More and more traditional companies are realizing that to compete and grow in a digital world, they must look, think, and act like software companies themselves.McKinsey, 2022
The pressure is on for companies to use software development to differentiate themselves from competitors. As containers are seen by many as the future of software development, this makes understanding containers essential for business transformation.
Research by BCG showed that containers were fast becoming the norm for application development back in 2019, with ‘over 87%’ of enterprise IT survey respondents stating they were already ‘running container technologies.’ Embedding software to improve customer satisfaction, such as by offering personalisation and a seamless, omnichannel experience, requires providing developer teams with an environment in which they can work at optimum levels. This is where containers and orchestration come in.
How do containers and Kubernetes work together?
Containers are packages of software that contain everything necessary for running an app in a portable environment. The advantage of this isolation and portability is that it solves a common developer problem.
Traditionally, code written on a developer’s computer resulted in errors when transferred to a VM or operating system. However, developing within a container means apps can be developed on any device and deployed across any platform or cloud – free of issues.
This frees development teams from spending time resolving errors, allowing them to focus on product development and innovation. Containers also allow development teams to use agile and DevOps practices, meaning apps can be developed much faster, giving organisations a competitive advantage.
As a result of the growing container use, enterprise demand for container orchestration, such as Kubernetes, is increasing. Kubernetes is derived from the Greek, meaning ‘helmsman’. This illustrates how Kubernetes provides a method for organisations to direct the use and scaling of multiple containers in production environments.
Kubernetes can rapidly create, start, and scale a container without knowing anything about the runtime environment or code inside. Designing disposable components is essential so the container orchestration platform can efficiently re-instate containers for availability and introduce new ones for scalability.
Using a container orchestration platform such as Kubernetes ensures that you design disposable components to access these scaling and high-availability benefits.
How do containers differ to VMs?
Containers are similar to VMs (or Virtual Machines) in that they both can be used to create isolated environments for app development and deployment. However, the downside to VMs is their size. Since each virtual machine contains the operating system image, libraries, and software at a hardware level, they can become very large, resulting in maintenance and scalability issues.
Being software-based, containers are much more lightweight and use a fraction of the memory VMs require. Their smaller size also makes it possible to run a larger number of containers in a single server, which reduces maintenance. As containers, (unlike VMs) don’t contain an image of the operating system—they can be started and stopped much more rapidly. This also reduces maintenance. Developers only need to update and patch the underlying operating system, not each individual container.
Why are containers becoming so popular?
Containers offer the potential to do much more than reduce maintenance. They can transform the way organisations develop software applications.
Containers improve operational consistency across environments. Regardless of the functionality used within the container, the way you build, deploy, and upgrade is all accomplished in the same way. As a result, you no longer need to be a specialist to monitor and administer the environment. All this can be managed by a container orchestration platform such as Kubernetes.
A new container image can be provisioned, started up, and scaled in seconds whereas the same process on a VM usually takes days, or even weeks, due to complex procedures around resource allocation.
As there is less code to be built, tested, and deployed with containers this makes the whole build process faster and more straightforward. Containers also enable quick testing which means problems can be identified faster, and fixes executed more quickly.
The standardized format of containers is what makes them portable between servers and container hosts, allowing applications to be written and run anywhere. Since the recent wave of containers is governed by open standards, essentially any container host can push or pull images to and from any container registry. This prevents organisations from being ‘locked in’ to a particular cloud vendor and is foundational to the vision of hybrid and multi-cloud.
Virtual machines require starting an entire operating system before any work can be processed. Containers are started and stopped within a running operating system, allowing them to be created or destroyed in seconds. This structure lends itself to dynamic scalability, making it possible to react to workload changes in real time.
The potential containers offer for rapidly responding to fluctuations in workload also enables enterprises to reduce costs. For example, if a conventional VM were used to accommodate the needs of a customer who was lost, the organisation would have to continue paying for the hardware and space which was no longer required. In contrast, containers can be instantly scaled back to meet current needs. This means organisations only pay for the capacity they need, freeing up a budget which can be allocated for development and innovation.
Containers allow maximum value to be extracted from existing infrastructure. As they don’t duplicate the platform software for every application that’s deployed, this makes it possible to run more applications per server, enabling organisations to run more workload on the same infrastructure.
As containerised apps are isolated this prevents malicious code from spreading to other containers or the host operating system.
Options for using containers and Kubernetes
Organisations can opt to use this technology as a managed service or self-managed for control and flexibility.
Red Hat OpenShift on IBM Cloud: Our managed service recommendation
The Red Hat OpenShift on IBM Cloud managed service was named the leader in The Forrester Wave: Multicloud Container Development Platforms, Q3 2020.
The Red Hat OpenShift on IBM Cloud managed service gives developers a fast and secure way to containerise and deploy enterprise workloads in Kubernetes clusters. As IBM manages the OpenShift Container Platform (OCP) this frees up organisations to focus on their core tasks.
Red Hat OpenShift Platform Plus: Our self-managed recommendation
A self-managed deployment option, Red Hat OpenShift Platform Plus can be installed on-premise, cloud, managed cloud, or at the edge providing consistent user experience, management, and security across hybrid infrastructure.
Red Hat’s self-managed offerings build upon each other to give you the flexibility to choose your level of control and security. Red Hat OpenShift Platform Plus, includes all the features of Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform along with advanced cluster management and security, data management essentials, and an enterprise container registry.
The IDC produced a whitepaper on IDC organizations using Red Hat OpenShift for developing and running business applications. The survey findings include a 636% ROI over five years and the ability to ship almost 3 times more new features.
Still have questions about containers, Kubernetes and what they can do for your business? Get in touch and we’ll answer them for you.