Technology moves fast in today's world. We go from zero to breakneck speed on a new concept before we can even catch a breath. New software enables new business models and those new models drive our understanding of people forward in ways we couldn't imagine before. I can catch a taxi with my phone, perform a DNA analysis from the comfort of my home, and collect all kinds of information about my world with a few clicks. Keeping up gets harder every day.

It's important to recognize new technology that has the potential to change the way IT professionals do their job. Years ago, virtualization changed the server landscape. The way that server administrators performed their duties was forever changed. Now instead of managing huge tracts of hardware, server admins had to focus on the fine details of managing software and resources. Making the software perform became the focus instead of worrying about the details of the server itself.

Today, we're poised to see the same transition in application software. We've spent years telling our IT departments how important it is to isolate workloads. Thanks to virtualization, we transitioned away from loading all of our applications onto huge fast servers and instead moved that software into discreet virtual machines designed to run one or two applications at most. It was a huge shift.

Yet we still find ourselves worried about the implications of running multiple virtual operating systems on top of a server. We've isolated things by creating a bunch of little copies of the kernel running an OS and running them in parallel. It solves many of our problems but creates a few more. Like resource contention and attack surfaces. What is needed is a way to reduce overhead even further.

Containment Facility

That's where containers come into play. Containers are a software construct that run on top of a Linux kernel. They allow us to create isolated instances inside of a single operating system and have those systems running in parallel. It's like a virtual OS instance, but instead of a whole copy of the operating system running in the container it is just the environment itself. It's fast to deploy and easy to restart. If your application service halts or crashes, just destroy the container and restart it. No need to reprovision or rebuild anything. The container admin program takes care of the heavy lifting and your service returns.

Containers have been used in development organizations for some time now to help speed the need to rapidly configure hundreds or thousands of instances to run a single command once or twice. It's a great way to provide huge amounts of test data for code to ensure it will run correctly in a variety of circumstances. Beyond development there are even more uses for containers. Imagine having a huge database application. Rather than building query functions into the app itself, the queries can run as containers that are spun up according to direction as needed and destroyed as soon as the data is returned. This would reduce the memory footprint of the database significantly and off-load some of the most CPU-intensive actions to a short-lived construct.

When application developers start utilizing containers even more, I imagine we will see even more security being built into software. If a process is forked into a container it can be isolated. Containers can be configured to self-destruct when a breach is detected, immediately ejecting the offending party. Data can be contained and communication lines secured to ensure that the larger body of sensitive material can be protected from interception. Applications can even be more responsive to outages and other unforeseen circumstances thanks to rapid reconfiguration of resources on the fly.

Containers are on the verge of impacting our IT world in ways we can't possibly begin to imagine. The state of containers today is where virtualization was a decade ago. In those 10 years, virtualization has supplanted regular server operations. Imagine where containers will be in even just five years?

You owe it to yourself to do some investigative work on containers. And don't forget to check out the Thwack forums where IT professionals just like you talk about their challenges and solutions to interesting problems. Maybe someone has the container solution to a problem you have waiting for you right now!