Archive for software trends

Containers Continue on Track for 2019: 3 Key Trends For the Maturing Container Ecosystem

This blog appeared first at the Amalgam Insights blog.

The past few years have been exciting ones for containers. All types of tools are available and a defined deployment pipeline has begun to emerge. Kubernetes and Docker have come to dominate the core technology. That, in turn, has brought the type of stability that allows for wide scale deployments. The container ecosystem has exploded with lots of new software components that help maintain, manage, and operate container networks. Capabilities such as logging, load balancing, networking, and security that were previously the domain of system-wide software and appliances are now being brought into the individual application as components in the container cluster.

Open Source has played a big part in this process. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation, or CNCF, has projects for all things container. More are added every day. That is in addition to the many other open source projects that support container architectures. The ecosystem just keeps growing.

Where do we go from here, at least through 2019? Pretty much on the same path. 2019 will be a year for rounding out and growing container technology to make it more palatable to large enterprise applications. With the basic technology done, the work to make container networks secure, resilient, and manageable will be the primary focus for containers.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be new and exciting technology added to the container ecosystem. Serverless computing, which has been built on containers, will now itself be turned into a container technology. The KNative project to create serverless computing in a Kubernetes cluster is an example of interesting development that needs to be tracked over the coming year. For many developers, having to deploy container clusters is, in of itself, too much work. They would prefer a new level of abstraction that allows them to ignore all the workings of the cluster and just write code. KNative might just do that.

Another area to watch will be hardening containers. While the capacity utilization of containers is better than virtual machines, they also less safe than VMs. Inhibiting the ability of code running in a container to access the host operating system is an interesting way to make containers more secure.

Finally, the emergence of service meshes for containers is an important development for containers and microservices. Services meshes are set of network services controlled by a central controller accessible from the container cluster. This offers the possibility for much more flexible clusters that can access centralized services that compliment the internal components of the system. Service meshes help provide a balance between centralized and localized services.

2019 is not going to be “exciting” for containers in the sense of blockbuster new technology. Instead, this is the year when the container ecosystem grows up, filling holes in container architectures. The refinement of the container ecosystem is critical to long term health in the space. It won’t be exciting but it also won’t be boring.

Hanging out with the Cool Oracle Kids

Oracle

When I wrote my last article on open source at Oracle, I got some feedback. Much of it was along the lines are “Have you hit your head on something hard recently?” or “You must be living in an alternate dimension.” While the obvious answer to both is “perhaps…” it has become increasingly obvious that Oracle is trying very hard to be one of the cool open source kids. They have spent money, both in for product development and acquisition, to build up their open source portfolio. This is what I saw front and center at Oracle OpenWorld.

When many IT professionals think about Oracle, they think about their flagship enterprise database. That’s fair since Oracle is still the clear leader in industrial strength databases. They are continuing to evolve the database platform with the Autonomous Database. Oracle is also well known for their enterprise applications especially ERP and CRM. The Oracle technology and product portfolio, however, is large and extends much further than the database and enterprise application categories. The cloud has given Oracle the opportunity to extend even further into emerging technology such as serverless or blockchain. It was also an opportunity to adopt open source technology across the board.

Open source, for example, is clearly on the minds of Oracle executives. Larry Ellison himself talked briefly about open source in his keynote. That’s a tectonic shift for Oracle. It can no longer be said that it is just a few people inside the company giving lip service to it. Oracle Cloud has embraced Docker containers with the Oracle Container Engine, and Kubernetes with the Oracle Kubernetes Engine. What was remarkable was that they are deploying unforked versions of these technologies. By deploying unforked i.e. standard versions of container images and Kubernetes, Oracle is demonstrating that they are not trying to turn these technologies into proprietary Oracle software that cannot be migrated to other cloud services or platforms. Instead, they are betting that large enterprise customers will want to run containers on the Oracle Cloud platform, which emphasizes security and reliability. In addition, they also believe that customers will want more automation to make enterprise cloud infrastructure easier to manage. These are Oracle’s strengths and are well suited to enterprise customers with complex applications.

Oracle is also heavily vested in important open source projects. One such project, Fn, is a project to develop serverless technology that can be deployed on-premises and in the cloud. What is remarkable is that they began this as an open source project before commercialization. This differs from some other Oracle open source projects, such as OpenJDK, which first came out of a commercial product, the Oracle Java VM. Fn is also the basis for Oracle Functions, Oracle’s serverless offering. Even here, they are taking an open approach by using the standard, unforked Fn so that Fn functions are not locked into the Oracle Cloud platform. Again, Oracle believes that customers will eventually decide on Oracle Functions because of the reliability and security of their cloud but they aren’t forcing customers into it.

OpenJDK is arguably the one of most strategic open source projects that Oracle is involved in. It is the project that is developing the next generations of the Java language and platform. Oracle has a commercial version of the VM but it is differentiated through service and support not additional features. The IT community has a right to be a bit leery of the true openness of OpenJDK, especially given Oracle’s history with the platform, but their approach is strictly open source. Some of the upcoming OpenJDK features currently in the pipeline are designed to make Java a more competitive language while still maintaining the concurrency and typesafe features that have made Java the language of choice for secure, performance-oriented enterprise applications. Project Amber, for example, is trying to reduce the amount of code a developer has to type by inferring more from the code itself. The reduction in the ceremonials alone will make Java a more efficient and modern language. Project Loom, on the other hand, is building out a lightweight concurrency system for those instances where Threads are too resource intensive and OS level concurrency isn’t necessary.

More than Oracle’s products and contributions to projects, it is clear that the attitudes within the company have changed. Speaking with Oracle executives about open source sounds more like talking to Google or Red Hat. They are not losing the focus on automation, reliability, and security, which is why large enterprises do business with Oracle. They are, instead, trying to make open source fit the enterprise better. This, for Oracle, is the path to success.

As someone who has been in the IT industry a long time, I know that we can be tribal and chauvinistic about companies. Sins of the past and impressions from years ago form our opinions about what companies offer. Thirty years ago, Oracle and Microsoft were the cool kids on the block and IBM was my father’s IT provider. Unfortunately, we miss out on opportunities when we divide companies into the old and the new. It’s time to consider that a company such as Oracle could change and might have embraced the open source movement.