It’s become increasingly important for business leaders beyond the technical side to understand application containerization. The same features that make containerization an important tool for developers also create immense, and often untapped, business value.
Containerization provides three key technical advantages with the potential to benefit the business side. These are increased predictability and dependability, increased speed from development to deployment, increased operational velocity.
1. Increase predictability and dependability
The predictability and dependability of containerization develops from the way containers work. Each application container is its own separate environment containing an application and everything that application needs to run. The containers operate independently, so that anything altered in one container does not affect the application in another container. Furthermore, if an application works in a container, that container can be moved anywhere without affecting the functioning of the application. If it works once, it works anywhere.
Also, while developers can freely edit the applications inside of the containers, once conditions are set in a container, they can’t be changed. This avoids the problem of “snowflake” system, or non-standard systems that are preserved in order to run a specific application. Thus, any problem that occurs comes from one of two directions, the platform or the container. This makes it easier to get to the root cause of problems faster. This decreases meantime to the resolution of problems, lowers downtime, and improves the overall predictability of the service.
2. Increase speed from development to deployment
Containerization can help remove the technical roadblocks standing between development and deployment. Technical dependencies that are either overlooked or not fully understood in the race to create the new application are one factor that can cause major slowdowns. This leads to a fundamental conflict between the missions of the development, which operations teams and slows down process of moving an application from development to production.
Development teams are driven to try new things to create the best possible product even if the new product isn’t as well understood. Operations, on the other hand, looks to maximize stability even if it means ignoring innovation opportunities. This means that sometimes in the regular course of their jobs operations will stop new code from being implemented by development or development will ignore guidelines put in place by operations. Containerization provides a simple solution to this problem. If development builds applications in a container, operations only has to maintain the container, not worry about the application inside of it. This streamlines the development process and speeds up bringing applications to market.
3. Increase operational velocity
It’s also much easier and quicker to update and add new features to applications in containers and to test those updates. Because the containers are discrete, developers only need to update one things at a time without worrying about how it will affect other processes. This speeds up the process for upgrades, patches, and feature upgrades. The containers also make it easier for companies to test out new upgrades and features on a small subset of their customers before doing a full rollout. This allows the company to be more responsive to customer needs and prevents a costly implementation of a feature that the customers don’t actually want.
Netflix is famous for using its containerized system to test out new features on 1-10% of its customers at a time to see if it works and if the customers respond well to the change. This lets them avoid a costly rollout for a feature that either doesn’t work or isn’t appealing and allows them to gather useful data on how the new feature affects the viewing habits of its customers.
However, containerization isn’t appropriate for all types of applications. Containers are designed with a lifecycle so that, rather than degrading over time, if the container stops functioning optimally it’s deleted and replaced. Consequently, containerization isn’t effective for applications that need to store data long term or that can’t ever go down. Applications more tolerant of non-availability such as streaming analytics, web services, and mobile applications are ideal for containerizations. For instance, a bank wouldn’t containerize the application for managing its customers’ sensitive financial data, but the mobile banking application would be a perfect fit for containerization.
By understanding application containerization, business leaders can make sure their companies have predictability and dependability, fast time to market, and quicker edits and updates for the applications that will benefit from it the most.
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