Executives from Google’s cloud team this week said the next major disruption in the IT infrastructure market is upon us. Ten years ago virtualization changed the game. In the past few years public cloud has taken off. Now, get ready for another wave, Google says: Containers.
Container hoopla has swept the technology industry in the past year. Microsoft, Red Hat, Google and Cisco have all jumped on the container bandwagon. This week the Wall Street Journal wrote an article noting that containers threaten some of the heavyweights of the tech industry, from Microsoft to VMware and Citrix.
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Now Google is looking to take a lead in this growing market. Containers are core to what the company does, execs said during the Google Cloud Platform Live event yesterday. Google spins up more than two billion containers a week, so it knows how to manage containers at scale.
Earlier this year Google open sourced a project named Kubernetes, which is a software tool that manages clusters of containers. Now, Google is offering Kubernetes as a service, in a new offering it calls Google Container Engine, abbreviated GKE.
Containers are the next logical step beyond virtualization, says Brian Stevens, Google’s VP of cloud platforms (Stevens was formerly the long-time CTO of Red Hat and joined Google over the summer). Whereas virtualization slices a server up into many virtual machines, containers can run on top of bare metal or VMs to allow many applications to run autonomously. It’s an additional layer of abstraction that can make applications portable across public and private clouds. Containers basically wrap an application to make them portable (they're analogous to traditional shipping containers). Google showed a graphic that puts containers directly inbetween it’s Google App Engine PaaS and Google Compute Engine IaaS, so it is serious about GKE.
Even with all the hype, analysts say it’s still early days for containers. Forrester analyst John Rymer says Google’s GKE offering is in the market ahead of demand for it. Fellow Forrester analyst Dave Bartoletti says containers hold a tremendous amount of promise, but they’re a ways off from supplanting VMs.
“The disruption today is limited to new app development,” Bartoletti says of containers. “I think we’re a few years from existing apps being rebuilt for containers, or from enterprises moving well-running apps into smaller containers, but for new web-scale app development, the future is clear - containers.”
He notes that it’s the same path that virtualization took in the enterprise market in the early 2000s. Containers will benefit from big vendors like Google, VMware and others embracing them, and from open source projects like Docker and Kubernetes making them easier to use. Now Google is the first big vendor out with a container product.
Meanwhile, Amazon Web Services is expected to have a thing or two to say about containers at its re:Invent show next week, so stay tuned for that.