clouds

To effectively compete today, companies must be able to respond quickly to shifts in their markets. Whether it’s new product trends, evolving customer preferences, or other changes in business conditions, companies need to stay aligned with their customers.

Doing so means moving and adapting more rapidly, smartly, and effectively than ever before. The goal is making operational improvements and driving results that include getting to market faster with new products and services at lower cost and with less risk.

The challenge for companies is that increasing business agility while still using their legacy IT systems and processes is very tall order. Many firms have stuck with their old, hardware-based, datacenter-centric IT approaches longer then they perhaps should have. Then, to get a bit more out of their sometimes decades-old systems, companies and their IT teams did work-arounds, used ‘bolt-ons’, and added more ‘spaghetti code’.

Now the old systems and processes are at the breaking point. They simply can’t meet the computing speed, power and elasticity that the job now requires. As a result, companies are at an inflection point. Leadership teams at these companies know that networks and applications are more critical to their success than ever, but that the ones they need are very different than the ones they have.

To achieve the agility, reliability, and efficiency they need, companies must reinvent and retool their operations with digital capabilities at the core. They need a digital transformation.

While there is more than one way to make this type of fundamental infrastructure change, many companies are opting to move to the cloud and embracing the cloud-native approach. They are also leveraging containers and container orchestration to ensure their success.

This paper focuses on how containerized applications work, and the key role container orchestration systems play in new cloud-based IT architectures. It also looks at why Kubernetes has become the container orchestration system of choice for many enterprises, and now serves at the lynchpin in many cloud- and container-based digital transformation and IT modernization initiatives. Like all powerful technologies, however, Kubernetes is complex and that complexity creates certain challenges. This paper briefly touches on some of those challenges and on way teams can overcome them.

Containers 101

The need for greater business agility is what gave rise to containers and ‘containerization’. Organizations in general, and especially their IT and DevOps teams, need to operate in more efficient, flexible and speedier ways in order to succeed today. At a high level, that simply means operating more nimbly and efficiently that one’s competitors. At a deeper level, it means being able to do things like developing, testing, integrating, and deploying software applications in distributed rather than monolithic ways. Speed, responsiveness, reliability, and adaptability are all key requirements here, and containers let DevOps teams check off each of these boxes. They do so by enabling developers to build apps differently. Containers comprise a complete, self-contained runtime environment complete with all requirements. A container packages up the application, including all of its dependencies, its requisite libraries and other binaries, along with configuration files needed to run the app.

Containerizing an application places all of its dependencies and other component parts in a single, isolated unit. That way, the differences in OS’s and underlying infrastructure elements that would tend to trip up monolithically developed apps become irrelevant because all of those things are abstracted away.

In practical terms, this means that apps can, for example, be developed in one environment, tested in another, and run in production in yet another environment without problems. Following are brief descriptions of some of the more important benefits of containerized software applications.

More agile and efficient software development – With lots of developer tools widely available, and with set up that’s less involved that virtual machines, for example, the development, packaging and deployment of containerized applications across operating systems is significantly faster and easier for DevOps teams.

Less overhead, cost savings, and improved performance – With containerized apps, there’s no need for things like the full guest OSs or hypervisors needed by VMs. This lower overhead can translate into reduced hardware and software licensing costs. Aside from potential cost saving, there are performance gains generate by faster boot times, smaller memory footprints, etc.

High portability across varied environments – Since containers are abstracted from host OSs, each container will run the same way in any location. That’s an enormous productivity boost not only for developers but for users as well. As mentioned above a containerized apps can be developed in one environment, tested in another, and then ported and deployed to yet another. That frees up developers’ time to work on other important projects.

Utility and resilience with microservices – Containerized app often have microservices ‘under the hood’. With microservices, an app’s core functions are broken down into smaller services, each of which can be built and deployed independently. If a microservice fails, it doesn’t affect the other microservices in the collective container. The failed component can be repaired separately and redeployed on-the-fly without causing any app downtime.

Ease of management with orchestration – Containers have lots of moving parts that get spun up and down dynamically in just seconds. That makes managing all those components ideal for an automated approach. Container orchestration systems provide that automation. They drive automated processes for managing all that complexity so that IT and DevOps teams don’t have to worry about it.

Kubernetes – The Orchestration System of Choice

Kubernetes is an open source orchestration system for containers. A recent market research report on container orchestration adoption highlighted how Kubernetes now dominates this category with a 77% market share. When adoptions of Red Hat OpenShift and Rancher are added (both are built on Kubernetes), the number grows to 89%. With roughly 90% of all deployments, it it’s fair to say that Kubernetes is now the industry’s de facto standard for container orchestration.

