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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Executive Q&A: Containers and Kubernetes Accelerating Digital Transformation in 2021

Don Foster, vice president, global sales engineering at Commvault, explains how containers free DevOps teams from worrying about tweaking applications for specific environments so they can focus more on development and innovation.

Upside: For the less-technically knowledgeable business user, how do you describe containers and why they are important?

Don Foster: Containers allow you to move applications from one environment to another while ensuring the application runs smoothly.

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Adopting Agility for DataOps

One way of thinking of them is as shipping containers. Before standardized shipping containers were introduced, product shipments varied in size, making movement from a truck, to a ship, to a train, and then back to a truck quite complicated. With standardized shipping containers, moving a shipping container from one shipping mode to another is now a piece of cake.

Software containers serve the same purpose -- rather than having to do a lot of work to move an application from a cloud to on premises, or from one cloud to another, you now just put it in a container, and you can move it between various environments easily, knowing it will work in all these environments.

Containers are valuable to companies because they introduce applications that can deploy new digital services. With containers, DevOps teams can develop new applications without having to concern themselves with making sure the app will work in different environments -- helping accelerate their companies' digital transformation efforts.

Containers are also extremely valuable to companies as they move to adopt hybrid cloud and multicloud environments, as it allows them to migrate applications between different cloud and on-premises infrastructure without having to adjust the application's code every time they move them.

What's driving their adoption?

Companies' growing need to continuously introduce new or enhanced digital services is one reason why more companies are using containers. Containers free companies' DevOps teams from having to worry about whether their application will work on a particular environment, allowing these teams to focus more on application development itself, and thus introduce more and better digital services faster.

Companies also want to realize the scalability, flexibility, and cost benefits of moving more of their applications to the cloud. Containers help companies realize this goal as well. With containers, they can easily move applications from on-premises environments to cloud environments -- or between different clouds.

These and the other benefits of application portability are leading enterprises to quickly adopt containers. According to Gartner, by 2025, 85 percent of global enterprises will be running containerized applications in production.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated their adoption?

COVID-19 accelerated container adoption because it forced companies to speed up their existing digital transformation projects. For example, a global survey of 700 CIOs in large enterprises with more than 1,000 employees, conducted by Vanson Bourne, found that over the past 12 months, 89 percent of CIOs say their digital transformation has accelerated, and 58 percent say it will continue to speed up.

Containers empower companies to accelerate these digital transformation initiatives whether they involve DevOps teams introducing new or enhanced digital services or companies moving more of their applications to the cloud.

What are the drawbacks of containers?

For Further Reading:

Survey Reveals Cloud Use, Challenges, and Plans

Executive Perspective: Solving the Big Challenges of Big Data

Adopting Agility for DataOps

There are two issues with containers that some companies are trying to address: storage provisioning and data protection for these containers. For example, companies want to enable their DevOps teams to use self-service tools to quickly provision persistent storage for their containers. They also want to protect not only stateful container applications but also other application data such as source code, CI/CD systems, and container image registries.

These are not necessarily drawbacks -- these issues just show how companies are still figuring out how to best use this relatively new technology. Containers are great -- but unless companies can easily store, protect, and optimize them, enterprises will not realize their full potential.

That is why organizations that want to make containerization a long-term, stable building block for their digital transformation should ensure they are implementing intelligent data management best practices for these containers, as they would any other type of data critical to their organization's success. They should also be sure they have modern distributed storage platforms and other solutions in place that allow them to make the most of containers' benefits.

Why has Kubernetes become the standard for transformative business application development?

Containers are still relatively new, and adopting containers can be tricky and tedious for many companies. This is where Kubernetes steps up to the plate.

It is a tech-stack-agnostic solution developers can adopt to build applications using any language on any cloud platform. It also allows for easy management of containers from their location to their function -- enabling companies to seamlessly move them from one environment to another or shut down when they may not be working properly.

For these reasons companies need to use containers to quickly develop and deliver new high-quality digital services, and Kubernetes is the platform of choice for containers.

Data security and governance, especially with the emergence of the cloud, are top concerns of modern enterprises. Do containerized applications pose the same risk to data? If so, what best practices can you recommend to protect this application data?

The bad guys are still out there, and they will be just as happy to ransom your containers as they would any other data. In addition, data privacy regulators are still out there, too, and if private data is exposed by a container, saying "it was in a container" is not likely to keep your company from facing a stiff fine. Finally, data disasters ranging from an accidental deletion to a hurricane that destroys a data center can result in lost container data as easily as any other type of data.

This is why companies can't forget to implement the processes and solutions they need to secure, govern, and protect their container data even as they race to jump on the container bandwagon. For example, companies will want to make sure they have in place perimeter security systems to detect and fend off ransomware and other attacks on these containers. They will want a data protection solution in place that can back up and recover these containers wherever they are running, while making sure application manifests, YAML, and persistent volumes are completely protected, secured, and recoverable.

One of the benefits of adopting intelligent data management processes and solutions is that they can also make life easier for DevOps folks. For example, some data protection solutions allow DevOps teams to use backups to migrate Kubernetes applications from cluster to cluster.

What's ahead in 2021 for containers and Kubernetes?

I think 2021 will be another huge year for the containers and Kubernetes. The digital transformation that was accelerated by COVID-19 will gain steam as companies find they need to introduce new digital services if they hope to stay one step ahead of the competition.

That is why I think the decade of the DevOp superhero is upon us -- and just as Batman uses his utility belt to fight crime, DevOps teams will use containers to realize their companies' digital transformation goals.

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