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How Containerization Can Have a Big Impact on Your Data Center

The use of containers can lead to new efficiencies and increased automation, but organizations need to deploy them strategically.


I frequently see a common pattern in my customers’ use of containers — lightweight packaging to build, ship and run applications — in the data center.

First, data center administrators download Kubernetes, an open-source system for automating deployment, scaling and management of containerized applications. They’ll experiment with the tools for a while, recognize the value of containers and come to see that they have powerful capabilities. But then, just as containers are poised to make a significant impact on the organization, data center administrators often pump the brakes.

They realize that, while containers can lead to great benefits, they also have the potential to affect nearly everything in the data center, upending how organizations consume resources ranging from storage and networking to security tools and cloud infrastructure.

At this point, customers typically reach out to CDW, relying on our extensive expertise to help them better understand the vendor landscape and the impact that containers can have on their organizations. Here’s what I tell them.

Benefits of Containers

Although traditional virtual machines greatly improve the efficiency of physical servers, they still require a fair amount of overhead costs and effort: a guest operating system, anti-virus tools, intrusion protection and more — all in addition to the actual application being run. A container model allows data center administrators to simply deliver the code they need to perform the function of the application, without all the extras.

For fairly obvious reasons, this leads to more efficient use of resources within the data center. With traditional VMs, a significant portion of resources such as memory and computing power are consumed by the guest operating system rather than supporting the actual mission of the application. The lighter footprint of containers has consequences throughout the data center. Compared to traditional VMs, a container model can require fewer racks, less energy for power and cooling, fewer software licenses, less maintenance and ultimately a smaller footprint for the physical data center.

Containers also help organizations pursue a hybrid cloud strategy, as their relative simplicity makes it easier to manage applications across on-premises, public cloud and hybrid environments.

Finally, containers help organizations optimize the application development and deployment lifecycle. Traditional VMs are harder to scale up and down in response to business events. As a result, organizations often overprovision resources and then essentially cross their fingers, hoping that demand won’t outstrip capacity. This is both inefficient and risky, and the scalability of containers can help organizations prevent these undesirable scenarios.

Deployment Considerations

Containers make more sense for some organizations than others. Implementation is typically simpler for organizations with large Linux environments, and becomes somewhat more difficult for primarily Windows shops — at least for the moment. Also, the benefits of containers won’t be as great for organizations that rely on purely off-the-shelf software and don’t do much of their own application development.

Once an organization has determined that containers are a good fit, stakeholders should weigh the pros and cons of different vendors. Cisco, VMware and Red Hat all have offerings in the container space. In practice, I’ve found that most organizations tend to opt for a vendor that they’re already comfortable with. If an organization is already running a certain vendor’s data center solutions with positive results, they’re highly likely to choose that vendor as a container partner.

Perhaps most importantly, organizations need a source of objective advice about strategy. At CDW, we often advise customers to start smaller than they might have on their own, in order to learn exactly how containers will fit with their specific environments. Recently, one organization came to us after initially deploying containers in the cloud on its own, only to find that workloads weren’t performing as expected. That organization’s environment was going to be four to five times as expensive as planners originally thought, and they faced a range of unattractive choices to support or migrate the environment.

To avoid such a scenario, it’s a good idea to bring in external expertise early in the planning process. You can then take advantage of the benefits that containers have to offer while avoiding costly missteps.

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