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Microsoft shops prefer a DIY approach to Azure containers

As a primordial soup of Windows container technologies coalesces into products, users are willing to wait until they can control their own destiny with Windows Server 2016.

Windows shops assessing Microsoft's emerging container products are sticking with the axiom that if you want something done right, you should do it yourself.

Microsoft shops that have kicked the tires on the company's container products so far favor running Windows Server 2016 containers on internal or self-managed cloud infrastructure, as opposed to using a more abstracted offering, such as the Azure Container Service -- even though Azure containers are generally available and Windows Server Containers are still months away.

"We want a solution which will work for different kinds of platforms, not just Linux-based systems," said Bala Subra, a .NET architect for a large publishing company in the Northeast, who has done proof-of-concept testing on Windows Server Containers, which are due out with Windows Server 2016 in the fall.

While the company uses Linux containers already, they're not in production yet, and Subra said he's content to wait until Windows Server 2016 becomes generally available to deploy Windows containers.

This is largely because Microsoft shops want a native product developed and supported by Microsoft, which isn't unusual in the Microsoft customer base. But it's also because some shops want to tinker with running Windows Server Containers on bare metal on internal infrastructures before committing to virtual machines in the public cloud.

"To get a monetary advantage to moving over to containers, we'd have to look at restructuring our server infrastructure," said Marc Priolo, configuration manager for Urban Science, a Detroit-based data analysis company specializing in the automotive industry. "When you're doing containers, virtualized OSes are a lot of overhead that containers can get rid of."

While VMs can consistently run dozens of containers, bare-metal servers can pack in hundreds, if not thousands of containers, and bare metal is where web-scale companies are going, said Jay Lyman, an analyst with 451 Research.

"The difference in the number of containers you can host on a VM versus a physical server is pretty dramatic," he said. "I'm watching to see when the needle starts moving on that trend."

Azure Container Service available now, but still incomplete

ACS doesn't really remove enough complexity to deal with tying that in with our existing application -- it would be much easier for us to deploy to containers running in Windows Server 2016.
Chris RileyDevOps analyst for Fixate IO

In the cloud, the Azure Container Service (ACS), built on Hyper-V Containers, became available April 19, currently offering adopters an array of choices for cluster management and orchestration.

But choice here is a two-edged sword, as it also means users still need to bring their own integrations for continuous integration and delivery tools, as well as logging and monitoring. Azure containers don't have a native Docker registry, and Microsoft has no opinion on Docker's version of the registry, according to Boris Scholl, principal product manager for Azure Compute, who presented at a recent Meetup put on by the Boston Azure Cloud User Group.

"We would absolutely run Docker ourselves, leveraging what's going to be built into [Windows] Server 2016, if we were going to do it," said Chris Riley, DevOps analyst for Fixate IO, based in Livermore, Calif., as well as a TechTarget contributor and an Azure Web Sites customer who is considering a move to containers. "ACS doesn't really remove enough complexity to deal with tying that in with our existing application -- it would be much easier for us to deploy to containers running in Windows Server 2016."

Partners polish their Windows container wares

Microsoft is fleshing out multiple tools to ride the wave of Docker hype, but no moss is growing on its partners as all grasp for the Windows container brass ring.

For example, a company called ContainerX, with leadership composed of VMware alumni, came out of stealth this week with support for Windows Server 2016 containers, infrastructure pooling and multi-tenancy features that it hopes will set it apart from the Windows container pack.

Companies like WinDocks, which makes a container-based virtualization platform for SQL Server, and DH2i both have beaten Microsoft to the Windows Server container punch.

Ding, a Dublin, Ireland-based mobile airtime payment company, is evaluating WinDocks' product for use in its software development pipelines to test code against replica SQL Server instances running in containers.

"Creating a test [and] dev SQL Server can be quite a lengthy process, otherwise," said Andrew Pruski, Ding's database administrator. "It can take anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours, depending on the size of the VM."

Tests of WinDocks have spun up SQL Server replicas in as little as 90 seconds, Pruski said.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Write to her at [email protected] or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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