6 Best Practices for Creating a Container Platform Strategy

Build a business case for deploying containers.

Infrastructure and operations (I&O) teams are under pressure to deliver applications more quickly. Businesses know that getting software products and services to market faster translates into gained market share.

Using containers can help enterprises modernize legacy applications and create new cloud-native applications that are both scalable and agile. Container frameworks, such as Docker, provide a standardized way to package applications — including the code, runtime and libraries — and to run them across the entire software development life cycle. Gartner predicts that, by 2020, more than 50% of global organizations will be running containerized applications in production, up from less than 20% today.

Although there is growing interest and rapid adoption of containers, running them in production requires a steep learning curve due to technology immaturity and lack of operational know-how.

However, the current container ecosystem is immature and organizations must ensure that the business case is solid enough for the additional level of complexity and costs that it will entail to deploy containers in production.

“Although there is growing interest and rapid adoption of containers, running them in production requires a steep learning curve due to technology immaturity and lack of operational know-how,” says Arun Chandrasekaran, research vice president at Gartner. “I&O teams will need to ensure the security and isolation of containers in production environments while simultaneously mitigating operational concerns around availability, performance and integrity of container environments.”

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Gartner has identified six key elements that should be part of a container platform strategy to help I&O leaders mitigate the challenges of deploying containers in production environments:

  1. Security and governance
    Security is a particularly challenging issue for production container deployments. The integrity of the shared host OS kernel is critical to the integrity and isolation of the containers that run on top of it. A hardened, patched, minimalist OS should be used as the host OS, and containers should be monitored on an ongoing basis for vulnerabilities and malware to ensure a trusted service delivery.
  2. Monitoring
    The deployment of cloud-native applications shifts the focus to container-specific and service-oriented monitoring (from host-based) to ensure compliance with resiliency and performance service-level agreements. “It’s therefore important to deploy packaged tools that can provide container and service-level monitoring, as well as linking container monitoring tools to the container orchestrators to pull in metrics on other components for better visualization and analytics,” says Chandrasekaran.
  3. Storage
    Since containers are transient, the data should be disassociated from the container so that the data persists and is protected even after the container is spun down. Scale-out software-defined storage products can solve the problem of data mobility, the need for agility and simultaneous access to data from multiple application containers.
  4. Networking
    The portability and short-lived life cycle of containers will overwhelm the traditional networking stack. The native container networking stack doesn’t have robust-enough access and policy management capabilities. “I&O teams must therefore eliminate manual network provisioning within containerized environments, enable agility through network automation and provide developers with proper tools and sufficient flexibility,” Chandrasekaran says.
  5. Container life cycle management
    Containers present the potential for sprawl even more severe than many virtual machine deployments caused. This complexity is often intensified by many layers of services and tooling. Container life cycle management can be automated through a close tie-in with continuous integration/continuous delivery processes together with continuous configuration automation tools to automate infrastructure deployment and operational tasks.
  6. Container orchestration
    Container management tools are the “brains” of a distributed system, making decisions on discovery of infrastructure components making up a service, balancing workloads with infrastructure resources, and provisioning and deprovisioning infrastructures, among other things. “The key decision here is whether hybrid orchestration for container workloads is required or if it is sufficient to provision based on use case and manage multiple infrastructure silos individually,” Chandrasekaran says.

Gartner clients can read more in the report Best Practices for Running Containers in Production by Arun Chandrasekaran, and others.

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