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In IT containerization, a grassroots movement grows up

Containers have made inroads into most app dev workflows and are headed for production, whether or not IT management is aware of it yet.

If you're in enterprise IT management and think your organization hasn't yet adopted containers, think again.

Chances are someone in the organization has already deployed containers -- probably a developer.

Eventually, the portability benefits that containers provide for the app dev process will work their way toward IT containerization in the production environment and force an organization-wide conversation about how best to manage that, according to consultants and analysts with experience in this area.

Many organizations have containers in use somewhere without it being known outside the small group using them, said Zubin Irani, CEO of cPrime Inc., an Agile software development consulting firm in San Francisco. "A developer could be using containers in their development environment, and ops might not know."

Sometimes systems administrators in an environment where Docker has been deployed don't even know it's there, according to Chris Riley, a founding partner at HKM Consulting in Rochester, Mass.

In one example, a HKM client wanted something simple and easy to set up for a test environment where the infrastructure was complex, so HKM helped the architect set up a Docker environment running in the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud Container Service.

Once people see the value and advantages they get in test, they start to say, 'Why can't we push it to production?' That's when you get the barriers, where it hasn't been investigated and vetted for production use.
Chris Rileyfounding partner, HKM Consulting

"Two or three months later, we found out that his staff [members] weren't aware that Docker was being used," Riley said.

When operations do get in on the container craze, a grassroots approach might be the best way to introduce containers, Irani said.

"An ops person might say, 'I want to add Docker to my resume -- I'm going to go build a pilot and prove it works,'" Irani said. "The next environment request they get, they'll use Docker for that, and, all of a sudden, Docker is introduced into the company."

The problem is, operations is generally seen as a cost center, so ops projects working with new technologies are rarely ordered from the top down, according to Irani.

"So, the best way for ops to roll this out is grassroots," he said. "That's what makes the most sense."

IT has seen this movie before

There's a familiar term for the way new technologies make inroads from the bottom up in organizations: shadow IT.

This term was coined in relation to cloud computing -- particularly cloud computing with Amazon Web Services -- where developers could just swipe a credit card and start running in the cloud.

"We've also seen this before with things like GitHub, where it started with the developers and became so prevalent … that it became a factor" in production decisions,

Analysts also point to VMware server virtualization and open source software as precedents for the grassroots IT containerization trend.

"In open source software, some companies would say they used some Linux and maybe MySQL databases, but that's about it," said Jay Lyman, analyst with 451 Research. "But then if you ran a code scan … they'd find out they had 1,200 open source software components in their process."

A developing conversation

While Docker containers are still relatively new by enterprise IT standards -- at about three years old -- their movement from the grassroots to production is sparking new conversations about how organizations should best manage security, governance and integration with the rest of the company's systems.

"Once people see the value and advantages they get in test, they start to say, 'Why can't we push it to production?'" Riley said. "That's when you get the barriers, where it hasn't been investigated and vetted for production use."

There, the adoption of containers might be put on hold for a while until the people driving the strategy for the overall organization are brought on board, Riley said. However, organizations that are looking to adopt microservices find containers often fit nicely into a continuous delivery model, as well as the DevOps concept of repeatability and consistency in their services.

Given the need to fit containers into corporate governance strategies, however, Riley predicted that Fortune 500 companies will move more slowly to adopt containers strategically than their startup brethren.

Docker as a company aims to address the IT operations and IT management crowd more aggressively now that it's found a solid footing among developers in order to get over the production hump, according to Lyman.

Most containers usage has started around applications, "but increasingly we're seeing Webscale companies running infrastructure on containers," Lyman said. "Enterprises don't function like those Webscale companies, but they would like to, and they are working on that."

To accommodate a coming "tsunami" of mainstream adoption of containers, vendors increasingly will package container products rather than expecting companies to build "erector sets" as early adopters have, said Gartner analyst Dennis Smith.

"A lot of the Global 2000 customers that I have are either kicking the tires on containers or at least developing strategies," Smith 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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