Containers: has their ship come in?

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This article appeared in the March 2015 issue of CRN magazine.

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Containers: has their ship come in?
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Who isn’t tired of the word ‘cloud’? Not only is the noun repeated ad nauseam, the concept itself is equally derided.

“A lot of sceptics of cloud say it is ‘glorified hosting’, ” says Andrew Sjoquist, founder and chief executive of ASE IT.

But Sjoquist’s Sydney-based company is just one local provider seeking to get an early advantage with an emerging technology that offers something truly unique, something traditional hosting could never offer: containers.

While virtual machines, or hypervisors, have ruled computing for the last decade, virtualisation at the operating system-level – containers – has hit the headlines more recently. Advocates say containers promise the next level of efficiency, density and portability.

Containers – also known as jails – describe self-contained slices of the operating system, each dedicated to a particular application. The independence of the containers allows many applications to run on the same machine without clashing with each other.

Operating system-level virtualisation was first born as the ‘chroot’ command in Unix, although modern container technology provided by third party vendors are now packed with so many bells and whistles that they’re almost unrecognisable as descendants of the indigenous Unix functionality. 

Thanks to this history, modern containerisation is strongly associated with delivering web applications through Linux, although other operating systems are trying to catch up (see "Containerisation on Windows" below). 

By only provisioning OS resources that the application needs, and leaving out ones that it doesn’t, containers have far less overhead than running whole virtual machines on the same hardware. More things can run on the same underlying kit.

This efficiency appealed to ASE IT. In December, the company launched a containerisation offering in conjunction with vendor Volt Grid.

“We’ve always been focused on emerging trends and technologies, particularly around efficiencies,” says Sjoquist. 

“The efficiency gain we’ve had from virtualisation of hardware has been great. But now we hear from customers that even their VMs are now getting under-utilised. There is a lot VM sprawl that happens out there. It’s so easy to get a VM up and running these days.”

With containers, you don’t need to spend precious resources getting an entire operating system up and running “from the ground up”, says Sjoquist. “It’s all about getting better bang for their buck on their cloud infrastructure.”

The ability to provide customers more for less should grab the attention of any IT solution provider looking for that business edge. 

Next: VMs vs containerisation

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