast. They help provide a fast feedback loop, where developers can alter the source code from the platforms they want to use (Windows, Mac or Linux) and they can track the changes instantly as the applications run using the same source code. This also allows other team members to use the full application set up easily and work on their job areas without the installation troubles getting in the way.
Application isolation provides developers with what they need to deploy. There are several benefits of running multiple applications on the same machine; increasing productivity, server consolidation, reduced costs etc.
Application isolation also improves security by setting apart each of an application’s major processes into a separate container. For instance, if you outsource application development, containers allow you to share only those resources that you are OK to share, without risking your internal or external security.
Needless to say, the advantages of containerisation- flexibility, agility, ease of deployment and greater developer experience- became very clear in both test and development environments. And even organisations that don’t conduct in-house development can take advantage of the benefits of containerisation. When this is the case, it is not a surprise to see the big players continuously investing this (one of the fastest-growing) technology and organisations will definitely experience new use cases.
PolarSeven is an Advanced AWS Consulting Partner with DevOps competency. We help you make the right infrastructure choices for your application, provide the know-how to design and deploy it, and offer flexible managed services to keep it optimised. If you would like to learn more about how we can help your organisation leverage containers, contact us today.