Thursday, July 9, 2015

Containers and Clusters - Disrupting how cloud services are delivered

The Problem

Cloud computing and the higher level cloud services that public cloud companies offer have changed our industry. They allow developers to focus on solving customer needs versus worrying about servers, databases, asynchronous messaging, analytics, storage, media encoding, graphic rendering, content delivery and so on. These cloud services enable engineers to create applications quicker and reduce their costs. However, one of the draw backs of using the higher level cloud services is cloud lock in. The SDKs and APIs developers need to use to interact with these services are, for the most part, not standardized. If you use these services and you want to run the same application on another cloud or on premise, you need to rewrite some code. I don't think that this lock in should exclude people from using these services. However, we need a model that allows for these companies to provide innovative high level cloud services while also allowing us the freedom and flexibility of true portability. 

Disruption is needed 

One approach could be to get all the cloud companies to standardize their services. Ha. Anyone see pigs flying? Another approach, and the one I believe in, would be for mainstream adoption of containers and clusters to provide a path for cloud services to run anywhere. While I don't think cloud providers will jump at this notion, I do think there is an ongoing technology change that might force their hands. If they don't jump on board, startups will create similar services and take away their market share. Heres how.


Containers will be the foundation of this revolution. Docker and the rest of the container technologies offer a way for an engineer to package their software, deliver it to a server and run the package anywhere. If you want to learn more about containers and docker you should google it or read this webpage. Docker Docker Docker.  It's all you here about these days. In time, containers will be main stream.


In order to run a production service or application, you will need to build, run and manage many different containers. For redundancy, performance and scalability you will need to spread these containers across multiple servers and data centers. This is starting to sound complex. To make this easier, people have created clusters. 

Kubernetes, Apache Mesos and Docker Swarm are all clustering and scheduling software frameworks that allow organizations to create a logical collection of compute power called clusters. These clusters are made up of servers or VMs and enable engineers to deploy their containers across the infrastructure. In addition, the cluster software also provides container replication, auto-scaling, load balancing, monitoring, logging, scheduling, resource management and so on. The end result is that we can create clusters on the hardware of our choice: in the cloud or on premise. We package up our code and deploy it wherever we want. True utility compute. 

Operating systems for Clusters

To make things easier to manage, clustering software allows engineers to logically define groups of containers and various cluster attributes, like load balancing and security, into logically defined services. This allows engineers to manage services on their clusters, instead of a collection of containers. To make things easier for engineers, enter the concept of cluster operation systems. Two  exist today: Mesosphere's data center operating system (DCOS) which offers a web-portal and CLI and some might consider kubernetes CLI tool a cluster operating system as well. These cluster operating systems make it easier for engineers to deploy and manage  services on one or more clusters. They allow us to see the status of the cluster, the services, the containers and so on. All the things you need to run and maintain your service in production. Cluster operating systems will make deploying your services across multiple clusters a breeze. 

The app store for clusters 

It pretty obvious how this will enable us to do great things. But how will this change how cloud services are delivered? The answer will be a cluster service repository. Like an app-store for clusters. Want to run a HA database with your application? You will simply download the DB service you wish to integrate to your application. Want a web server? Go choose a web stack. Need caching? Need messaging? Simply pick your service. Then, you get to write code to utilize it, package it up and deploy it to whatever cluster you have running. 

Disruption in how services are delivered

Folks in the community will create and manage services in the services repo based on open source software packages. I see traditional software companies packaging their software into cluster services and perhaps charing for licensing. I see startups jumping at the chance to be first to offer new services that run on these clusters. And the kicker, I see cloud providers packaging their existing services so that you can run a copy of their service in your cluster, perhaps for a fee. Imagine running services like AWS Kinesis, Google machine learning, Oracle DB, azure's data warehouse or whatever, anywhere you want. Awesome.  

The end state unicorn

Containers, clusters, cluster operating systems, cluster services and a service repository will change the way we use data centers. It will change the way cloud services and open source software is packaged and delivered. This will have all the benefits of Platform as a Service. The control of doing things yourself. The dream of utility compute will be realized. Cloud provider lock in will be a thing of the past. Clustering and the service appstore will rock the cloud industry. 

What now

There is still a lot of work to do. Some of the things I described are here today and some are just visions that are being worked on. These technologies have huge momentum and I'm personally very interested in all this.  I believe in this disruption and I'll be investing in it one way or another. If you are in the cloud business you should consider this idea and decide if it's worth embracing. If you are an engineer or developer, keep an eye on these developments. 


1 comment:

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