Unleashing the Full Potential of Containerization for DevOps, and Avoiding First-Time Pitfalls

A powerful tool for simplifying DevOps is containerization, which delivers a convenient form of application packaging, combined with the opportunity to automate certain IT provisioning processes. With containerization, DevOps teams can focus on their priorities – the Ops team preparing containers with all needed dependencies and configurations; and the Dev team focusing on efficient coding of an application that can be easily deployed.

This automation can be achieved through PaaS or CaaS solutions, which offer additional benefits including eliminating human errors, accelerating time to market and more efficient resource utilization. Other important benefits of containerization are:

  • Container-based virtualization guarantees the highest application density and maximum utilization of server resources compared to virtual machines.
  • Considering advanced isolation of system containers, different types of applications can be run on the same hardware node leading to a reduction of TCO.
  • Resources that are not consumed within container boundaries are automatically shared with other containers running on the same hardware node.
  • Automatic vertical scaling of containers optimizes memory and CPU usage based on the current load, and no restart is needed to change the resource limits compared to VM scaling.

Unleashing the potential of containerization for DevOps requires careful attention to several challenges, however, especially for first-time adopters.

Realizing Project Needs 

At the early stages, DevOps teams must analyze the current state of their projects and decide what is required to move to containers, in order to realize long-term, ongoing benefits.

For optimal architecture the right type of container must be selected. There are two types:

  • an application container (Docker containers) runs as little as a single process
  • a system container (LXC, OpenVZ) behaves like a full OS and can run full-featured unit systems like systemd, SysVinit, openrc that allow it to spawn other processes like openssh, crond, syslogd together inside a single container

For new projects, application containers are typically more appropriate, as it is relatively easy to create the necessary images using publicly available Docker templates taking into account specific requirements of microservice patterns and modern immutable infrastructure design.

It is a common misconception that containers are good only for greenfield applications (microservices and cloud-native). They can indeed breathe new life into legacy applications, with just a bit of extra work at the initial phase while migrating from VMs.

For monolithic and legacy applications it is preferable to use system containers, so organizations can reuse architecture and configurations that were implemented in the original VM-based design.

Future-Proofing Containerization Strategy

After determining what the project requires today, it is best to think about the future and understand where technology is heading. With project growth, complexity will increase, so a platform for orchestration and automation of the main processes will most likely be needed.

Management of containerized environments is complex and dense, and PaaS solutions help developers concentrate on coding. There are many options when it comes to container orchestration platforms and services. Figuring out which one is best for a particular organization’s needs and applications can be a challenge, especially when needs are frequently changing.

Here are several points that should be considered when choosing a platform for containerization:

  • Flexibility. It is paramount to have a platform with a sufficient level of automation, which can be easily adjusted depending on variable requirements.
  • Level of Lock-In. PaaS solutions are often proprietary and therefore can lock you into one vendor or infrastructure provider.
  • Freedom to Innovate. The platform should offer a wide set of built-in tools, as well as possibilities to integrate third-party technologies in order not to constrain developers’ ability to innovate.
  • Supported Cloud Options. When using containerization in the cloud it is also important that your strategy supports public, private and hybrid cloud deployments, as needs can change eventually.
  • Pricing Model. When you choose a specific platform, it is typically a long-term commitment. So it is important to consider what pricing model is offered. Many public cloud platforms offer VM-based licensing, which may not be efficient when you’ve already migrated to containers, which can be charged only for real usage, not for the reserved limits.

Which platform you choose can significantly influence your business success, so the selection process should be carefully considered.

Expertise

Successful adoption of containers is not a trivial task. Managing them requires a different process and knowledge base, compared with virtual machines. The difference is significant, and many tricks and best practices with VM lifecycle management cannot be applied to containers. Ops teams need to educate themselves on this to avoid costly missteps.

The traditional operations skill set is obsolete when it comes to efficient containerization in the cloud. Cloud providers now mainly deliver management of infrastructure hardware and networks, and Ops teams are requested to make software deployment automation by scripting and using container-oriented tools.

Systems integrators and consulting companies can provide their expertise and maximize the benefits of containers. But if you want an in-house team to manage the whole process, it’s time to start building your own expertise –  hire experienced DevOps professionals, learn best practices, and create a new knowledge base.

Investing Time and Effort

Don’t expect to get containerized structure instantly. Some up-front time must be invested, especially if your architecture needs to be restructured to run microservices. To migrate from VMs for example, monolith applications should be decomposed into small logical pieces distributed among a set of interconnected containers. This requires specific knowledge to accomplish successfully.

In addition, for large organizations, it can be vital to select a solution that handles heterogeneous types of workloads using VMs and containers within one platform, because enterprise-wide container adoption can be a gradual process.

Security Concerns

Containerized environments are extremely dynamic, with the ability to change much more quickly than environments in VMs. This agility is a huge container benefit, but it can also be a challenge to achieve the appropriate level of security, while simultaneously enabling the required quick and easy access for developers.

A set of security risks should be considered with containerization:

  • Basic container technology doesn’t easily deal with interservice authentication, network configurations, partitions, and other concerns regarding network security when calling internal components inside a microservice application.
  • Using publicly available container templates packaged by untrusted or unknown third parties is risky. Vulnerabilities can be intentionally or unintentionally added to this type of container.

Traditional security approaches should be complemented with continuously enhancing strategies to keep pace with today’s dynamic IT environment. A key point here is that a wide choice of tools and orchestration platforms continues to evolve. They offer certified, proven templates, help to secure containers and ease the configuration process.

The IT market now offers a wide choice of solutions for container orchestration, making adoption easier, but skilled hands are required so the benefits can be fully leveraged and unexpected consequences avoided.

