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Should we go with an open source or commercial option? What about DevOps? These 10 essential tips explain how containers fit into complex modern IT environments.

No IT admin made it through 2018 without a conversation about containers and Kubernetes, but despite the already huge market of this ever-changing technology, container adoption is still just getting started.

Enterprises today only run container software on about 5% of their multi-tenant servers, according to research firm IHS Markit. It predicts the number will rise to 14% by 2022. Enterprise IT organizations must focus their near-term planning for 2019 on containers and Kubernetes, or potentially on a competing orchestration and management tool.

Enterprise container users won't follow in the footsteps of the early adopter hyperscale cloud service providers, which have about one-third of multi-tenant servers containerized and are on track to be majority containerized (55%) in 2022. Cloud service providers manage containers in-house with open source software, said Vladimir Galabov, analyst at IHS Markit. In contrast, enterprises favor commercially supported software, and demand that these tools integrate Kubernetes into product suites. The commercial container software market is maturing, as evidenced in acquisitions and partnerships, Galabov said.

Red Hat picked up CoreOS to start 2018 with a container-tech consolidation, then became the subject of a major acquisition itself as the year drew to a close. VMware bought Heptio to bolster its Pivotal Kubernetes Service, adding IP around conformance and networking controls, among other areas. New Relic picked up CoScale for its Kubernetes monitoring capabilities. Not every industry shift came from acquisition: In a trend that started in 2017, Docker and Mesosphere worked with, rather than against, Kubernetes.

Whether your organization chooses an open source container platform or a commercial offering, you should understand how containers and Kubernetes work. You should be well-versed in available cloud container offerings, deployment considerations and more. Check out these 10 popular expert tips from 2018 before you make plans for 2019 and beyond.

1. The basics of container technology

 Containers run applications in isolation atop a shared OS, which does not require a VM for portability or management consistency. Containers offer low overhead and fast provisioning compared to VMs, which suits the hosting environment needs of distributed applications. IT consultant Clive Longbottom explains how containers work, and how they differ from VMs.

2. Could unikernels coexist with containers?

Containers aren't just an alternative to VMs. They're also a hosting option to consider alongside unikernels. The unikernel is a technology that uses only specific pieces of an operating system to run an application and abandons the other components typical of general-purpose OSes. While containers are the more mainstream deployment option when app hosting resources are in short supply, writer Alan Earls found that unikernels have a foothold in one growing sector.

3. Orchestration for complex container deployments

"More containers deploy via a combination of Docker and Kubernetes than do via Docker alone," IT consultant Tom Nolle said. He explains why in this look at container orchestration and complex, heterogeneous, cloud- and data-center-based IT environments. If you know you'll need an orchestrator but aren't sure whether to manage it in-house, check out Nolle's appraisal of the orchestration options.

4. Kubernetes choices for enterprise container users

Kubernetes is an open source container management platform that orchestrates which containers run, on which resources, and to what scale. Because it's open source, it's free for anyone to use. But that might not be the best approach for enterprise IT shops. Senior technology editor Stephen J. Bigelow looks into the true cost of Kubernetes.

5. What you get from Kubernetes vendors

IT leaders who plan to adopt containers and Kubernetes that have some degree of software support should understand the benefits of paying for container management -- and be able to articulate those benefits in a budget review. Review Longbottom's list of commercial Kubernetes offerings and apply his assessment of their selling points for planning decisions.

6. Top cloud options for containers and Kubernetes

AWS boasts a well-developed range of cloud services for users, but Google originally created Kubernetes, and has the longest experience with the container orchestrator. With native Kubernetes available on AWS, analyst Kurt Marko examines how container deployments differ on these two major cloud platforms.

7. Azure Container Instances typifies emerging cloud container trend

Alongside AWS and Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure is a top cloud container provider. Azure Container Instances insulates the user from the underlying infrastructure, Marko explains, in this deep dive into Azure's VM-less container service.

8. Take the next step and bring DevOps and containers together

Organizations endlessly seek to combine higher code quality with faster release times for their software products. One way to achieve this elusive goal is via automation and collaboration in DevOps practices. Another is containers. With some effort, IT shops can deploy to containers in a DevOps pipeline. Marko walks readers through the strategy.

9. Advice from peers who have adopted containers

Developers, IT operations professionals and line-of-business staff from 300 U.S.-based enterprises participated in a survey about container deployment. Analyst Torsten Volk condenses the results into 10 lessons. They range from the threat of shadow containers, to application migration planning, to whether VMs should coexist with enterprise containers.

10. Containers are live in production -- now what?

Once containerized applications are live on production systems, IT operations teams must ensure their workloads meet user expectations and run efficiently. Ops pros are familiar with network and other IT infrastructure monitoring tools, but Linux and virtualization expert Sander van Vugt covers monitoring options for containers.

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