Containers, Kubernetes and the Centralization of IT

Let’s get something clear from the start: digital transformation is tough.

By Bob O’Donnell, president and chief analyst, TECHnalysis Research

Let’s get something clear from the start: digital transformation is tough. Not only is it hard for many people to get their heads around what can be a fairly amorphous concept, the process of implementing the technologies necessary to enable it can be even harder. Part of the problem is that many different pieces need to coalesce in order to put together a solution that allows companies to truly evolve their IT organizations and their capabilities in a transformative way. Another challenge is that every company has access to a different set of existing hardware infrastructure and a unique set of applications. Unfortunately, there aren’t any clear maps pointing them how to move from what they have at point A to where they want to go at point B.

“There is not one right way to digitally transform an organization nor only one set of tools or capabilities to get there.”

—Bob O’Donnell, president and chief analyst, TECHalysis

As the concept of digital transformation has matured, however, it has clarified an absolutely critical point: there is not one right way to digitally transform an organization nor only one set of tools or capabilities to get there. Companies need—and are using—a multiplicity of different computing architectures, software platforms and organizational approaches to achieve their goals. Yes, public cloud infrastructure players like Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft’s Azure and Google’s Cloud Platform are critical, but private clouds and on-premise infrastructure are equally important. And, oh by the way, it turns out that most companies are choosing to use several different public providers and several different options for private clouds. From an operational perspective, we are living in a choice-enhanced hybrid, multi-cloud world.

From an operational perspective, we are living in a choice-enhanced hybrid, multi-cloud world.

Similarly, modern, cloud-friendly container-based applications are clearly the development path for the future, but legacy applications still make up the vast majority of what most companies use on a regular basis. As a result, a wide choice of tools for migrating, refactoring or repackaging legacy applications are essential to help the development side of IT achieve meaningful progress on their path towards digital transformation.

As empowering as choice may be when it comes to different computing and software development approaches, it does, however, bring along with it an additional set of requirements: the need to manage all these options, in some type of coherent manner, ideally from a single, centralized location. The “Ops” side of IT departments need tools that allow them to do things such as see, move and manage their workloads within or across whatever combination of hardware infrastructure they have access to.

“Containerization” allows organizations to use Kubernetes technology to manage the various containers in a more coherent fashion.

At the same time, the “Dev” side of IT needs tools that it can use to create or convert its application catalog into a standardized format that can also be organized and managed in a more centralized way. To that end, IT departments are starting to leverage container technology, both to create new cloud-native applications as well as to serve as a new “packaging” technology for legacy applications. Not only does the “containerization” of applications provide more consistency in the manner with which companies create and update their applications, it allows organizations to use Kubernetes technology to manage the various containers in a more coherent fashion. In addition, Kubernetes support across the various types of computing infrastructure platform options gives IT departments more flexibility in where and how their applications get deployed.

In a sense, Kubernetes can be thought of as a type of metaplatform that runs across a wide variety of different infrastructure hardware types and physical locations. It also provides a consistent software platform that sits at a unique layer within existing OSes and through which containerized applications can run. Most importantly, it does this in a centralized way that makes what would otherwise be an extraordinarily complicated mix of hardware, platforms, applications, interconnect and even physical locations, much easier to manage and control. In that regard, it provides a unique way to centralize many of the core capabilities that modern IT departments need to create and manage.

Putting it another way, the digital transformation process that companies are going through is primarily focused on modernizing applications into component parts that can be worked on independently with new types of tools, figuring what type of hardware computing infrastructure is best suited to those applications, and then monitoring and managing those applications.

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Up until now, the management process has been very difficult because of the wide range of different application types and formats and the requisite different computing hardware it’s all been running on. What’s been missing is a centralized platform that sits on top of various existing management tools and software platforms and allows IT managers to easily keep track off the different elements in an organized fashion.

Conceptually, Kubernetes provides the technological foundation necessary to create the organized set of capabilities that companies need to build a modern, flexible, digitally transformed IT environment. But Kubernetes doesn’t do all that work on its own. In order to fully leverage the benefits of containers and Kubernetes within the walls of a private data center where virtual machines also still exist, for example, you need to have additional software that can essentially adapt Kubernetes to those environments. Additional software tools are also necessary to centrally manage the inevitable mix of virtual machines, legacy applications and cloud-native containerized applications you find in most enterprise environments. Similarly, companies need the right development tools, platforms and methodologies to allow in-house developers to create cloud-native containerized applications or refactor existing legacy applications. Finally, as described earlier, most companies are choosing to maintain some of their own hardware infrastructure, so it’s important to have a range of solutions that can power this Kubernetes-based computing environment.

Piecing together all these components and figuring out how to manage it all can be a bit overwhelming, however, and many enterprise IT vendors have been working to create solutions that can help simplify the process. Chief among them is Dell Technologies, a company that may be best known for its hardware, but that has united an impressively broad array of cloud-focused software vendors, including VMware, Pivotal, Virtustream, Boomi and more. Many of these vendors’ products leverage container and Kubernetes technologies as a core part of their offerings, allowing Dell Technologies Cloud to bundle together solutions that can help companies create their own version of the digitally transformative, container- and Kubernetes-centric vision described above. Plus, many of their offerings include Dell-managed options, making the process of adopting the technologies even easier.

There’s no question that the road to an agile, cloud-native set of IT capabilities can be challenging and confusing. But it’s also now very clear that the level of flexibility, capability and transformative power they enable make them the obvious point of focus for current and future IT endeavors. The only remaining point to consider is how quickly and how aggressively your organization wants to follow that path.

This post was sponsored by Dell Technologies and originally shared on LinkedIn.