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Containers: 4 Steps to Prepare for Transition

February 19, 2021 | Best practices

Martyn Coupland

Martyn Coupland
Expert Technology Consultant

It’s easy to see why microservices are proving so popular with companies. Although the term itself is barely a decade old, the idea behind it is something developers have pursued for a long time. In simple terms, a microservice architecture splits an application into multiple services that perform specific functions within a wider application. In contrast to the monolithic architecture that is characteristic of many traditional applications, microservices allow developers to be more agile and scale up with greater ease. The code for different services does not have to use the same language and stops a fault in one area from jeopardizing the entire system. In a multi-cloud world, the ability to package up and isolate every artifact you need to run an application is alluring to businesses, especially those looking to foster a DevOps culture.

The small, light-weight nature of containers make them a natural partner for microservices. As mentioned in a previous blog, these technologies are especially useful for those adopting a Cloud Native approach. However, this does not mean the process is risk free, or does not require rigorous planning. In order to mitigate for these risks, there are four measures you can take to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.

  1. Are containers right for you?

    First and foremost, you need to be sure that migrating to containers is the right decision for your business at this moment. Existing workloads should be designed with the transition in mind, as there is little point moving legacy monolithic applications into containers without prior work.

    Some applications are more of a natural fit for such a transition. For example, a hospital client uses containers and IOT technology to monitor patient vitals to identify potential problems before they occur. This can help identify the onset of sepsis four hours before critical intervention is needed and improve the probability of survival by 80%. Containers are perfect for this particular use case, given the importance of real-time data analysis.

    On the flip side, microservice architecture simply does not suit the needs of some businesses. At Ensono, we have encountered enterprises looking at containers purely because of their popularity. Applications that do payroll, for example, have a rate of change that is usually too high to justify redeployment. Occasionally, there may also be incompatibility issues between a container and the underlying operating system already in place. You should avoid trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, and only transition towards containers if it truly fits the current infrastructure of your business. Don’t do so because everyone else is doing it.

  2. Be thoughtful to avoid misconfigurations

    The transition to containers often requires a lot of change. If a software or application maintainer is unaware of all these potential areas, then there is a very real risk of misconfiguration.

    When migrating, various things such as IP addresses and privilege access levels may change. The application maintainer needs to be aware of all these alterations that are being made to the runtime environment. If this doesn’t happen, then misconfigurations occur. This can lead to security exposure, application failures and performance degradation over time. Therefore, it is vital that any application maintainer involved is familiar with the container platform and prepared for the various changes that arise from the transition.

  3. Plan your resourcesAs with any other form of migration, capacity and resource management needs to be a priority. Without appropriate forethought, the simplicity that makes microservices appealing in the first place can be lost if resources are overcommitted. Capacity will be different for every business and needs to be taken into consideration when planning the transition to containers. There are a number of tools, the most popular being Kubernetes, that can be used to monitor capacity and help in this regard.
  4. Anticipate problems

    When transitioning to containers, it can be easy to get lost in deployment and lose sight of development down the line, and the problems that may arise with it. It is often the case that microservices are more tightly coupled and dependant on one another than they need to be, which undermines the purpose of the move away from monolithic applications. Therefore, it is important to be aware of which containers may require more frequent patches and updates, as well as being more susceptible to bugs.

    You need to anticipate issues down the line. When transitioning to containers, businesses should avoid underestimating compatibility problems. Containers are by their nature, highly portable but can still be incompatible with the underlying platform in some use cases.

    Businesses can often fall into the trap of neglecting day two operations. Look for a technology partner that can not only execute the migration but also guide you through the subsequent operation. You need to consider how you keep things up to date, how you scale, and how you integrate with other services. In an enterprise, you will never have everything on containers, so an integration strategy is vital.

Containers will continue to play an increasing role in application development. While it can be tempting to dive headfirst into the transition, it is important to prepare accordingly based on the specific needs of your business. Don’t be pressured by the hype and transition to containers just because it is popular. They can offer huge benefits to businesses, but only if the transition is implemented in a considered and appropriate fashion with an awareness of potential future issues. By anticipating these risks, you can help streamline the process and avoid complications down the line.

Remember, for success…

  • Determine if containers are right for you
  • Be thoughtful to avoid misconfigurations
  • Plan your resources, and
  • Anticipate problem

If you have any questions, or are looking for advice on transitioning to containers, please contact us here at Ensono.

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