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5 Best Practices When Implementing a Robust Container Strategy

If you're in any software-intensive company - whether or not you're developing software - you need to be testing on several platforms at speed. Whether you're developing industrial software or affiliate marketing tools for marketing teams, containerization will help you run your operations in a faster and more secure way. It's clear why the container segment grew by nearly 30% in 2020.

But migrating to a container solution is a major change, one with far-reaching cybersecurity implications. Without a solid container strategy, all this effort could go to waste.

With that in mind, this article will cover five best practices to follow when implementing a container strategy.


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What is container deployment

A container is a kind of virtual machine that helps developers and businesses work more effectively. It contains everything that a piece of software needs to run, and if developers work with that container it means they can run it on any machine.

This eliminates all worries - and a lot of troubleshooting - around whether software is compatible with any one employee's machine. Creating this standard developer environment lets people work more efficiently, as there are no surprises regardless of what machine they're working on.

This is great for an increasingly remote workforce, enabling IT managers to work on one stable configuration for all members of a remote team, just like they would on a tightly-controlled, in-office computer network.

It's also cost-efficient. Spinning up a Windows environment when everyone's a Mac user would have required buying physical PCs, but with containers, you can deploy virtual PCs with just a few clicks. This is a huge time and cost-saving feature over the long term, as testing and deploying software over different configurations is no longer a physical task.

By reducing the number of possible environments your team is working on, you also make the whole company's IT infrastructure more predictable, reliable, and secure. Improvements to one secure environment get pushed out to tens or thousands of employees. And day-to-day, IT managers have to deal with fewer of the surprise edge-case errors that break one employee's computer and take most of an afternoon to fix.

What is container strategy

A container strategy is your plan for bringing containers into the business. This is a transformation, and if applied to the whole company it will change the way everyone works day-to-day.

You'll have to rethink many of your internal processes. Your container strategy should consider what your new development pipeline will look like and how you're going to move to that.

It should consider whether and how you're going to break your infrastructure up into containerized "microservices", rather than keeping all your internal tooling in one machine. You should also consider how many devices you're going to be running. Consider how you're going to leave room to scale and adapt this architecture as the business grows and changes.

As we'll see, you'll also need to consider issues like security and onboarding. You might have a brilliant idea for how you'll structure your new system, but it'll go to waste unless you're able to convince everyone of the value of moving over to this new way of doing things.

A robust strategy for container adoption

A robust container strategy needs to account for factors like applications, governance, platforms, processes, and evaluation. Factors to consider include setting clear goals, preparing to move, setting up processes, and focusing on people.


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1. Set clear goals

Like any IT effort, your container strategy has to be closely aligned with business goals to be worth the investment. There's no use wondering how do I create an electronic signature if there isn't an agreed-upon business case for e-signature in your company.

How is a container strategy going to help you reach this year's business targets? Do you need to be shipping at a faster pace? Or is the point to streamline the business' operations? Container strategy can help with both, but you should keep your eye on the prize throughout this long, detailed process.

The sales or marketing team wouldn't dream up an email campaign without knowing the limits of mail merge in gmail. They'd compare it with more specialist options like Mailchimp or Sendgrid and weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of all platforms.

By having a clear goal in mind, and being aware of limitations, you'll invest time wisely and avoid scope creep.

One limitation of containers is that they're not suited for graphics-heavy applications like 3D modeling, which involve transferring vast amounts of data. Not all hardware in your enterprise will support containerization, and legacy security systems might not have updated to play nicely with containers.

Containers should also be small. Running a massive system on one container isn't advisable, and it's not a good use of the infrastructure.

If you were thinking of doing this, consider splitting up your system into microservices first before you go all-in on containerization. Otherwise, think about using containers for a few specific parts of the enterprise.

2. Prepare to move to a container platform

Preparation is key for a successful switch to containers. Depending on your current setup, you might need to change your existing infrastructure. Containers naturally break up some of your systems into smaller components, so you'll have to think about how you're going to adapt to be ready for that to get the most utility out of it.

Containers also have some inherent issues that you'll need to compensate for elsewhere in the system architecture. The most effective way to discover issues like this is to build your container infrastructure one piece at a time.

This means you're not committing to a system that turns out to have uncaught issues down the line. Additionally, having a plan for implementing this change incrementally is essential to keep your operations running without interruption.

In more recent container systems, each container has an even smaller scope than we've seen in the past. This means microarchitectures and microservices will play a bigger role in these systems in the future. Shopping around for those solutions well in advance of the switch will give you time to consider all parts of the new tech stack.