Why is Kubernetes so popular? The main reasons are its power and flexibility. Based on technology originally developed by Google, Kubernetes is now maintained by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. It provides key services for containerized apps that leverage cloud-based architectures and microservices. Kubernetes offers IT and DevOps teams seemingly endless options for how to automate their deployment, scaling, and ongoing operation and management of their containerized applications across clusters. Able to work in on-premise or hybrid data centers, and across public or private clouds, Kubernetes automatically places workloads, restarts applications, and can dynamically spin up or de-provision resources to match demand in real time.

Kubernetes makes it not only feasible but easy for teams to manage containerized applications at scale. Its powerful capabilities allow teams to automate app rollouts and rollbacks, and automatically add storage resources as needed. It also handles load balancing automatically, and can proactively repair and restart containers that are not operating properly. With its unmatched power and flexibility, Kubernetes can smooth out IT modernization and digital transformation initiatives, delivering compelling benefits along the way.

One of these benefits is how Kubernetes can speed up entire DevOps processes with its automation features and array of pre-built templates. The net result is faster time-to-market for new apps and services. Another source of substantial benefits is Kubernetes’ ability to Increase developer productivity. With its ‘build once, run anywhere’ traits, Kubernetes enables developers to focus and streamline their work. Increasing app reliability and lowering resource costs are two more areas in which Kubernetes delivers value. With their modular structures and collections of discrete microservices, container-based apps are easier to maintain – and Kubernetes facilitates that. And since container-based applications generally require fewer system resources than apps developed in more traditional ways, enterprises that adopt this approach often see significant reductions in IT resource costs.

It all adds up to more market and customer responsiveness, and more efficient and cost-effective IT and DevOps efforts. That’s why so many organizations are migrating to cloud-based architectures, containerized apps and services, and Kubernetes for the orchestration and automation they need to pull it all together.

The Complexity Hurdle

As teams make the transition to the cloud and containerization, and they start working with Kubernetes for orchestration, they quickly encounter the system’s well-known complexity. With power and flexibility, Kubernetes presents teams with essentially endless options for how to deploy, run, and manage their apps and services. It’s this vast array of choices that can be tough for teams to handle effectively.

IT and DevOps teams want and need their apps and services perform as expected while running reliably and efficiently. That means managing those apps and services in ways that ensure they use just the cluster resources they need (CPU, memory, storage, etc.), and not more than they need. While ‘just right’ use of cluster resources is the objective, the reality is that Kubernetes’ long list of configuration choices and deployment options makes it an elusive goal for many teams.

One way teams try to tackle the complexity is with frequent, manual tuning. Of course, that’s an inefficient, trial-and-error process that typically yields subpar results.

Another way teams try to skirt the problem is with overprovisioning. Can’t tell exactly which cluster resource is causing an app to perform poorly or a service to crash? Then overprovision all relevant components until the app or service starts behaving as desired. That works well with the exception of one glaring issue: skyrocketing cloud costs.

These complexity-driven challenges are tough enough with small numbers of applications. Scaling up deployments by the hundreds or thousands of apps makes the problem exponentially worse. A better approach than either manual intervention or overprovisioning is clearly needed for enterprises and their IT and DevOps teams to capture all the flexibility, speed, responsiveness and efficiency gains they are expecting from their digital transformations.

Help Has Arrived

The good news for enterprise IT and DevOps teams is that solutions to these complexity problems have come in the form of new systems that offer automated optimization of the performance of containerized apps and services running in Kubernetes.

The best of these solutions use specialized forms of machine learning-based artificial intelligence to take the testing of configuration settings – and implementation of the best combinations – to a new, automated and continually improving level. One such solution is the StormForge Platform, the industry-leading AIOps platform for deploying, scaling and managing containerized applications in Kubernetes environments.

Conclusion

Enterprises envision tremendous business opportunities just ahead. Leaders in these companies are counting on their IT and DevOps teams to modernize their IT systems and processes so they can capitalize on those opportunities and seize competitive advantages.

By embracing digital transformation, companies and their teams set the right direction. Transitioning to cloud-based architectures, and software containerization are key steps, which many companies are now taking.

However, the real winners will be enterprises and teams that don’t get wrapped up – or tripped up – by the complexity these new technologies bring. Half the battle is recognizing and preparing to meet these complexity challenges. The right tools are now available. Companies that take up and use these tools and technologies will be well-positioned to seize growth opportunities now and into the future.

Contact us

If you would like to learn more about how the machine learning-driven capabilities of our platform can help to optimize your Kubernetes deployment and ensure success with your digital transformation efforts, email us at info@stormforge.io