IBM CTO Sees Smaller Container Platforms Ahead

IBM heading into 2020 is advising IT organizations to expect container platforms will continue to shrink in size to help reduce the overall attack surface that needs to be defended and to enable them to run more efficiently on edge computing platforms.

Chris Ferris, IBM CTO for open technology, says IT organizations should expect open source projects, including the Origin Community Distribution of Kubernetes (OKD) employed underneath the Red Hat OpenShift development and deployment platform, will be making significant advances in the years ahead in terms of shrinking the size of containers, the Kubernetes container engine and the Istio service mesh. IBM finalized its acquisition of Red Hat earlier this year, which has been the impetus for a wave of collaboration across a wide range of open source platforms. The first instances of container platforms created an opportunity to modernize IT environments. Now Ferris says IT organizations should expect to see each of these platforms to become more efficient over time.

At the same time, many containers in the years ahead will be deployed on unikernel systems, says Ferris. Unikernels consist of a specialized, single-address-space machine image constructed using only a modular stack of libraries required to run an application. That approach allows a secure, fixed-purpose image to run directly on a hypervisor or bare-metal hardware without an operating system such as Linux or Windows. The degree to which unikernels might supplant traditional operating systems is unknown. However, given the amount of legacy code dependent on those traditional operating systems, no one should expect to see them disappear overnight.

Ferris also notes that size of the overall application environment will further shrink as organizations increasingly embrace serverless computing frameworks. Not only do serverless computing frameworks reduce the amount of code by employing functions to process data externally, but Ferris also says they soon will be able to spin up instantaneously to enable applications to scale up and down as needed.

These advancements will be occurring in parallel to the rise of immutable databases in the form of blockchain platforms, applications capable of invoking quantum computing systems and artificial intelligence (AI) platforms, which are not only going to become more accessible but also certified to be trusted and secure, says Ferris.

Containers and serverless computing frameworks are, of course, only the latest instances of abstractions to gain traction in IT environments. Ferris says IT organizations should expect to see others emerge through the next decade as IT continues to evolve.

In the meantime, the smaller the abstractions currently employed, the easier it will become to push computing all the way down to the smallest of devices. For the most part, when IT vendors describe edge computing today they are talking about hyperconverged servers, also known as gateways, connected to a 5G or internet of things (IoT) network. The next big challenge is to push that edge all the way down to the devices connected to those gateways.

Mike Vizard

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.

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