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How Managed Service Providers Could Help Cash-Strapped SMEs Resist Serverless Computing and Adopt Containerization
The application container market has been predicted to surpass $8 billion by 2025 according to a report from Grand View Research with much of that growth expected to be down to widespread adoption by SMEs. Yet there is competition because that capital growth could instead shift towards serverless computing unless something can be done to help smaller businesses access the resources needed to deploy containerization reliably and affordably. 

Although containers are lightweight compared to VMs, they do still require a long-running server environment. Then there is the recruitment, training and salary overhead required for those skilled engineers who will be handling the complexities of container configuration and management.

It is no surprise that many SMEs are becoming seriously tempted by PAYG serverless computing as an alternative to containers.

Adopt Containerization 

The advantages of containerization over serverless computing

However, despite the costs and complexities, containerization has many advantages over serverless computing including control, portability and availability.

With serverless computing, applications are configured using separate functions and resources are called up only when needed. Unlike with containers, there is no server overhead at other times. However, those resources are hosted on specific platforms that are firmly under the control and ownership of a third party (AWS, Azure, GCP, etc.) If the SME wants to move an application to a different cloud service, they will usually need to completely rewrite the codebase which means there is an element of vendor lock-in with serverless computing.

In contrast, containers are 100 per cent owned by the company deploying them and can be hosted on any OS that is compatible with the container runtime (Linux, some versions of Windows, etc.) This control extends to testing. It is difficult to recreate the backend of a serverless deployment on a local machine but containers run consistently on any platform so can be easily tested.

Containers also make it easier to recreate and migrate legacy applications and services. As long as the host server supports the application's language, it can run anywhere - on premise or in the cloud. In contrast, serverless frameworks support only a limited number of languages.

Another key advantage of containers is that they can support applications and services that are in constant use and may require stateful workloads. Serverless computing is designed for more sporadic stateless functions.

How Managed Service Providers are leveling the playing field

Is it possible for SMEs to enjoy the benefits of containers without the server and management costs? This is where the concept of outsourcing to a third party IT services provider comes in. The portability of containers means they can be outsourced to managed service providers (MSPs). The best MSPs are well aware of the popularity of containers and have employed engineers highly trained in using and managing Docker, Kubernetes and other containers and orchestration services.

Using an MSP immediately reduces a company's server overhead while the MSP's skilled workforce can take over the complex and resource-intensive configuration, monitoring and updating of containers for their clients.

A successful relationship between an SME and an MSP will be down to both vendor choice and the strength of the service level agreement. A provider of IT support Los Angeles based DCG Inc., detail the requirements of a  watertight SLA, namely:

  • Performance parameters.
    This has to go beyond uptime and include latency and data accessibility. Due to the complexity of containers, mistakes happen and an MSP has to be willing to take responsibility for fixing the issue. Performance should also clearly set out the resolution timeframe and escalation procedure as well as a disaster recovery plan for extreme situations (e.g. a cyber attack).

  • Security.
    Since containers share an OS kernel, there is the potential for breaches affecting one application to migrate to others. SMEs should understand to what extent they will be sharing server space with other clients and what measures are in place to keep the workloads isolated.

  • Accountability.
    What is the price of failure? If SMEs are trading the safety net of public cloud-hosted serverless computing for the control of outsourced containerization, there should be a clear remedial policy in place. This could include an account credit tied to the scale of the issue (in terms of severity and/or time).

If these issues can be ironed out between MSPs and their SME clients, the predicted mass adoption of containerization may yet come to pass.

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About the Author 

Brent Whitfield 

Brent is the CEO of DCG Technical Solutions Inc. DCG provides the specialist advice and IT Services Los Angeles area businesses need to remain competitive and productive, while being sensitive to limited IT budgets.

Brent has been featured in Fast Company, CNBC, Network Computing, Reuters, and Yahoo Business. He also leads SMBTN - Los Angeles, a MSP peer group that focuses on continuing education for MSP's and IT professionals. DCG was recognized among the Top 10 Fastest Growing MSPs in North America by MSP mentor.

Published Wednesday, February 26, 2020 7:54 AM by David Marshall
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