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Google Container Engine features aim to automate node management

Google Cloud Platform looks to persuade users to give its container service another look with automated upgrades and repairs.

New beta features for Google Container Engine could offer relief for IT pros who struggle with Kubernetes upgrades.

With containers in cloud computing, IT pros must keep complex server clusters up to date for security purposes. Kubernetes has a strong reputation for container orchestration and management so far, but a common complaint is that cluster management -- particularly upgrades -- is complex.

With new beta features released this week, Google Container Engine (GKE) users would opt in to Auto-Upgrades and Auto-Repair for node pools as they are created. From there, Auto-Upgrades would keep cluster nodes up to date with the latest release of Kubernetes; Auto-Repair would automatically decommission and replace unhealthy server nodes.

This can be a big help for customers with large node pools to manage, according to experts.

"Especially when you have hundreds of them, managing nodes manually is not a simple thing," said Chris Riley, director of solutions architecture at cPrime Inc., an Agile software development consulting firm in San Francisco. "Automatic upgrades can take a lot of time out of your management effort."

The GKE Auto-Upgrade feature also includes updates to the Docker runtime, which Riley said remains a largely manual process on Amazon Web Service's EC2 Container Service (ECS). When an update to Docker was released in January, for example, Riley was notified by AWS, which provided an updated Amazon Machine Image in its marketplace. However, the rest was up to him: Stop the container, destroy the host, spin up a new one, go into the marketplace to get the updated image and then restart his ECS task as a service within the new host.

"The downside [for Google Container Engine] is that if there is a critical issue that Docker fixes, it will probably take some time to get vetted by Kubernetes and show up as part of the auto-upgrade," he said. "But what Google Cloud is talking about is enabling that update activity for you, and that is like what I have with Docker on my laptop."

Enterprises move containers into production

Google's moves illustrate the increased use of containers in production among enterprises, analysts said.

Among 337 respondents to a 451 Research Voice of the Enterprise survey in January and February, the biggest swath (nearly 41%) was in the discovery­-and-evaluation phase with containers, while 19% had moved to initial implementations of containers in production applications and roughly 8% had done broad implementation of production containerized applications.

Those two production deployment categories are about double from a survey conducted in the third quarter of 2015, when initial production implementation was over 9% and broad production implementation was just under 5%, said Jay Lyman, an analyst with 451 Research who co-authored the survey.

Google also made a new Container-Optimized OS generally available this week for Google Cloud Platform, joining the already crowded market of CoreOS Tectonic, RancherOS, Red Hat Atomic, Microsoft Nano, VMware Photon, Apcera Platform, Mesosphere's DC/OS and Docker -- with its Alpine Linux move last year.

Google is making life easier [when] dealing with large-scale container implementations ... but, for whatever reason on the cloud side, they just haven't intrigued enough people.
Chris Rileydirector of solutions architecture, cPrime

Here, analysts see interest picking up among enterprises, as well, though container-optimized operating systems are still a long-term prospect.

"There is a growing number of enterprise organizations that are interested in container OSes, and how [to] extend the lightweight benefits of containers at the operating system level," Lyman said.

However, Google remains a distant third in the race for public cloud use among enterprises, behind Amazon and Microsoft Azure. Amazon's ECS has a feature similar to Auto-Repair, in which EC2 Load Balancers' health checks are forwarded to Auto Scaling groups and the service decommissions unhealthy server nodes.

These new Google Container Engine features, and the recent acquisition of Apigee, might get enterprise clients to reconsider Google Cloud Platform, but it's not high on their priority list right now, Riley said.

"Ninety-five percent of our clients are in Amazon, and the other 5% are in Azure," Riley said. "Google is making life easier [when] dealing with large-scale container implementations ... but, for whatever reason on the cloud side, they just haven't intrigued enough people."

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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