Assessing the impact of containers on IT operations

Posted by Mike Vizard on Nov 19, 2015 10:10:34 AM

Docker containersArguably one of the most transformative technologies to come down the pike this decade has been the rapid rise of container adoption—most notably in the form of Docker containers. The shift toward relying on containers as a means of isolating developers from the vagaries of underlying physical and virtual infrastructure is clearly a major IT phenomenon.

The flexibility that Docker containers provide developers is now generally appreciated, but the impact that containers will have on IT operations as more applications built using containers move into production is not.

Server utilization

The first thing IT services providers need to appreciate is the effect containers will have on server utilization rates once they move into production. Even in an age where virtual machines are common place, utilization rates of x86 servers is still fairly low. But, IT services providers should soon expect to see hundreds of containers running on a given server.

For example, Datadog, a provider of IT monitoring software in the cloud, reports that as of last month the servers its software monitors for 7,000 customers have an average of four containers running simultaneously on each server at any given time.

Overall, Datadog reports that containers now run 6 percent of the hosts that Datadog monitors. But Datadog also notes that within five months of adopting containers organizations on average triple the number of containers they have deployed.

Moving into production

While most of those containers are being used within the context of application development and testing, a separate survey of 138 IT professionals, conducted by O'Reilly Media on behalf of Ruxit, finds that 40 percent have already deployed at least one Docker application in production.

In the long run, Docker will lead to more applications than ever being deployed more rapidly. That should increase consumption of IT infrastructure considerably. But in the meantime, IT services providers should expect to see more efficient consumption of existing IT infrastructure resources, which is likely to slow down IT infrastructure upgrades in the near term.

Increasing complexity

Of course, the biggest issue facing IT organizations is how they will manage and govern all these containers. Most containers today are being deployed on top of virtual machines because the tooling to manage and secure virtual machines inside the enterprise already exists. But, as Docker management technologies such as the Docker Universal Control Plane, which was unveiled at the DockerCon Europe 2015 conference this week, mature, more containers will be deployed directly on top of bare metal servers.

That doesn’t mean virtual machines are going away. Instead, IT service providers will be asked to manage virtual machines, containers running on virtual machines, and containers running on bare metal servers. Most containers are currently deployed on one of those platforms running in a cloud service, but it’s only a matter of time before they're deployed on premise. For IT service providers that means the IT environment as a whole will get more complex, which should result in increased demand for external expertise to manage it all.

Right now, most IT services providers have limited experience managing containers because the majority of them are being used within the context of application development projects. But as those applications start to move into production in larger numbers in the months ahead, IT service providers will find the IT environment they are being asked to manage utterly changed.

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Photo Credit: Steve Gibson via Flickr.com. Used under CC 2.0 License.

Topics: IT Services Trends

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