These are just some of the issues you'll have to prepare for now. But keep in mind that as the technology changes, you'll have to keep adapting to keep your system up to date. Think about the horizon-scanning and review processes you're going to adopt now to set yourself up for success in the future.


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3. Establish processes for your container deployment strategy

The next thing you need to plan for in your container strategy is the processes running it.

Business requirements, organizational capability, and container technology are all evolving. Delivering "early and often," dramatically increases an organization's capacity to use, assess, and modify the containers.

Regular processes for pilot projects, reviews, rollouts, updates, and upgrades will ensure your first container architecture is implemented properly. Those same processes will ensure future versions arrive as needed.


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4. Maintain your container platform

One thing any container strategy must take into account is updates. You have to make sure your container solution is future-proof: your container software and the tools you use to deploy those containers need to be up-to-date to stay secure.

And while you want the latest security patches, automatic updates will reduce the stability, predictability, and reproducibility of your container environments. You should vet updates carefully based on your company's needs and goals.

Images - the source your container is based on - should be updated regularly with new updates. Your container strategy needs to take this into account, as well as how teams should be consulted about their software requirements.

As you test and deploy across different platforms and environments, images will build up. A container strategy will account for the cleanup of these images over time.

The most important aspect of software maintenance is security. While containerization can reduce the attack surface for hackers by standardizing environments, hackers can easily move between containers if they get into one. You need to think about additional security measures, like what happens if one of your containers is more prone to attack than others.

As standard practice, you should be scanning individual containers and images for vulnerabilities as you would with any other computer system. If you know you're going to be using a Windows 11 image frequently, you need to stay aware of the attack surfaces of that software.

The good news is that you can take advantage of the existing security software for Windows within that container, and software to better isolate containers will keep your whole system safe.


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5. Consider your development teams

The most important part of any technological system is the people involved. The human touch required to successfully manage a hybrid workforce is just as important in a container strategy, which could disrupt the way people are used to working. In a high-pressure environment, nobody's going to adapt to a new system that requires too much time and effort on their part to learn.

Like any business process, the container strategy can't live and die with you. You'll have to think about long-term governance and maintenance, and that involves training. Think about the roles and responsibilities needed to maintain your container architecture, and consider how you're going to distribute those jobs and upskill the existing team.

Moving to a containerized system is as big a shift as public cloud migration. You need to give people time to prepare to work with containers, doing so will speed up the adoption process later.

For software developers, working in the container will be a whole new workflow. Any projects they're working on during the transition will need extra time budgeted to account for setbacks. If the adoption is successful, you'll find that developers are working in a faster and more productive way than ever before.

In the same way, you'd optimize your consumer-facing app for applause digital rewards, you should have adoption KPIs set to monitor how successful people are taking up your new system. These should cover direct measures of employee engagement, like how much time people are saving with the new system, as well as overall business metrics like ROI on IT compared to previous months/years.

You'll achieve adoption of your cloud system by getting buy-in from all relevant stakeholders. That means selling managers on the value of getting the container migration right, and it means demonstrating to employees how much better containers are for their daily workflows.

One idea that could help here is "start with why", a common refrain in B2B marketing from Simon Sinek. If you need to tell people WHAT is going to happen, HOW it works, and WHY it'll be good for them, you should do it in reverse. Tell them WHY you're about to change the way the company works, HOW it's going to benefit them, and only then get into the weeds of WHAT your container strategy is.

Search around for container migration case studies for common pain points. Your container strategy should address those ahead of time, and you should pay close attention to issues stakeholders are having. Making the switch as easy for people as possible is essential to getting buy-in from the whole team.

The value of a robust container strategy

A robust container strategy is essential to a successful move to a containerized system. By setting clear goals, preparing thoroughly, and keeping an eye on your people, you can ensure your move to a containerized system runs smoothly.



Severine Hierso

Severine Hierso 

Severine Hierso is EMEA Senior Product Marketing Manager for RingCentral Office, the leader in cloud communications solutions, and is passionate about creating value, differentiation, and messaging, ensuring a better experience for customers and partners. She has gained extensive international Product Marketing, Market Research, Sales Enablement, and Business development experience across SaaS, Telecommunications, Video Conferencing, and Technology sectors within companies such as Sony, Cisco, Cogeco Peer 1, and Dimension Data/NTT. Severine Hierso also published articles for domains such as Recruiterflow and CEO Blog Nation.

Published Tuesday, June 14, 2022 7:30 AM by David Marshall
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