Taking advantage of container technology

Joe Kim, SVP and Global CTO at SolarWinds says government organisations can improve efficiency, optimisation and security by using container technology

Container technology has been discussed with excitement for quite some time. More and more enterprises are seeking to familiarise themselves with a burgeoning IT trend that promises so much, supposedly offering improved efficiency, optimisation, and security.

Such benefits should also be music to the ears of the government IT professional, especially as networks grow. A lack of clarity over what container technology actually is and does is inhibiting its adoption. However, there are signs that the public sector is set to embrace container-based technology. For example, the UK Government Digital Service  is turning to containers to develop Gov.UK Pay.

In this article, we will take a closer look at container technology and explore how your government organisation could make the most of its potential, ensuring that when the time is right, you’ll be ready to reap the benefits.

What are containers?

“Container” seems like an improbably vague term for an IT solution, though it is actually an accurate description of what it does: it keeps a piece of software in a complete file system that contains everything needed to ensure the software always runs the same, regardless of the environment. Essentially, it keeps everything within a container, undisturbed by outside influence. This containerisation of a “whole system” could be for a specific application and infrastructure service or the entire application.

As an example, let’s imagine you’re building an application to support online transactions. Users will log in, click on the item they so desire, and then go through the familiar checkout process before finishing the transaction.

What containers will allow you to do for such an application is to ensure that, if any one of these different sections fail, the application does not. By isolating each service into “microservices” across different containers, you can be comfortable in the knowledge that the application won’t be disrupted. Instead, if there is a failure of a container or the system running it, the services will simply revert to alternative systems, where the job will be completed.

Legacy technology, on the other hand, would see this as a tiered application, with a failure in one of these tiers resulting in a degraded application or worse, downtime.

By separating each section into its own package, a container is more reliable and safe. This approach ensures each container is responsible for its own unique task. You’ve heard the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none”? Well, containers ensure that each task is carried out by a master of one, rather than a jack of all.

Reasons to adopt

Now, given the example I provided is more suited to the enterprise IT pro, you may be wondering how your government organisation could benefit from containers’ functionality. Look closer, however, and their attributes prove to be a wonderful fit for the public sector.

First, containers are lightweight, with their individual nature meaning that they focus solely on one task, using very few resources. Coupled with the fact that they are based on open source technology, this means they can be run anywhere, regardless of the environment, offering government IT pros a low-maintenance solution that’s cost effective and easy to set up.

Also, their individuality makes containers more secure. Due to containers being isolated from other tasks an processes, they can remain untouched by outside influences and, as a result, are more secure than no containerised solutions.

Indeed, the majority of benefits that containers represent are due to their small size and stand-alone nature. For these reasons, they are extremely scalable, using a minimal amount of memory or disk resources, while their flexibility enables you to scale across distributed providers.

Getting started

So, how do you get started? As much as we’d like to think this article provides a one-stop shop for all your container needs, the reality is that some due diligence is required before jumping in with both feet. Due to the fact that containers are open source, it’s very easy to access an enormous amount of information on how they work, and how you can reap these benefits for your own government agency.

Once you’ve educated yourself and understand what you’re looking for, resources should be set aside to train government IT pros in the intricacies of containers and “microservices.” While they are simple to use in theory, overconfidence can be the downfall of IT pros, who should familiarise themselves with these services and understand where to best implement them to improve efficiency.

Essentially, you need to prepare for containers’ arrival. By educating yourself and the rest of the government agency’s IT team, you can be sure that when containers do arrive, you’re not wasting time figuring out how to apply them to your own environment. Instead, you can begin devising a strategy to make the most of what could be an extraordinarily useful addition to your organisation.

Joe Kim

SVP and Global CTO

SolarWinds

www.solarwinds.com

@solarwinds

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