How Containers Are Preparing Businesses For a Post-COVID-19 World

Containers hold great promise for business’s digital transformation initiatives as we enter 2021. Yet many organizations struggle with container monitoring; there are significant differences in the way containers are monitored versus other elements of infrastructure, such as VMs, storage, memory and compute. Understanding those differences is vital for ITOps managers as they navigate their businesses’ transformation in a post-COVID-19 world.

Interestingly, the differences are as much technical as they are organizational. Companies need to explore and understand these differences, and consider questions such as, how to ensure a container-based project performs as expected when it goes into production, and what changes must be made to infrastructure to ensure there is enough compute and storage power to support the containerized applications the development team will launch. The essence of container management is to be prepared for the changes coming from application development, which means understanding resource and infrastructure as it is today to estimate the effect of those changes tomorrow.

How Containers Differ From Other Infrastructure

Containers are different from other aspects of computing infrastructure because of the way they are monitored. Containers are still a relatively new technology, but considering they will likely be widely adopted in the future, it’s important for IT operational teams to understand the technical and organizational differences.

The performance of container-based projects, as well as necessary adjustments to compute power to support newly launched containerized applications, are specifically among business’s top concerns. However, application containers are popular among developers for many reasons, with the market for containers estimated to reach over $4 billion by 2022, according to a report from 451 Research. It’s important to understand how the popularity of containers relates to ongoing digital transformation and how containerized applications can improve your business.

The Benefits of Automation and Container Monitoring

Containerized applications are becoming more prevalent as developers create apps that fulfill customer demand and keep them safe from cyber criminals. Containerized applications offer high levels of portability, reliability and simplicity to software development and deployment life cycles.

The world is moving quickly towards total digital transformation, a world in which we all rely on fast and reliable applications to get most tasks done. For example, nearly two billion people worldwide rely on e-commerce stores for the bulk of their needs. A recent study revealed that 40% of Americans report they will rely solely on online banking applications, rather than visiting local branches.

These figures indicate exactly why applications and software need to be developed carefully. However, today’s speedy software development life cycles also mean that DevOps teams need to launch successful applications more quickly to keep up with their competition. Automation is a key part of sustaining this speed, as automated processes such as diagnostics, testing and vulnerability scans can allow teams to focus on larger issues.

As the software moves down the development pipeline, developers must integrate new data or revisit red flags identified by automated systems. When IT operational teams analyze these changes, they must focus on how these changes will affect deployment, performance and resource management.

As software development life cycles accelerate, container monitoring can help analyze these changes. Container monitoring provides real-time data, as well as logs, that developers can refer to and analyze past data. This information can help IT operations managers build a high-performing, ever-evolving, scalable infrastructure.

The Benefit of Packaging Microservices in Containers

DevOps and IT operations are increasingly focused on strong cybersecurity practices and on reducing downtimes to enhance customer experience and business profitability. Modern business success depends on their internet presence and the usability of their websites and apps. Marketing and advertising teams, once preoccupied with television commercials, billboards and printed ads, have fixated on SEO and organic content creation to capture new leads and convert brand enthusiasts.

Microservices are appealing because they can be changed with a minimal ‘blast radius,’ reducing potential down time across the infrastructure. Since microservices operate independently, each has its own release schedule and life span. Furthermore, if there is an error with one change, only that microservice will be affected, as opposed to the entire infrastructure.

Containers are popular with developers because they can package a single application, independent of the larger network. Some developers choose to take this a step further, packaging a single application service within a container to further isolate it. After all, less surface area means that application is less vulnerable to a hack. It also enables developers to do their job more efficiently; making adjustments to code in a way that won’t slow down app functionality as a whole.

Benefits of Working Together With Containers

DevOps is popular in the software development industry because it encourages developers to work alongside IT operational staff to ensure their applications run smoothly. When using containers, this sense of teamwork runs even deeper.

The way containers use compute, storage and network bandwidth and memory can affect both developers and IT teams. This is another scenario in which the benefits of container monitoring and management become clear.

Containers or Virtual Machines?

Containers are secure because they can store and run an app without accessing external resources or interacting with other parts of an organization’s digital infrastructure. Virtual machines (VMs) offer similarly low ‘surface area,’ but there are drawbacks. The major drawback of using VMs is that each includes knowledge of the entire operating system that can make it vulnerable to hacks.

Containers, on the other hand, minimize widespread damage if a breach occurs. Containers are more portable than VMs, which can be important when applications are deployed on the cloud. This is why container-based environments are ideal for deploying applications to the cloud.

Adopting containers will streamline your organization’s budget, too, because they do not need a hypervisor and operating system, nor do they need the requisite licensing fees, like a VM does. True to their name, containers run together yet separately on an OS kernel, which enables them to access copies of specific library versions they operate with. Containers are hyper-specific to their function, which means they do not need as many resources to operate.

Containers are also a more agile choice. On average, instantiating a new container is 20 times faster than spinning up a new VM. In spite of this speed, containers remain high density, measured in megabytes rather than gigabytes, enabling them to be five times as dense as the average VM.

Virtual Private Networks and Containers

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are a great addition to container cybersecurity. A good VPN will enable users to remove their GPS locations, thus disabling region locks and masking their IP address. VPNs can also offer this level of protection for a low cost, although you should be wary of free VPNs.

Free VPNs can actually obstruct firewalls, eliminate censorship and restrict private data given to unknown third parties. They can also keep containers anonymous. According to Montreal-based cybersecurity analyst Ludovic Rembert of Privacy Canada, “The most important thing to know is that you put your personal devices and personal information at serious risk when you use a free VPN.”

Fortunately, you can get quality VPNs for a low monthly cost. Let’s say a developer was ready to deploy a Docker image, but wanted to do so securely. The conversation between the container and the server can be totally anonymous if they run the entire image through the VPN.

By setting up a client container with a VPN, this container can secure the connection of all other containers in use. Once a suitable Docker image has been found that supports the VPN you are using, you can run all Docker containers through that client container to totally anonymize them.

As digital transformation accelerates, businesses and organizations that want to remain relevant must focus on providing easy-to-use, fast-loading applications to enhance customer experience. Container-based applications offer many advantages for developers, IT teams and users alike, speeding up software development pipelines and creating a better and more secure experience.

Gary Stevens

Gary Stevens is a technical copywriter and a front-end developer focused on the open-source/software community.

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