New Survey Data: Breaking Up with Virtual Machines Is Hard To Do For Early Container Adopters

Nobody likes paying for virtual machine licenses, and VMware faces a real threat with the rise of containers. But IT operators are having a more difficult time with the container ramp-up than their developer counterparts. That’s what more than 500 IT leaders said in Diamanti’s newly published container adoption survey. Diamanti CEO Jeff Chou, who formerly led the Cisco UCS engineering team, provides context on how container evolution is unfolding, and implications for the virtual machine stack.

Q:  Although enterprises are still early on the container adoption curve, the general enthusiasm around cloud-native technologies seems to suggest that containers will ultimately replace virtual machines. But are you seeing other indications from the survey data?

Chou: Yes, while we found that 34 percent of respondents spend more than $250 thousand on licensing fees and that 44 percent were seeking to replace some of their virtual machines with containers, we think the reality is that virtual machines and containers will co-exist in the datacenter. A meaningful percentage of workloads will be containerized. Some will work fine in a virtual machine, while others will demand bare metal.

VMware needs a strategy around containers. There’s still a lot of uncertainty around whether their product strategy will focus on making the hypervisor lighter weight, or whether they will optimize for containers running on VMware. But asking how worried they should be about containers is like asking how worried the train industry should have been when the airline industry was born. You’re always going to have trains for some jobs because airlines don’t solve everything, and that’s how I see the relationship between containers and virtual machines. But containers will also take away some of VM market share, just as airplanes attracted passenger transportation and limited the upside of trains.

Q: The survey showed that virtual machines are still the most common deployment target for containers. What are you seeing from the segment of the market that’s deploying containers on virtual machines?

Chou: Running containers on virtual machines is pretty awkward — it’s like a Rube Goldberg machine and it usually doesn’t end well.

IT operations teams try to leverage existing virtual machine infrastructure to get something up and running quickly. But running containers on virtual machines is a road to nowhere. Diamanti has a white paper that breaks down why you should run containers on bare metal instead of virtual machines.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the types of applications that are being targeted for containers. It was a bit surprising to see in the survey how frequently the net-new applications are targets for containerization, while legacy applications are not.

Chou: It’s really microservices architectures and scale-out applications that are a perfect fit for containers. Those applications don’t need to run on a virtualized environment, and the vast majority of them are designed to run on bare metal.

But what we’re seeing with legacy applications is that enterprises are typically not modernizing them — they are end-of-life-ing them, and rebuilding them from scratch for a modern infrastructure.

I think a lot of the legacy applications will remain untouched. New applications will be developed in containers, to replace the old applications. But the market doesn’t seem to be investing as many cycles taking old legacy applications and modernizing them for containers.

Q: Diamanti obviously has a product that touches developers and IT operations, and the two audiences have vastly different priorities. Walk us through that.

Chou: Containers are obviously the next great platform, and Docker’s standard APIs made them very easy for developers to use. But the developer-led trend towards distributed computing and open source has created a new learning curve for IT operators at mainstream enterprises.

There has been a fundamental shift in the past 20 years since NetApp was all the rage, when you could just buy an appliance, have everything pre-packaged, and have it just work. Nowadays the attitude is “I want to do everything open source, because I don’t want to be married to one vendor, and I want the freedom to do what I want to do.”

All the pressure around containers is on IT right now. Certainly what’s en vogue is open source everything with commodity hardware. But there is a real skillset requirement for IT in doing everything with open source and commodity hardware. Remember, virtual machines are an infrastructure construct. That is VMware’s DNA. So all the tools and all of the advancements in that technology were around infrastructure, infrastructure management, and infrastructure virtualization. It was a much easier transition for IT to navigate.

But containers are an application construct. Therefore, all of the DNA around the initial ecosystem of containers was around applications. Application development, CICD, and orchestration of the containers — all developer concerns — have been the focus on containers. There has been less work done on the infrastructure underneath the containers, and that’s the problem that Diamanti addresses.