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Containers in 2016: What’s next? Article

By Phil Estes, IBM

*Editors Note: Review how far we’ve come in a year by looking back at this piece from February 2016 by Phil Estes of IBM. Container World 2017 is ramping up, and you can explore the second annual event, and register online now.

Welcome to 2016! You might not have believed it, but guess what? Containers are arguably still the hottest and most debated technology on the internet. As many times as we have all been reminded that containers as a technology feature are not new (which is absolutely correct), it is obvious that in some sense, their time for the limelight has finally come. The last nearly three years brought together a pivoting startup, Docker, and a complex-if-nothing-else set of Linux kernel features, commonly called containers, into a hype cycle that has had staying power beyond anyone’s predictions or expectations.

As that initial train has seemed to gain a never-ending head of steam as we enter another year, a long tail of associated technology startups dot the landscape and a dizzying array of ecosystem options and related tooling has sprung up alongside. And of course with that array of choices follow an ever-present debate over specific technology choices, key players, and cloud offerings that you would expect given a growing cast of characters who naturally don’t want to miss the opportunity to play a significant role in the shaping of the container industry’s future.

This year we know that the Uber’s, Yelp’s and Google’s will continue to hone their use of container technology that, for some of them, is now old hat. But we also know that for the traditional enterprise, container technology use is just beginning, or in some cases still that “yet future” technology. These companies will be looking to introduce and utilize all they’ve heard about containers with the hopeful expectation that containers will enhance in-flight cultural changes (DevOps, Agile, open source methodologies) with practical technology improvements in their use or consumption of cloud resources. Of course, these enterprise players are going to be additionally driven by the fact that internal audits are finding development teams have already jumped on board with containers for internal development and test operations without waiting for an overall corporate strategy (remember VMWare Workstation?)!

IBM has been involved in the underlying Linux container technology underpinning today’s implementations for almost a decade, and given our long history in open source adoption and community participation, we are excited to share our point of view on where containers are headed and what IBM is doing to ease the adoption of container technology into new and existing cloud computing architectures. Given our many years of experience with a large swath of enterprises across every industry, we also think we are well positioned to help enterprises make sense of the myriad options they are presented with across the container landscape.

Specifically, IBM now has over 35 developers who have contributed to many of the Docker core and related projects (e.g. Swarm, Compose, libnetwork), the Open Container Initiative (OCI) project, and are now adding involvement in the Mesos and Kubernetes communities. Three of our developers are now core maintainers in the Docker engine and swarm project. We take upstream participation seriously and have a long history of combining open source involvement and leadership with adoption of key open source projects within our solutions and product offerings. IBM moved away from proprietary web server technology to Apache many years ago, and then founded the Eclipse IDE project, bootstrapped from a formerly proprietary IBM product. These initial moves proved successful; successful enough that we made a “$1B bet” on Linux, and founded a Linux Technology Center which still operates today in many upstream Linux communities, and has for over a decade and a half. We have developed an IBM Container service under our Bluemix public cloud portfolio that is steadily growing in available features and capabilities, combining the power of our existing DevOps workflow capabilities with Docker container technology. In 2016 we only expect those capabilities to continue growing with more robust orchestration and application lifecycle tooling.

Regardless, we want to ensure that whatever the future holds for the container ecosystem that the playing field is level and vendor-neutral standards are adopted to relieve decision makers from having to choose between portability and function as they determine the best path for their enterprises in this new era of containers.


Container WorldThe second annual Container World is February 21-23, 2017 in the Santa Clara Convention Center, California.

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