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This article was originally published at DEVOPSdigest.

Now when you have a closer insight on how containerization is crucial for DevOps, what challenges can be faced, and how to overcome them, it is time to get a closer look to the Jelastic PaaS that can become a helping hand during this evolutionary shift.

Next Frontier of Business Innovation – What do PaaS and DevOps have to offer?

Introduction

The cloud has changed expectations. Your customers expect more. Your business expects more. The pace of change has never been so fast and will never again be this slow.

Thousands of companies have adopted Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and successfully leveraged the flexibility to dramatically improve speed to market and scalability whilst controlling costs. Not only this, IaaS has enabled IT departments to reshape and repurpose their workforces and focus on innovating and developing new applications and services to business.

However, most of the benefits of IaaS accrue to operations and infrastructure, not application development. As more companies realise that application innovation needs to move faster than ever before, the focus is shifting from infrastructure cost savings to how to make application development more productive.

Enter Platform as a Service (PaaS) and DevOps.

PaaS & DevOps

PaaS is a class of cloud computing service that provides a platform to develop, deploy and run applications without the cost and complexity of deploying and managing the required infrastructure, middleware (e.g. web servers, application frameworks) or database systems. However, PaaS offers much more than just a carbon-copy of on-premise software and in recent years there has been a proliferation of web, mobile, integration and data related platform services (PaaS).

By leveraging these pre-built services, automating environment provisioning, development and deployment processes, and increasing collaboration between the various stakeholders, PaaS amplifies development productivity and agility, accelerating application innovation and time to market.

Many of these PaaS qualities are aligned with DevOps practices and for this reason, PaaS is often seen as an enabler for DevOps.

The Next Frontier of Business Innovation

Many businesses understand that custom applications serve as a critical aspect of competitive differentiation and that these are the next frontier of business innovation. Moreover, as businesses demand innovation at an ever-increasing digital speed, applications must be created in timescales of days and weeks rather than months and years.

Thus, many organisations are increasingly turning to PaaS & DevOps to meet the demands of this new frontier, at digital speed.

 

About the Author

Nick Rumble is a Technical Solution Architect at Instrumentum and helps leading software vendors and businesses to migrate their products, applications, tooling and processes to new platforms and technologies, giving them competitive advantage and the tools to scale up their businesses. Contact Nick here to discuss your application modernisation or migration requirements.

PaaS: 3 Critical Issues to Consider

The U.S. Office of Naval Research is testing a cloud-based platform that captures GPS data from cell phones in real-time and creates animations that can show movement of equipment and personnel. It’s the kind of application that would be prohibitively expensive to build without a cloud platform, but it’s a reality thanks to Microsoft’s Azure cloud and a set of powerful platform-as-a-service (PaaS) development tools.

PaaS enables developers to build applications that are specifically meant to run in the cloud. All major cloud infrastructure providers have their own PaaS suites, and so do many software-as-a-service vendors. A PaaS suite is usually tightly bound to a particular cloud platform, delivering a productivity boost for building, testing and deploying applications. PaaS can also provide middleware services for integrating multiple cloud applications and even bridging public and private clouds. Network World has an excellent description of PaaS here.
Selecting a PaaS isn’t just a shiny new toy for developers, however. Because PaaS can significantly impact application performance, availability and flexibility, anyone involved in administering or customizing a cloud deployment should have a hand in the decision to deploy PaaS. Here are three critical issues to consider.

Open or proprietary? PaaS is typically designed to work best on each provider’s own cloud platform. The benefit of this is that customers can expect to wring the most value out of the service. The risk is that the customizations or applications developed in one vendor’s cloud environment won’t necessarily migrate easily to another.

Many customers will be fine with being tied to a single supplier, but if you want to keep your options open, ask your cloud provider which open standards, development languages and APIs it supports. There are also open-source options. The most popular is Cloud Foundry, which was developed by Pivotal Software and supported or remarketed by many other cloud vendors. For example, Microsoft supports Cloud Foundry as an option on its Azure IaaS platform.

Open-source PaaS gives you flexibility by exposing the underlying code and the ability to install the PaaS suite on any infrastructure you choose. However, not all IaaS vendors support these platforms natively, so ask yourself whether you want to do the heavy lifting necessary to install and maintain them.

The trade-off of using an open source PaaS is that you lose some of the benefits of tight platform integration. If functionality trumps portability on your priority list, then opt for the best-of-breed solution for whatever platform you chose. If you want to hedge your bets, then consider an open-source option, being aware that you may sacrifice some features in the process.

Software compatibility. Most enterprises standardize on a limited set of programming languages, architectural frameworks and databases. Make sure that the infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) vendor you choose supports these same technologies. If you are strongly committed to a .NET architecture, for example, then you should select a provider with native .NET support. Similarly, database support is critical to performance and scalability.

Native support is important because the point of using cloud infrastructure is to minimize complexity. You don’t want to cancel out those benefits by assuming the burden of installing and administering platforms.

Support availability and cost. Using a cloud provider’s proprietary PaaS is like learning a new programming language. It encompasses a learning curve and the need for ongoing support. If the provider’s solution is to point you to a library of manuals and FAQs, that may not be enough for you.

On the other hand, customized support can be expensive, so know going in what kind of handholding you’ll need, when it’s available and how much it costs. This is a good time to consult other customers to hear about their own experiences.

PaaS can take much of the guesswork out of provisioning and load-balancing applications, which enables your developers to focus on building great cloud-ready applications. PaaS should be part of the ongoing discussion as your company’s cloud-based strategy evolves.