Application development has forever been a thorn in the side of federal agencies. It’s tough, after all, to innovate when hampered by the inflexibilities of federal procurement cycles, regulations, standards, development models and the costs involved with developing new software.
Then, of course, there are the additional resources needed: In-house application development often means you need more servers and more storage for an unknown time period, resulting in underutilized resources. Meanwhile, version control requires network applications and other development tools, such as a configuration management tool.
Lately, however, cloud-based application development has gained yardage against its on-site counterparts. This is especially beneficial for federal agencies who increasingly must adapt to changes in private sectors, such as finance or healthcare, and embrace new technologies and processes, but often struggle to do so. This is where containers become valuable.
Indeed, with cloud-based application development, secure enterprise-class containers show significant benefits. A type of virtualization, containers deploy and run applications without needing to launch a virtual machine, nor are you running a complete instance or image of an operating system. While relatively new, containers can facilitate easy application development and delivery across hybrid environments, regardless of the end operating system.
Take, for instance, the increasingly popular practice of DevOps. By providing IT teams with improved environments for solution development, testing and production — not to mention more simplicity and flexibility — containers allow for better, more successful DevOps workflows.
This is a coup for stack developers everywhere. The ability to run containers in production environments (instead of launching bulky virtual machines for each application) means access to a slew of advantages, including heightened flexibility. Containers all run on a single control host, which means increased efficiency, increased security and increased mobility.
Cloud access allows for streamlined processes, on-demand infrastructure, and quicker application development. Instead of throwing money at the disparate tools and resources necessary for building and maintaining development environments, developers can build the environment and pay as they go, spinning services up and down as needed. This effectively negates the financial risk associated with purchasing an array of hardware and software that you’ll no longer need after deployment. Further still, moving to container-based virtualization enables full utilization of IT assets when necessary. Simply log in to your container service and begin assembly using a third-party or open-source API, whichever you prefer.
Additionally, since container-based virtualization keeps the application isolated from the rest of the environment, it diffuses any worry about the application affecting the current infrastructure. Traditionally, testing can be expensive. By performing all necessary tests within the cloud, you mitigate a huge degree of risk. Then, after validating work, you can migrate the application onto the premises, pulling it from the cloud and putting it behind all the walls built to protect your internal architecture.
Conversely, you can capitalize on the increased mobility that comes with container-based virtualization. Instead of a host operating system with a host server and virtual machine, you can use your own operating system and libraries inside the container, essentially creating a self-contained host. Any life support needed exists within the container, and, regardless of the operating system, you can move and run the application anywhere. The portability and mobility aspects of containers make moving an application from one cloud environment to another more realistic.
Most companies still virtualize their applications, but some level of assimilation to cloud-based development environments will be necessary to stay competitive. Containerization can help organizations become more competitive and more automated, both by supporting better DevOps practices and by enabling easier migration of applications from one cloud environment to another.
Going forward, as support for this model improves, we can expect to see added functionality and features, which will further improve development and deployment. Between increased efficiency, a greater security and wider mobility, it’s easy to see why containerization has become a standard for forward-looking developers everywhere.
Charles Fullwood is Director of Force 3’s Software Practice.