March 29, 2017

Most of the major shifts in enterprise computing occur at an evolutionary pace. But a new report from 451 Research suggests that the rate at which enterprise IT organizations are shifting to application containers might be more accelerated than expected.

A Cloud-Enabling Technologies Market Monitor published this week by 451 Research forecasts that the application container market will grow to $2.7 billion by 2020 from $762 million in 2016. That represents a relatively small percentage of the overall IT market. But a 40 percent compound annual growth rate deserves some attention.

Jay Lyman, principal analyst for cloud management and containers at 451 Research, credits the emergence of Docker containers as the de facto standard with fueling the overall market. Once developers discovered how easy it is to run applications on multiple platforms using Docker containers, the applications container market rapidly expanded. Lyman notes there already are more than 125 IT vendors participating in the application market in one manner or another, including some of the largest players in the IT industry.

As adoption of Docker containers continues to expand, Lyman says IT organizations soon will find themselves confronting an array of DevOps issues. Today, most containers are deployed on top of virtual machines mainly because IT operations doesn’t have the tools in place to manage containers deployed on bare-metal servers. This co-existence approach to containers and virtual machines will be the dominant approach in the enterprise for several years to come.

But, Lyman says, it’s only a matter of time before IT infrastructure efficiency issues push more organizations toward bare-metal servers. Today, an IT organization can run on average 12 to 36 containers on top of a virtual machine. Web-scale companies already are deploying hundreds of containers on a single bare-metal server. That disparity in IT infrastructure economics, he notes, will simply be too much for enterprise IT organizations to ignore.

At the same time, the shift to containers is driving IT organizations to embrace lighter-weight hosting environments as an alternative to traditional server operating systems, he says. Before too long, the entire operating stack in the average data center will start to shrink noticeably.

IT organizations also will have to rethink management processes. In the case of containers, new functions are added to an application essentially by replacing one container with another. The whole concept of updating an application by adding a patch is eliminated. Given that capability, more developers are assuming responsibility for managing the entire application life cycle on their own, which in turn enables the IT operations team to focus more on optimizing the underlying IT infrastructure.

Lyman says for now, containers are showing up most often in public cloud computing environments. But it’s a matter of time before IT organizations discover how much containers can further their hybrid cloud computing ambitions. Once that occurs, application workloads running containers will move more frequently between public and private clouds.

Like most emerging technologies that see rapid adoption, the ultimate impact often is not as profoundly appreciated. But in the case of application containers, it’s now not so much a question of whether they will transform enterprise IT as much as it is when, and to what degree.

Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist with over 25 years of experience. He also contributed to IT Business Edge, Channel Insider, Baseline and a variety of other IT titles. Previously, Vizard was the editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise as well as Editor-in-Chief for CRN and InfoWorld.