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VMblog's Expert Interviews: Murli Thirumale of Portworx Gives a Deep Dive into Containers


Container technology is a hot topic right now.  And the industry has just concluded DockerCon Europe 2015, a two day Docker-centric conference where the technology was front and center.  For those of us who couldn't make the trip, I was able to catch up with Murli Thirumale, CEO and co-founder of Portworx, to get an expert look into the world of container technology.

VMblog:  Let me start off by asking you, what is the hype around containers?

Murli Thirumale:  All the hype around containers is about speed.  Containers let application developers stop fussing about IT infrastructure and focus on app development.  Large companies like Google have extensively deployed containers to rapidly iterate and deploy apps. Finally, companies like Docker have productized container technologies and created a hub with pre-containerized applications ready to deploy right away.

VMblog:  What interests you most about the state of containers today?

Thirumale:  Developers love containers. The rapid deployment of apps through the DevOps and DevTest processes using containers are well acknowledged.  What is most interesting are the huge benefits of containers in production that are beginning to be discovered: lower server costs because of higher container vs VM densities per server; the ability to rapidly scale users and applications; freedom from developers requiring rapid changes, which can be destabilizing to IT. I predict that IT will love containers soon as well!

VMblog:  How are containers different from VMs?

Thirumale:  VMs are about virtualizing hardware, and as a result they create fat system requirements.  This means VM's take longer to boot, and consume more resources. Containers on the other hand, run on top of a single Linux instance. This makes containers more agile, efficient and collaborative. The time to launch a container can be 10s of milliseconds vs seconds or minutes with a VM. You can also see up to 4-5 times as many containers per server compared to VMs.

VMblog:  Do you think containers will entirely replace VMs and should they?

Thirumale:  Containers are disruptive. The agility and economics of containers make them highly attractive. Many VM deployments will be replaced by containers running on bare metal to get the full advantage of the performance and density benefits.  However, IT environments that run multiple operating systems and have complex security controls are well suited for VM architectures.  I see containers rapidly displacing VMs in most environments over time.

VMblog:  What are the challenges of using containers outside of DevOps?

Thirumale:  Scale, security and orchestration are the biggest challenges today.  Multi-node deployments bring challenges of data persistence, high availability for containers and container management.  Security at both a container hygiene level and in managing access to containerized apps are also issues.  Fortunately, these are well recognized issues and many startups and a few large companies are beginning to address these issues.  The cavalry is around the corner!

VMblog:  What things are still needed to make containers truly production ready?

Thirumale:  We just discussed the security issues. Traditional storage is not tuned for Docker which is holding back the deployment of stateful containers.  Monitoring tools that are focused on container level visibility and management is a new category that is yet to be widely deployed. The other issue is that the container ecosystem has not standardized completely on the APIs for scheduler, networking, storage and monitoring so the existing solutions can interoperate seamlessly.  The Open Container Initiative and the Linux Foundation are making great strides in these areas.

VMblog:  What does container defined storage mean?

Thirumale:  Containers bring new requirements for data persistence and management to the enterprise. For containers to be portable, there has to be persistent data across multiple nodes. Storage performance isn't tuned for containers and storage features such as snapshots and replication are not container-specific. Container defined storage is storage that is native to containers, supports Docker volume plug-ins and the graph driver. It ensures data persistence across nodes, where storage policies like class of service, IOPS and availability can be set at a container level and provides container-level snapshots. Storage designed with built-in container support will rapidly displace storage with bolt-on container support.

VMblog:  What business value will deploying containers provide to companies?

Thirumale:  Agility and cost reduction.  Developers using containers do not need to reconfigure applications for new environments, since containers maintain configuration settings and dependencies wherever they are moved.  This results in the fast deployment of apps through dev test and into IT.

While most know containers for their agility benefits, the IT organization can see huge improvements in operational efficiencies with containers.  Containers and the underlying container defined infrastructure provide a higher density than VMs. Containers are lighter weight and faster, and allow the deployment of a "thin" datacenter to run , cutting costs of storage and servers by leveraging commodity hardware coupled with software defined infrastructure. Containers' scale easily  eliminates the need for manual installation or troubleshooting issues by operations teams, saving time and money. We see containers ushering in the age of thin datacenters.

VMblog:  Where do you see the future of containers in the next 2 years? 

Thirumale:  Containers will go mainstream and move into enterprise production from DevOps.  The benefits in production are too large for CIOs to ignore.  Enabling container deployment  will signify the mature quality of core container technology and the emergence of new infrastructure technology in storage, networking, monitoring, orchestration and security that is container focused. These new technologies will help drive container adoption in production.  In the very near future we see the new superfast thin datacenter, enabled by containers.


Once again, a special thank you to Murli Thirumale, CEO and co-founder of Portworx, for taking time out to speak with

Published Wednesday, November 18, 2015 7:08 AM by David Marshall
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