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Container-based deployment revitalizes traditional enterprise apps

Many enterprises are embracing containers not just to play nice with cloud-native apps, but because container-based deployment offers a way to modernize legacy applications.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Enterprise IT shops acknowledge the affinity between containers and cloud-native apps, but the more compelling container use cases are to move legacy apps into the 21st century.

Enterprises struggle to make the management of legacy applications conform to modern principles of IT automation, elasticity and portability, such as in the public cloud. And according to enterprise IT pros, container-based deployment could be the only realistic path forward for some apps, to succeed where virtual machines have sometimes fallen short.

For The Northern Trust Company, an investment bank in Austin, Texas, container-based deployment of existing apps means finally a reliable foundation for a hybrid cloud that uses a mix of on-premises data centers and Microsoft Azure.

Whether the company's apps reside in the cloud or on premises, containers allow Northern Trust to operate a multi-tenant infrastructure more effectively.

"Each app no longer has to be given its own world," said Robert Tanner, division manager of enterprise middleware services at the investment bank.

Instead, dependencies and middleware are contained and do not conflict with one another when sharing a host because CPU shares and memory limits can be set at the container level. This means an increase in density and better reliability in the data center infrastructure as well.

Oracle's apps are associated with being enterprise, mission-critical, and traditional. [Oracle apps on Docker] will get people thinking there are probably a lot of other things they can run with Docker.
Gary Chenanalyst, IDC

In fact, containerized apps can be so effectively segmented that Northern Trust already runs mixed clusters of Windows and Linux apps, Tanner said.

Payments company VISA has also begun to containerize legacy apps. Like Northern Trust, it sees improved efficiency from sharing infrastructure divided by time as well as by space -- containers can scale easily to share infrastructure when it's needed rather than needing a constant allocation of infrastructure.

At VISA, the time to provision new apps decreased from hours with VMs to seconds with containers, and downtime for patches and refreshes has been all but eliminated, said Swami Kocherlakota, global head of infrastructure and operations at VISA, in a keynote here at DockerCon this week.

Docker rides app modernization wave

The app modernization trend was among the main themes of this year's DockerCon, and Docker launched a new Modernize Traditional Applications program to encourage and accelerate the containerization of existing enterprise applications.

The new program combines Docker's Enterprise Edition software with its professional services and those from partners such as Avanade, Cisco, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Microsoft. Systems integrator Avanade will offer front-line support for the packages. Microsoft reported its part of the program is already oversubscribed for this quarter, and it hopes to get through 300 engagements in the next 12 months.

The price per engagement for the program ranges from $5,000 to $20,000, depending on whether the customer wants to use public cloud infrastructure or purchase on-premises hardware, said Docker's COO Scott Johnston.

An Oracle exec also made a splash on the keynote stage with the launch of Oracle-certified application images in the Docker Store. Oracle apps that enterprises can obtain as Docker images include its enterprise database, WebLogic middleware, Oracle Linux and Java. Developer and test versions of these apps are available free of charge.

Docker Enterprise Edition and Docker Datacenter also now support IBM z Systems mainframes and Power systems through a similar new partnership with Big Blue.

Finally, Docker rolled out a preview of a new utility called Image2Docker (i2D), which converts VMDK files to container images. In some cases, i2D can automatically detect multiple application services, artifacts and dependencies, and will include them in the migration.

The database question

Oracle's appearance here is more significant than most partnership news among enterprise software companies, said Gary Chen, an analyst at IDC.

"Oracle's apps are associated with being enterprise, mission-critical, and traditional," he said. "The announcement will get people thinking there are probably a lot of other things they can run with Docker."

Still, some enterprises have said the jury is out as to whether databases will be optimal for container-based deployments, especially in production.

ADP's Oracle databases are "too big and beefy" to be moved to containers effectively, said James Ford, chief architect of strategy of the HR software company, during a presentation here. Insurance provider MetLife has moved its MongoDB application to Docker containers, but will evaluate whether it will remain there in the coming months, said its lead solutions engineer Tim Tyler in another session.

This also goes for SQL Server, though the most recent versions of the software and of the Windows OS support container-based deployment of that app, said Taylor Brown, principal lead program manager for Windows Virtualization at Microsoft in an interview this week.

Such databases are the "crown jewels of a customer's environment; they're not going to change it right away," Brown said. The most significant benefits for enterprises with database containers is the test/dev use case, where developers can use a snapshot of a database with sample data to get a more realistic idea of how their apps will interact with the database.

Microsoft IT has yet to containerize SQL Server in its proof of concept project, said senior program manager Rohit Tatachar in a session.

Enterprises will containerize apps in waves, predicted RedMonk analyst Fintan Ryan. Middleware and app logging will go first, while traditional databases stay in place for the near future. Still, both vendors and customers have an interest in containerizing existing apps, including databases.

"Docker now has strategic relationships with IBM, Oracle and Microsoft, and all three can bring Docker into their enterprise accounts," Ryan said. "It demonstrates the overall market direction."

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

Next Steps

Are containers a viable option for an application?

Containers in an app modernization roadmap

How to deploy containers in production

Dig Deeper on Managing Virtual Containers

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