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Top 5 container software trends to watch in 2020

Container software, namely Kubernetes, has become a staple of modern enterprise IT infrastructure -- here's what's coming next for the technology in 2020 and beyond.

Container software arrived in the enterprise mainstream in 2019, and in 2020, experts expect a fresh set of concerns will capture IT pros' attention.

Docker containers and Kubernetes each underwent a meteoric rise to prominence in the last four years. Enterprise early adopters saw the value in containers for DevOps application portability and microservices deployments in the cloud in 2016. Then, a battle for dominance in container orchestration ensued, the most heated stages of which concluded in 2018 with most major vendors supporting Google's Kubernetes open source platform.

Since then, container software has settled into everyday production use and IT pros are set to expand those deployments into advanced applications in the year ahead.

"As container deployments grow and mature, the whole [IT] ecosystem is being affected," said Gary Chen, analyst at IDC. "We're seeing changes in a lot of areas -- acquisitions and new startups, from security to storage and data management."

From cutthroat Kubernetes competition to container security, big data apps and edge computing, here are the top trends Chen and other experts expect to see in 2020.

451 Research container software survey
Nearly 50% of enterprises have adopted containers, and the vast majority plan to adopt them within 12 months, according to a Q3 2019 survey of 500 North American IT pros.

1. Kubernetes is king, but the market is overcrowded

Gary Chen, analyst, IDCGary Chen

It became apparent that Kubernetes would become the industry standard for container orchestration in 2018, but competition among Kubernetes management tools truly heated up in 2019, as mainstream IT pros put container software into production for the first time. This brought about early signs of attrition among vendors in a market with more than 100 certified Kubernetes vendors recognized by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

Most notably, Mirantis acquired Docker Enterprise in November after the Linux container pioneer struggled to successfully pivot away from its homegrown creation toward Kubernetes support. Kubernetes competitors will continue to be acquired, acquire others, and some may disappear in 2020, though it will take longer than a year to establish long-term winners and losers, Chen said.

2. Basic Kubernetes management is so last year

Initial Kubernetes management tools and services from enterprise software and public cloud vendors focused on ease of use, as the container orchestration tool is notoriously complex to set up and operate in its raw form.

Jay Lyman, 451 ResearchJay Lyman

But such features are now table stakes -- users at KubeCon 2019 spent little time discussing the latest updates to the container software platform. Rather, they talked about what container infrastructure can help them accomplish in their Agile and DevOps transformations, from multi-cloud management to service mesh, multi-tenant security, GitOps, stateful applications and event-driven computing.

As these discussions shifted, vendors have followed suit, fleshing out Kubernetes platforms with add-on features such as built-in CI/CD pipelines and GitOps interfaces.

With the demand for more abstraction, container orchestration will become more of an 'under the hood' thing.
Jay LymanPrincipal analyst, 451 Research

Overall, IT organizations are less interested in tinkering with Kubernetes itself and more interested in the applications that it supports, which will boost demand for managed Kubernetes providers and higher-level interfaces.

"Organizations are looking for ways to use serverless, because there's less management overhead -- there's also a willingness to pay more for public cloud services because they abstract that management burden," said Jay Lyman, principal analyst at 451. "With the demand for more abstraction, container orchestration will become more of an 'under the hood' thing."

3. Container monitoring, security will hog the spotlight

Among enterprise IT shops that still want to control the container platform, the focus will shift to "day two" concerns, from container security to monitoring and logging, Lyman said. In fact, 451 Research projections indicated that by 2022, the container monitoring and logging market will become the biggest subsegment of the container software market, a position previously held by the management and orchestration subsegment. SecOps has also become a hot topic in the observability space, as IT pros consolidate the tools they use for IT operations and security monitoring and fresh tools emerge that use container orchestration platforms to automate application and infrastructure security.

4. Big Data, stateful apps hop aboard container train

With the basics of container management and orchestration well understood by mainstream IT, organizations will also look to shift stateful applications to container platforms, which they'd initially avoided while container management vendors and the Kubernetes open source community refined persistent storage tools for container software environments. Both 451 Research and IDC surveys in late 2019 showed that enterprises now plan to deploy stateful applications, including databases, big data and machine learning apps, on Kubernetes and containers, for management consistency alongside stateless apps and, in some cases, for cloud portability.

Some aspects of secondary container storage, such as data backup, classification and governance, will be further refined in 2020, Chen said.

"Persistence itself is less of a challenge," he said. "Now it's more about data management as an issue -- how do we handle everything else?"

5. Containers proliferate at the network edge

On a wider industry scale, the focus among enterprise IT pros has begun to shift outward, from the core data center, where infrastructure automation and container orchestration are well understood, to the network edge, where branch offices and IoT devices are proliferating. Kubernetes' rise to prominence has begun to intersect with this trend, because IT pros can use it to remotely automate software deployment and management on a wide variety of devices. However, it's still early for this trend, and unclear how far Kubernetes will permeate edge environments; industry experts still disagree on its usefulness in very small IoT devices.

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