September 29, 2016

How do you know when a new concept or technology has truly achieved mainstream critical mass? When it gets converted to the ubiquitous “as-a-Service” alternative. Containers are still sort of the new kid on the IT block, but already Containers-as-a-Service is emerging as a thing.

The initial phase of cloud competition revolved around the infrastructure or platform-as-a-service elements. Cloud platform providers could differentiate themselves and compete on attributes like redundancy, interoperability, scalability, and security.

A Forbes contributor recently wrote, “Containers as a Service (CaaS) is becoming the new Platform as a Service (PaaS). With the interest in containers and microservices skyrocketing among developers, cloud providers are capitalizing on the opportunity through hosted container management services.”

One reason that CaaS is becoming the new PaaS is because platform-as-a-service is already somewhat commoditized among cloud providers. Integrating cloud orchestration support gives cloud providers like Google, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft Azure a new and disruptive way to differentiate their platforms from one another. As organizations scramble to embrace DevOps and adopt microservices architectures, containers is the next big thing that these cloud providers can use to deliver unique value.

Microsoft recently rolled out its Azure Container Service (ACS). ACS is built on a modular architecture and provides a generic layer capable of running a variety of container orchestration solutions. Right now, ACS only supports Docker Swarm and Mesosphere, but there’s no reason Azure can’t also eventually support Kubernetes and other container cluster managers.

Microsoft integrates ACS with Azure Stack to provide customers with a unified, consistent environment for running containerized applications. Basically, Microsoft took Azure Infrastructure-as-a-Service and added ACS Containers-as-a-Service on top to deliver a complete cloud container ecosystem.

One thing that helps drive the CaaS trend is the effort by the industry to conform to container standards. Initiatives like the Open Container Project ensure that different container technologies and container platforms will work with each other so that organizations don’t paint themselves into a corner that locks them into a proprietary container solution.

Of course, Microsoft is not the only CaaS game in town. The list is short, but growing quickly. Google developed the Kubernetes container orchestration tool, and offers Google Container Engine—a platform powered by Kubernetes. Amazon has EC2 Container Service (ECS) that’s driven by a proprietary container cluster manager. Rackspace launched Carina—a CaaS solution built on Docker Swarm.

One way CaaS rivals can compete is security. Security is a serious concern for many organizations when it comes to containers, so it’s important to maintain a separation between containerized applications and the data they access and generate. It’s also important for CaaS providers to offer delegated management of containers, and abstraction of services like logging and monitoring.

What’s next on the horizon? Microservices-as-a-Service?

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.