How Containers Facilitate Cloud-native App Development

June 11 2020
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Although they’re not restricted to running in the cloud, “containers” increasingly pop up in discussions about cloud-native application development. But before getting into the “why,” here’s a brief overview of what containers are.

In simple terms, a container is a standardized package of software. Everything needed for the software to run is inside the container, including the software code, runtime, system tools, system libraries, and settings.

Containers isolate apps’ execution environments from each other, but share the underlying OS kernel. A single OS instance is dynamically divided among one or more isolated containers. Each has a unique writable file system and resource quota. Multiple containers can run on the same machine and share the OS kernel with other containers, each running as isolated processes in user space.

Unlike server or machine virtualization approaches, containers don’t contain OS images. They take up less space than VMs, can handle more apps, and require fewer VMs and OSs.

Lightweight and with significantly less overhead, containers support app portability between all types of infrastructure including public cloud, private cloud, virtualized servers, and bare metal servers. For large app deployments, multiple containers can be deployed as one or more container clusters with the clusters managed by a container orchestrator such as Kubernetes.

Why Use Containers in Cloud App Development

Among the reasons that containers come up in discussions about cloud-native app development is they serve as a great development tool. One of their biggest benefits is the low overhead of creating and destroying them. This makes containers ideal for deploying individual microservices — a key component in cloud-native app development.

Plus, containers work well for creating cloud-native apps that can be deployed and run on different OSs and hardware platforms, including Linux, Windows, and Mac; on VMs or bare metal; on a developer’s machine; in on-premise data centers, as well as on any cloud provider’s environment. This flexibility enables companies to select any cloud provider any time or easily migrate from one provider to another. Costs are optimized and developing a multi-cloud app is simplified.

In addition, containers speed up app development because they support DevOps methodologies that accelerate the build, test, and deployment cycles. They also contribute to more consistent operation. DevOps teams know apps in containers will run the same, regardless of where they’re deployed. Because containers virtualize CPU, memory, storage, and network resources at the OS level, they give developers a sandboxed view of the OS logically isolated from other apps.

Another advantage: containers mitigate downtime. The orchestration of containers provides elastic scaling and recovery if an app or infrastructure component fails. Abstracting away from underlying infrastructure dependencies allows for focusing on higher level software issues rather than constantly patching, configuring, and maintaining OSs.

The benefits of using containers aren’t limited to cloud-native apps. Containerizing traditional apps provides immediate benefits around resource consolidation and simpler patching and maintenance until app modernization investments can be made.

Popular Use Cases for Containers

Given all the benefits of containers, it’s no surprise their use in cloud app development is growing. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2023, 70% of organizations will be running three or more containerized apps in production.

Like the cloud, containers have multiple use cases. Here are just a few of them:

  • Microservices. Containers enable the use of microservices for building complex apps that can have decoupled processes for numerous use cases. The result is much broader data functionality where microservices can work with one another to create entirely new services and apps on the fly.
  • Hybrid applications. Containers facilitate code deployment standardization, making it easy to build workflows for apps that run between on-premises and cloud environments.
  • Cloud migration. Apps can easily be packaged and moved to the cloud without code changes.
  • IoT. Because containers deliver software inside easily deployable portable packages, they’re ideal for installing and updating apps that run on IoT devices—especially those with minimal processing power. Sensor-specific libraries can be bundled with the app in a container, providing app portability across IoT devices.
  • Machine learning. Containers can be used to quickly scale machine learning models for training and inference and run close to data sources on any platform.
  • Batch processing. Batch processing and ETL jobs can be packaged into containers to start jobs quickly and then scaled dynamically in response to demand.
  • Platform as a service. Containers can be used to build platforms that remove the need for developers to manage infrastructure. They can also help standardize how apps are deployed and managed.
  • Server consolidation. Containers don’t have multiple OS memory footprints, but they can share unused memory across instances. That enables them to deliver dense server consolidation possibilities. Server consolidation, in turn, reduces data center footprints, lowers costs, and maximizes server capacity.
  • Multi-tenancy. Containers make multi-tenant apps possible without time-consuming, costly rewrites. As such, it’s possible to run multiple instances of app tiers for each tenant.

How Real Companies Use Containers

At ClearScale, we’ve been using containers for years, even before Docker came on the scene in 2013. They’re among the most important tools we employ for cloud-native app development on behalf of our customers. You can read some of our customer stories at these links:

Of course, containers alone don’t ensure cloud-native app development success. Understanding your organization’s specific business requirements and needs is also instrumental to architecting the optimal solution.

If you’re interested in finding out if containers can help in your app development project, download our eBook Modern Cloud and App Development.

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