Tag Archive for Microservices

Docker – State of the Nation (aka Observations of a Brit)

Docker Logo

It may surprise you to learn that Docker is actually quite old now (at least in Startup terms!), having released the first version of their very cool software in March 2013!

Throughout that time, Docker (the company) have moved at a fairly rapid pace in terms of feature and etween

ug releases, with an average of a point release about every quarter and minor releases every month (or more)!

Whilst sitting here awaiting my flight to VMworld Europe 2017, where there are MANY MANY MANY (MANY!) sessions on Docker, Photon, Kubernetes, etc on the session schedule, I am prompted to consider Docker’s rise to popularity, and finish off a post I begun a few months back after Tech Field Day 12!

Well come on Galbraith… get on with it then!

My experience in UK IT industry over the last (nearly) 15 years has taught me a few things, one of which is that whenever new technologies begin serious adoption in the US, it usually becomes popular in the UK within 2-3 years. That said, this number has been squeezed down a little in the past few years as companies move towards more agile development and deployment methods. Fail fast is becoming the mantra of many more organisations, though some people I speak to still wake up with night sweats at even the thought!

The first time a customer asked me about Docker in the UK was over 3 years ago, yet in all that time, people I talk to outside of the social media bubble many of us live in have been virtually silent about it; that is until now. Docker is becoming a weekly conversation topic now with a lot of organisations I talk to, with a many people wanting to jump on board the band wagon. The switch from an operating system-centric view of the world, to a more application and service-oriented (or should that be microservice-oriented) view of the world is becoming far more prevalent in my experience.Docker Swarm

Drivers to Docker Adoption

So what is it about this Docker stuff which seems to be catching the attention of people I talk to? A few common themes I hear are:

Automation of code deployment pipelines (CI/CD) to increase business agility
I think this is probably the number one driver to Docker adoption for people I talk to. Automation of CI/CD pipelines has become so common now, it is almost becoming the norm. Yes, it is tricky to do this with more traditional applications, but it certainly isn’t impossible. Using containers as the delivery mechanism for your application provides very consistent and repeatable outcomes. I mean, you can even get Oracle DB in a container now?!?!

That said, once you dockerise your applications there are many further challenges you will run into, including something as simple as how to apply your current security tooling, policies and proceedures to these new environments.

Maturity of the platform
The Docker code base and third party ecosystem has finally reached a point of maturity where many of the networking and storage issues of the past are beginning to reduce to within acceptable risk boundaries.

Improved cross-industry support
Following this maturity model, a swathe of vendors have put their names behind the Docker ecosystem; from VMware to Openstack, AWS to Azure, Google to Cloud Foundary, everyone is getting on board! You no longer have to buy support direct from Docker (the company), but can instead get it from your cloud vendor, along with a managed orchestration tier too, such as Docker Swarm, Kubernetes or Mesos!

Because Cloud
Yes, you can Dockers your existing applications for use on premises, but many organisations I speak to are using Docker as a method to allow their developers to write code on premises, test in their dev environments on prom or in the cloud, then deploy in a consistent fashion to their brand spanking new Production cloud platforms. PaaS solutions such as Azure WebApps and AWS Elastic Beanstalk are becoming a good option for customers who just want to write code, but for those who want that little bit more control, Docker gives them flexibility and consistency.to the cloud

CIO/CTO CV Padding
I hate to play the cynic, but I think there is definitely a significant percentage of CIOs/CTOs who are doing “digital transformations through containerisation and cloud” specifically to pad out their CVs and help them get a better gig.

This is otherwise known as a “Resume-driven IT Strategy”!

I am aware of one CIO who deliberately went to a cloud platform, even though it was significantly more expensive than a traditional managed hosting solution of a similar spec, when their business case and steady workload drew few, if any discernible benefits from the use of cloud.
CIO CV Padding When I hear people refer to technologies such as VMware vSphere as “Legacy” it really drives home to me the shift we are all going through, yet again, in the industry. This is another reason though which CIOs/CTOs/Heads of IT tell me they want cloud and containers. That said, I still struggle to find a single person who doesn’t have at least one physical server in their infrastructure, so just like the mainframe before it, I don’t think the hypervisor is going away any time yet!

The Tekhead Take

As expected the lag of a couple of years from the US to the UK in adoption of containers was apparent, but now is most definitely the time! Despite both positive and negative reasons for integrating it, Docker has become the part of the information technology zeitgeist in the UK…

Want to Know More?

I was fortunate enough to meet with the product team from Docker at Tech Field Day 12 towards the end of last year. It was a really interesting session which covered many of the enterprise networking and security features recently introduced to the platform, along with Docker’s new support offerings. I highly recommend checking it out!

