Containers Make Their Mark in the Enterprise

NEWS ANALYSIS: Containers enable dev teams to move fast and make changes to apps on the run, and have shown enough progress to win over enterprise execs.

Container Summit

NEW YORK—When Matthew Pick, technology manager for engineering at HBC Digital, tried to explain containers and Docker to his wife, she would refer to them as his "Tupperware and pants" projects.

He was deep into figuring out how to roll out a container initiative for Hudson's Bay Co., the parent of retailers Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and others. As with all things technical, he realized that he needed a better way to describe containers to the people that mattered in the corporation.

"We needed a different way to sell containers to neophytes," Pick said this week at the Container Summit here. "Not what the technology is but what the technology brings to the business and how it improves things: Self-healing, portable, faster."

He built a small production environment to play around with and to show how containers can cut development time and enable developers to be more responsive to business needs in a fast-changing retail setting. He was successful, and now HBC is looking to use containers for new all projects.

Developers from other companies like Uber and have similar stories and have shown enough progress to win over executives, especially in retail and financial services where dev teams need to move fast and make changes to applications on the run. "Containers are all about making [developing] software faster, getting it from the laptop to the cloud as fast as possible," said Bryan Cantrill, CTO of Joyent, a container hosting and management provider.

It was a financial services firm, Lucera, an early adopter of containers, that showed what containers could do in mission-critical situations. Lucera provides infrastructure as a service for exchange markets, which CEO Jacob Loveless calls "IaaS for grownups." Lucera used containers to build exchange trading technology that could scale up or down as fast as markets were moving. "There was Alpha [ROI] in the ability to reconfigure infrastructure on demand," he said.

Container History

The first thing developers will say about containers is that they are not new technology. The concept originated from the Unix world 30 years ago. Containers are just now coming into vogue because they solve a fundamental problem presented by cloud computing, and that is now to write and manage distributed applications and scale them effectively.

Containers enable developers to package up anything—an application, a service or a script—into an immutable format that can then be picked up and moved, like a shipping container, and work in any environment. They can spin up and down as they are needed, and can resize dynamically. As Docker CEO Ben Golub has put it, to put apps in the cloud, we had to get past the assumptions that "applications are monolithic, live a long time and run on a single server."

Containers also have become a catalyst in bringing IT development and operations teams together, said Larry Glenn, vice president of platform and systems development, also for HBS Digital. "Docker has done more for DevOps than anything," he said. "[With containers] there's no more walls between Dev and Ops. Containers blur our idea of what a developer is." The result is increased developer/operations productivity and efficiency, which adds up to a lot for corporations whose developers number in the thousands.

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture,...