August 27, 2016

Cloud services have been a major battleground for Amazon, Google, and Microsoft for years now. Leveraging cloud platforms has already become commoditized to some extent, though, to the point that there wasn’t much in the way of defining characteristics that make one vendor or cloud platform significantly better than another. The advent of microservices and container platforms, however, has emerged as a differentiator that cloud providers can use to compete.

A few years ago containers were barely a blip in the radar. Docker changed that and transformed the face of IT in the process. As Docker gained momentum, software vendors and cloud platforms scrambled to integrate support for the popular container platform. It didn’t take long to get to the point where Docker support became table stakes for even being in the game, and it was just expected that any cloud provider would support Docker containers.

Now, that initial wave of Docker-specific support has shifted to a broader container-agnostic focus and a drive to be better at providing scalability, redundancy, interoperability, and security better than rival cloud platforms. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft each have their own unique approach to addressing these cloud container concerns as they battle each other for supremacy.

Scalability

Scalability is one of the hallmarks of cloud platforms in general. The ability to add virtual servers and cloud storage capacity at the push of a button is one of the driving factors that led many organizations to move to the cloud in the first place. With DevOps and microservices, though, organizations need scalability on steroids—with an ability to both increase or decrease the available resources exponentially in an instant. What’s important to consider when looking at Amazon, Google, Microsoft, or other cloud platforms isn’t just whether or not they can scale—but how the scaling is accomplished. You need to ensure that the processes you’re running and the container images required scale, and not just virtual server capacity.

Redundancy

Again, this is one of the primary value propositions of the cloud in general. A company maintaining a local data center is exposed to more risk and more single points of failure. If something happens to the data center, business stops. A cloud provider typically has multiple data centers spanning diverse geographic regions across the country and around the world to ensure that operations continue even if one site experiences a disruption of service. That redundancy is equally important from a microservices / container perspective

Interoperability

Now we start to get into the real meat—the place where Amazon, Google, and Microsoft can really start to differentiate from one another. As I mentioned above, Docker is table stakes at this point. However, there is an explosion of DevOps and microservices related tools and technologies out there. Customers don’t want to be locked in or paint themselves into a corner where they’re limited to just a few options, so it’s important for the cloud providers to deliver as much third-party support and integration as possible.

Security

This is another key area for differentiation. As with any hot new technology, security is somewhat of an afterthought. That means security is just gaining steam as a focus that customers are looking for when considering a cloud platform to support a container environment. Container technologies like Docker and CoreOS are driving innovation in the area of security, but they’re not alone. Microsoft developed Hyper-V Containers to offer a more secure alternative, and there are other secure container solutions out there as well.

As you move from a local data center to the cloud, or from a traditional IT model to DevOps and microservices—or both—make sure you keep these considerations in mind. There is a push for standards, so you won’t necessarily be married for life to the cloud vendor you select, but you will have a much smoother experience if you keep these things in mind.

Tony Bradley is Community Manager for Tenable Network Security and Editor-in-Chief of TechSpective. Tony has a passion for technology and gadgets--with a focus on Microsoft and security. He also loves spending time with his family and likes to think he enjoys reading and golf even though he never finds the time for either.