Docker Presents at Tech Field Day 12

Some of the other TFD12 delegates had their own thoughts on the session and Docker as a whole. You can find them here:

Disclaimer/Disclosure: My flights, accommodation, meals, etc, at Tech Field Day 12 were provided by Tech Field Day / Gestalt IT, but there was no expectation or request for me to write about any of the vendors products or services and I was not compensated in any way for my time at the event.

Does a Serverless Brexit mean goodbye to infrastructure management problems?

Last week I was able to get myself along to the London CloudCamp event at the Crypt on the Green, for an evening the theme of “We’ve done cloud, what’s next?”. For those of you unfamiliar with the event, CloudCamp is an “unconference” where early adopters of Cloud Computing technologies exchange ideas. As you can probably guess from the theme title, many of the discussions were around the concept of “serverless” computing.

So, other than being something which seems to freak out my spell check function, what is “serverless” then?

I think Paul Johnston of movivo summed it up well, as “scaling a single function / object in your code instead of an entire app”, which effectively means a microservices architecture. In practical terms, it’s really just another form of PaaS, where you upload your code to a provider (such as AWS Lambda), and they take care of managing all of the underlying infrastructure including compute, load balancing, scaling, etc, on your behalf.

The instances then simply act upon events (i.e. they are event driven), which could be anything from an item hitting a queue, to a user requesting a web page, and when not required, they are not running. AWS currently supports a limited subset of languages, specifically Node.js, Java, and Python.

serverless introduction

There are of course other vendors who provide similar platforms, including Google Cloud Functions, IBM Bluemix OpenWhisk, etc. They tend to support a similarly small pool of languages, however some are more agnostic and will even allow you to upload Docker containers as well. Iron.io also allows you to do serverless using your own servers, which seems a bit of an oxymoron! 🙂

Anyway, the cool thing about serverless is that you can therefore “vote to leave” your managed or IaaS infrastructure (yes, I know, seriously tenuous connection!), and just concentrate on writing your applications. This is superb for developers who don’t necessarily have the skills or the time to manage an IaaS platform once it has been deployed.

Serverless Introduction - Tenuous doesn't even come close!

The Case for Remain

Much like the Brexit vote however, it does come with some considerations and challenges, and you may not get exactly what you expected when you went to the polling booth! For example:

  • You may believe you are now running alone, but you are ultimately still dependent on actual servers! However, you no longer have access to those servers, so basic things like logging and performance monitoring suddenly become a lot trickier.
  • Taking this a step further, testing and troubleshooting becomes more challenging. When a fault occurs, how can you trace exactly where it occurred? This is further exacerbated if you are integrating with other SaaS and PaaS platforms, such as Auth0 (IAM), Firebase (DB), etc. This is already a very common architectural pattern for serverless designs.
    You therefore need to start introducing centralised logging and error trapping systems which will allow you to see what’s actually going on, which of course sounds a lot like infrastructure management again!
  • It’s still early days for serverless, so things like documentation and support are a lot more scarce. If you plan to be an early serverless adopter, you had better know your technical onions!
  • As with any microservices architecture, with great flexibility, comes great complexity! Instead of managing just a handful of interacting services, you could now be managing many hundreds of individual functions. You can understand each piece easily, but looking at the big picture is not so simple!Serverless and Microservices Complexity
  • Another level of complexity is in billing of course. Serverless services such as AWS Lambda charge you per 100ms of compute time, and per 1 million requests. If you are paying for a server and some storage, even in a cloud computing model, it’s reasonably easy to understand how much your bill will be at the end of the month.
    Paying for transactions and processing time however is could potentially provide a few nasty surprises, especially if you come under heavy load or even a DoS attack.
  • Finally, the biggest and most obvious concern about serverless is vendor lock-in. Indeed this is potentially the ultimate lock-in as once you pick a vendor and write your application specific to their cloud, moving that bad boy is going to mean some major refactoring and re-writes!
    As long as that vendors pricing is competitive, this shouldn’t matter too much (after all, every single vendor is lock-in to some varying degree), but if that vendor manages to take the lions share of the market they could easily change that pricing and you are almost powerless to react (at least not without significant additional investment).
The Case for Leave

If you understand and mitigate (or ignore!) the above however, serverless can be quite a compelling use case. For example:

