Dockers: The box without ribbons

|July 9, 2014 0

Pratima H

INDIA: YOU don’t need to be an estranged married couple, or estranged or married or a couple for that matter, to enjoy some wicked yet cruel-for-your-tummy jokes that Mark Gungor dishes out.

In one of his gigs (if it’s safe to call ‘them’ ‘that’), he ingeniously explains why most problems between men and women can be simply attributed to their genetic cerebral structures. That’s way better than dragging in planets from all across the galaxies to explain who is who and where from. So full points to Mark there.

Specially, for this part about why men behave (ladies save your expletives) as they do: Male brains have separate compartments for each dimension of their life. So there is a box for ‘job’, a separate (and perhaps) bigger box for ‘the boss’, a box for ‘Mother-in-law’ (yes, you heard it correct), a box for ‘sports-buddies’, a box for ‘football’ (takes a lot of space here too), a box for ‘beer’ (or etc etc) and so on.

That’s starkly antithetical to how female brains are wired. Every part of a woman’s life is connected to every other part, so even the spot about shoes is somehow knitted back to her job, which in turn is (to the horrified cluelessness of many scientists and psychologists) connected to laundry-basket. Everything, from in-laws, kids, the snob living next door, the guy she had a crush on in grade seventh, the dress she saw at that shop, the EMI mathematics – everything is a whizzing, blur of dangled and confused wires running in all directions. Some call it multi-tasking, some label it as a confused person’s engine.

But let’s leave the female brains for some other day.

For some reason, male brains, if they are indeed architected this way, lend them the enviable ability of starting and finishing every task or project in one container itself. Chaos or compatibility between containers is never a point to chew your nails about.

Wouldn’t a clean, neat, well-territory-ised map like that work well for all those umpteen applications that developers and IT mountain-trekkers deal with, more so in a foggy landscape that sometimes is whipped up without warning thanks to cloud and virtualization?

‘Wouldn’t’! That sounds like an out-of-sync word when you are chatting with sharp industry veterans (who at times are almost clairvoyant about IT’s future) like Bernard Golden – who happens to know more about Dockers, definitely more and beyond the realm of ‘yeah, it is something strange that is coming up in application-huddle chats recently’.

Dockers as it turns out, is more than a new animal in the ring that is ripe for curiosity’s forceps. It is something that has been lurking around for quite a while now and crawling its way noiselessly and steadily, in the virtualized, cloud-berthed worlds we inhabit.

As Golden, a seasoned analyst and also author of ‘Amazon Web Services for Dummies’ explains the concept – Docker operates within a given instance of an operating system to provide partitioned, segregated, secure execution environments; in other words, multiple applications can operate within a single Docker container with each application perceiving that it has complete control of its operating environment with no others working in the same area.

To shift the view a bit to a start-up’s desk, we ask another passionate enthusiast and industry expert, Kent Langley, CEO/CTO, Ekho, Inc on how he spells the word. Docker is a form of virtualization, he offers. “It is really quite similar in many ways to Solaris Zones but for Linux. Google deserves much of the credit for making these years in the making overnight revolution possible. Most recently, the folks at the company now called Docker have done truly amazing work to commercialize the work.”

He adds how they are in the experimental phase with Docker.IO in his companies and that he has no doubt it will become an important part of infrastructure and workflow.

Virtualisation’s neighbor or enemy?

Yes, we smelt it. You might be already juxtaposing this word with virtualization, because in all fairness – yes the two terms sound quite similar, or equally confusing after some point.

But Golden maintains that this concept is in contrast with virtualization, which provides a separate virtual machine for each operating system instance. “One way to think about this is that within a Docker environment five applications can execute within a single operating system; in virtualization for five applications to execute with no interference from other applications requires five separate virtual machines.” He slices it further.

May be that makes it good news for people tucked away in virtualization habitats, for the complementary advantages and not-so-cobbled road they can pave up. May be not.

Quiz Charlie Dai, Principal Consulting Analyst, Serving Enterprise Architecture Professionals at Forrester here and he would settle the case with ‘Everything has two sides’ argument. He discerps further that yes it can be good news if traditional virtualization/cloud players can embed the support in their product portfolios to allow more options for end users and further drive the adoption of virtualization, like what VMware has already done. But he points something out in the same breath: it’s also bring challenges as other companies as Docker.com could also provide different virtualization solutions by themselves.

For Golden, to a certain extent Docker poses challenge for established virtualization vendors, but he expects the most common deployment configuration will be Docker within virtual machines. “Many people will perceive Docker and virtualization as a binary decision — one or the other. As I said earlier, I expect that Docker will be an ‘and’ decision — that most organizations will deploy Docker within virtual machines.”

But it IS virtualization, Langley will sit up here and argue. “I can’t imagine why this is good news for VMWare or Citrix and if you care about running Linux,” he would rather maintain. Veteran analysts like Dai also chime in with that perspective – it is part of virtualization.

So in some sense probably there is nothing binary about the debate between Dockers and Virtualisation, given some contextual walls we operate in.

As to the sub-text that Cloud players like Amazon, Microsoft, Google etc should be reading here, Langley answers that people want portability and developers need the entire life cycle thought out from beginning to end for their applications and workloads.

“They should read this as a distinct call for a common virtualization format that is OPEN and supported by all cloud providers. Several clouds like AWS and Google have already announced support for Docker containers. Resource management solutions like Mesos already support them as well.”

Despite the undoubted benefits of IaaS, many organizations find it difficult to develop and deploy applications within a typical IaaS environment. Docker addresses the application-level issues and therefore has generated significant industry interest. This emphasises the fact that, no matter what the form of infrastructure, the value is all delivered at the application level, Golden reminds.

In fact, like Dai points out, Google Compute Engine, Amazon Elastic Beanstalk and Windows Azure have already provided support for Docker.

Why now? Where to?

Some CIOs candidly shrug at the mention of the word. They still haven’t seen the concept popping at either a peer-conversation or a new pitch-table yet.

Does that mean it is a very fresh concept and is suddenly emerging on ear radars?

“Docker builds on a long-established operating system technology called containers. It has extended containers to be flexible and convenient. The potential for better utilization of server resources, along with the newly-available convenience has made Docker an object of significant industry interest.” Golden explains the attention the trend is pulling forth.

For Langley though, it’s not sudden. “It’s been around for many years. It only just hit the main stream.”

Dai happens to dovetail here. If you have kept tracking cloud market and had conversations with architects and developers in the field in the past two years, you will not be surprised by this news. So, looks like that the momentum majorly comes from its architectural simplicity.

But now that it is here, should it be ferried beyond developer’s dens? Are there any qualms we need to carry even as we discuss its potential in replacing or supporting modern-era application wardrobes?

It’s not only about developer’s toy. It’s also part of architectural decision. Docker can also be installed on Windows, Dai would cite.

Golden, similarly, does not find any downside to Docker. But he highlights that the traditional drawback to containers is that they impose a requirement for all applications operating within a given container environment to use the same OS version and patch level; some applications require specific versions/patch levels which can cause problems for organizations directed toward homogenous operating environments offered by a container environment.

“Docker can accelerate the entire application lifecycle, including both development and operations. By sharing common artifacts, the two organizations can better collaborate and eliminate the need for manual handoffs or recreating application components.” He recommends when it comes down to traction over and above what we have usually witnessed with Dockers.

In Langley’s opinion, it’s still very difficult to orchestrate and deploy single services across many containers on many machines. This gap is being filled by many 3rd party solutions like CoreOS as one example. However, recently, the Docker team has announced a number of projects that will help consolidate and close this gap quickly. Service discovery is a critical component to consider. Again, CoreOS has done a nice job of this with their etc product, he optimistically remarks and then footnotes a caution. “I hope it doesn’t go beyond Linux. I think that would pollute the ecosystem.”

It’s clearly hard to squeeze down the excitement and put up a height-chart ahead in a few words for now. This is a technology wave or a developer prop that would certainly need some time and some practical instances and full-blown confrontations/embraces before we, err, put it in any well-labelled box.

Isn’t that the reason why (and oh so thankfully) there is always a ‘nothing’ box too in male brains. He might look like he is deep in thought or resolving some internal conflict when he watches TV or sits for hours with a fishing pole with nothing but a numb expression on his face. Don’t fret yourselves on ‘what the heck is he thinking, coz ladies, he is thinking NOTHING’, Gungor often advises.

Let’s borrow that idea and let ‘Dockers’ cuddle in there for a while instead of letting them hang mid-air. It is not so bad to have a ‘nothing’ box after all, right!

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