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Containerization technology market emerges for channel partners

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Container adoption: Startup, enterprise giant tap partners

Startup MadHive and Yahoo Japan may not share much in common, but both hired channel partners to take on container tasks such as linking Kubernetes and OpenStack.

As businesses embrace container adoption, opportunities arise for channel partners.

Since container technology is new, few firms have significant experience with it and need help in understanding how to deploy it. MadHive , an 18-month-old startup based in New York, represents one typical profile of a container user. The enterprise is developing services using blockchain technology to help advertising companies better track the performance of their services while maintaining a high degree of privacy for their clients.

Being a startup enabled the company to build its services on modern technology, and the potential benefits that containers offer were quite appealing, according to Aaron Brown, vice president of engineering at MadHive.

Classic applications have a centralized focus, with much of the software running on central data center servers. Blockchain has a distributed design, and much of its computing is done on dispersed servers. In building out its services, MadHive chose Google Cloud Platform services, Docker containers and Kubernetes as its management function.

As MadHive began to build its solutions, the startup ran into a few scaling problems.

"We work with extremely large data sets and experienced delays accessing information in our big data databases," Brown said.

The firm analyzes a lot of video streaming information. A client, for instance, may run an advertisement during a new Amazon Prime episode and want to track how well its ad performed. The company found that Kubernetes was not able to process such requests quickly enough.

MadHive turned to Google for help and was referred to SADA Systems Inc., a Google partner and cloud solutions and managed services provider based in Los Angeles. SADA engineers tweaked the applications and eliminated the problems. The startup is now running its applications based on Docker containers and delivering its services via the cloud.

Container adoption: Uniting Kubernetes and OpenStack

MadHive represents one type of container user: a technology-driven startup without legacy systems. Yahoo Japan Corp. represents the other end of the container adoption spectrum. The $9 billion firm operates 10 data centers with 85,000 servers and rolls out new services at extremely high scale. Two years ago, the company decided to move to a new computing architecture, one based on microservices and containers.

While the change had the potential to simplify and speed up application development, the company faced challenges making the switch. Specifically, Yahoo Japan encountered a problem as it tried to connect Kubernetes and OpenStack containers. The company needed to integrate management functions of its existing OpenStack code to Kubernetes. The integration building blocks were largely missing .

My sense is about one-quarter to one-third of businesses have started deploying containers.
Jay Lymanprincipal analyst, 451 Research

Against that backdrop, Yahoo Japan found Heptio, a startup formed in November of 2016. Heptio provides training, support and professional services for businesses that need to integrate Kubernetes into enterprise IT solutions. The résumés of Heptio's founders were most impressive, according to Norifumi Matsuya, CEO and president of Actapio, a Yahoo Japan subsidiary. Formerly Google employees, co-founder and CEO Craig McLuckie and co-founder and CTO Joe Beda were two of the three engineers behind the original Kubernetes project. Also, the firm is backed by Accel and Madrona Venture Group and has raised more than $30 million in venture capital.

The two companies commercialized their work. In April 2018, Actapio and Heptio announced Gimbal, an open source solution that unifies network traffic in hybrid Kubernetes and OpenStack clusters.

The early adopter stage

Channel partners may find growing customer interest in container technology (see " Containers: Growth potential for the channel"), but actual usage is currently limited.

"My sense is about one-quarter to one-third of businesses have started deploying containers," said Jay Lyman, principal analyst at 451 Research. Many projects are currently in test rather than production mode. As noted, the typical customer is either a technology-focused startup or a very large enterprise; few medium and small organizations now use containers.

Why is container adoption so constricted? Building applications is complicated, and containers are an ecosystem with many missing pieces. A bare-bones set of standards has started to take shape, however.

"Docker lit the match for containers and created a lot of excitement around common developer formats and runtime modules," said Dennis Smith, a research vice president at Gartner. Prior to Docker addressing the technology, container technology was something relegated to the expertise of senior system administrators; now, application developers can deploy containers.

Containers: Growth potential for the channel

Interest in container technology is growing for good reasons. Containers offer businesses the potential to release software updates faster, improve application development and lower costs. All of these features fit well with the current emphasis on digital transformation. Increasingly, companies are trying to use technology to differentiate their services. As a result, they want to release software more frequently, and containers offer them that potential.

The term containers is an apt analogy, according to Smith. Before shipping containers were standardized, manufacturers had to determine how much space items such as 1,000 bicycles would take up on a ship and then package those items accordingly. Now, standard container sizes eliminate that work.

Software containers provide developers with similar benefits. Enterprises want to release software more rapidly, but applications are becoming larger and more complex. If organizations depended on tried-and-true methods, development times would lag as applications became more complicated.

Containers provide developers with more consistent development frameworks.

"Containers create an abstraction layer that defines software dependencies and interdependencies, so it becomes easier to build, debug and maintain applications," MadHive's Brown explained. Developers break applications into separate parts, connect them more simply, view them more holistically and manage them more easily. Another plus is this design meshes well with the cloud, where programs rely on a modular design and are able to mix and match components.

As a result, the market for containers is growing rapidly. 451 Research pegged worldwide revenue at $1.1 billion in 2017 and expects that number to reach $1.5 billion in 2018 and $2 billion in 2019, a 34.8% compound annual growth rate.

Holes in the technology

That said, plenty of holes remain in the technology. Containers lack mature security features, monitoring tools and database support.

Security is always a concern with new applications, and that is the case with containers. Traditional security tools were designed to run on virtual machines, but containers have a different design. "Containers introduce new processes and tooling, so the security features now available are not as robust as the tools found with virtual machines," 451's Lyman said.

Management is another area with holes. Logging and monitoring are different with containers than they were with traditional systems. The entry and exit points found with legacy systems are not as rigid, so tracking how information flows becomes more complicated. If a problem arises, companies spend a lot of time troubleshooting the source. And there's also the issue of connecting legacy containers into emerging management environments, as was the case for Yahoo Japan and its need to link Kubernetes and OpenStack.

On the plus side, some progress has been made in this area. "A year ago, there was not a clear management framework for containers," Smith noted. "Moving forward, it is apparent that Kubernetes will be one -- if not the one -- of the widely deployed tools."

Performance issues arise with various applications. "Companies are still trying to work through challenges in areas like data persistence and support for different types of database management systems," Lyman said.

Filling the gaps

Because containers have tremendous potential, a bevy of startups and established vendors have been trying to bridge the gaps, but their work is in an early stage of development. The relative newness of containers is one reason why so many shortcomings exist. "Virtual machine ecosystem development has been underway for decades. Containers gained traction only during the past few years," Smith said.

Channel partners are unable to speed up the maturation process, so how should their customers proceed? "Businesses should start ... small with simple, new applications, like mobile and web applications," Lyman recommended. "Right now, tying legacy systems to containers is tough."

Enterprises should be at least looking at containers, because the new technology provides organizations with a competitive advantage. The devil in the details is deploying new technology at the appropriate time. If organizations adopt it too early or too late, they gain little, according to Actapio's Matsuya.

Channeling Goldilocks, partner companies must work with their customers to ensure that they embark on container adoption when the time is just right. At the moment, the time is right for large firms and greenfield operations. Eventually, containers will migrate downstream to small and medium-sized businesses.

This was last published in May 2018

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