  • From an environmental perspective, you will probably never find a more efficient or greener computing paradigm. It minimises the number of extraneous operating systems, virtual or physical machines required, as this is truly multi-tenant computing. Every serverless host could undoubtedly be run at 70-90% utilisation, rather than the 10-50% you typically see in most enterprise DCs today! If you could take every workload in the world and switch it to serverless overnight, based on those efficiency levels, how many data centres, how much power and how many thousands of tonnes of metals could you save? Greenpeace should be refactoring their website as we speak!Serverless Computing is green!
  • Although you do have to introduce a number of tools to help you track what is actually going on with your environment, you can move away from doing a whole load of the mundane management tasks such as patching, OS management etc, and move up the stack to spend your resources on more productive and creative activities; actually adding business value (Crazy idea! I thought in IT we just liked patching for a living?)!
  • The VM sprawl we have today would be reduced as workloads are rationalised. That said, you just end up with replacing this with container or function sprawl, which is even harder to manage! 🙂
  • You gain potentially massive scalability for your applications. Instead of scaling entire applications, you just scale the bottleneck functions, which means your application becomes more efficient overall. Definitely time to read The Goal by Goldratt and understand the Theory of Constraints before you go down this route!
  • Finally you can potentially see significant cost savings. If there are no requests, then there is no charge! If you were running some form of event driven application or trigger, instead of paying tens or hundreds of pounds per month for a server, you might only be paying pennies! Equate this to dev/test platforms which might only be needed to run workloads for a few hours a day, or production platforms which only need to process transactions when customers are actually online, it really starts to add up, even more than auto-scaling IaaS platforms.
    Taking that a step further, if you have are running a startup, why pay hundreds or thousands a month for compute you “might” need but which often sits idle, over-throwing your functions into a scalable platform which will only charge you for actual use! I know where I would be putting my money if I were a VC…

Serverless Computing is hot!

Closing Thoughts

Serverless is a really interesting technology move for the industry which (as always) comes with it’s own unique set of benefits and challenges. I can’t see it ever being the defacto standard for everything (for the same reasons we still use mainframes and physical servers today), however there are plenty of brilliant use cases for it. If devs and startups are comfortable with the vendor lock-in and other risks, why wouldn’t they consider using it?

StorageOS – An array based on containers? It’s like storage for millenials!

Last week I managed to catch up with the guys from StorageOS, a new container-based storage company, headquartered in London. I found out about them at a London Storage Beers event a few weeks ago, and my first question was, what the hell is container-based storage, and how does it work?!

They started from the premise (yes that’s actually the correct use of the word premise!), that if you want to build a storage system FOR containers, what better way to do it than to build it FROM containers. StorageOS therefore offer what they describe as “full enterprise storage array functionality, delivered by software, on a pay-as-you-go basis”. They also plan to offer a free-forever Developer tier, which includes everything except HA functionality which you would obviously need for production usage!

StorageOS Announcement

So the good news is, today (Monday 20th June 2016) StorageOS are announcing the release of their Beta at DockerCon, so you can now download and test out their new storage platform.

The StorageOS Stack

The StorageOS Stack


You can deploy this StorageOS software anywhere from bare metal to containers:

StorageOS - It's software, so it runs anywhere!

It’s software, so it runs anywhere!

Appliances for some of the larger clouds are in the works, but will not be available on day zero.

They can then consume any back-end storage, from SSD, HDDs and virtual drives, to EBS volumes, object stores, etc. You then pool all of capacity from all devices into a capacity pool, which is deduped, encrypted, and available across all nodes, and carve out volumes to present to systems like Docker through their own native Docker driver, or (slightly oddly) iSCSI / FC!!! They even have VAAI support in development!

Overall, I think it’s a pretty interesting product. At first look it feels a bit like a traditional array in a container package, much like if you containerised an enterprise app, then just utilised as a traditional array with some container plugins, instead of being very targeted and container-specific. StorageOS do have an OS driver to let you mount their volumes direct from containers, but there are other things out there today which do that anyway (e.g. Flocker).

I would say their messaging is a little inconsistent at the moment, and adding things like FC integration early on feels a bit odd if they’re positioning themselves as a container play. They do however state clearly that they’re targeting enterprises and want to make the on-boarding process as simple and friction-less as possible. I do worry that this “all things to all people” approach could be a wee bit risky at this early stage, and being more laser focused in the short to medium term would allow them to differentiate more.

StorageOS Cloud

The founders were very specific when they stated that they were building a clustered array with synchronous remote replicas, not a distributed storage array. Async replication is coming, which will be critical to maintaining performance in a hybrid cloud or multi-cloud setup. I really like the fact that you can stretch the same hybrid storage environment between your on-premises and cloud infrastructure using a single storage solution. This same solution can actually be used to span multiple public clouds as well, providing a resilient storage solution between say AWS and Azure, all of which is deduped and encrypted of course! This could be very interesting indeed, as customers look to protect their workloads from large public outages!

Finally, the StorageOS software is built (as you would expect these days) with APIs at the heart of everything. Even the modern GUI is really just based on API calls to the back end.

The Tekhead Take

Anyway, enough gabbing… It’s still early days, but the storage experience of the founders is certainly solid! Who better than ex-storage admins to provide a product that works well for storage admins?! I’d say there’s a good chance of this becoming a pretty cool product in the future, so definitely one to watch!

You can find a link to their website and beta sign up here:

StorageOS hipster-approved storage

%d bloggers like this: