So I had my first skip-one meeting today (i.e. my first one-on-one meeting with my boss’ boss) for my current team. It was interesting. My director is a sharp guy – I like him, and I feel like he’s trustworthy. One of the things that I found interesting was how he tried to get to know me better by probing me on fundamentals. One question in particular that I found interesting was: Why should we continue deploying our web services using Docker containers? It was the first time in quite some time that I thought about this question, and I’ll list the two main reasons that I gave my director. They are the reasons that I think are the most critical for large scale enterprise environments.

  1. Containers are a lighter weight form of virtualization. Virtualization allows one to run multiple services on a single host. This is useful because if your host isn’t precisely calibrated to fit your service, your hardware resources become idle. For example, an idle CPU, unused RAM, empty disk space, and an idle NIC and all consequences of undersized applications running on commodity hardware that isn’t precisely chosen for the application it runs. And of course, in our world of data centers and clouds, we don’t want to custom build hosts, we want them to be commoditized for optimal economics. By using virtualization, you can have multiple services that make better use of your hardware’s resources. But, virtualization isn’t perfect. Virtualization would be perfect if it didn’t come with it’s own overhead. Virtualization, itself, requires additional CPU cycles, more MBs used by RAM, more HDD pages, etc. This cost can be considerable because you’re basically emulating an entire host and operating system; this cost can be enormous when you extrapolate it to an entire data center or even larger regions and WANs. The diagram below from a nice ZDNet article on the subject shows how Docker is a lighter weight form of VMs in some detail. Containers reduce the cost of the overhead that comes with traditional forms of virtualization.Containers vs. VMs
  2. Containers let you deploy your application with greater automation and reliability. So the aforementioned ZDNet article discusses how containers lend themselves more to CICD. The reason they do so is because it’s easier to deploy your service on not just commoditized hardware, but to leverage PaaS more. For example, suppose you have a Java 8 RESTful web service running on Tomcat 7. You don’t need a complicated automated deployment pipeline that deploys Java 8, Tomcat 7, and the WAR file (or worst yet get an ops team to manually deploy Tomcat 7 and Java 8 and only use a CICD pipeline to deploy your WAR file). Instead, you can just deploy a single container that contains all of Java 8, Tomcat 7, and your web service’s WAR file as a single deployment artifact. Since you’re just deploying a single container, everything going out as the product of what the pipeline pushes, you can incorporate tests to ensure everything works as a whole, leaving less of a need than ever before for shitty manual deployment processes.

Anyways, that’s it, I hope that these two core reasons benefit you. They sure helped me. 🙂

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