Container Orchestration, or the new Data Center OS?

Tuesday Nov 21st 2017 by Arthur Cole
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Some leading experts are saying that container technology is so revolutionary that it threatens to supplant the operating system as the linchpin of the data stack.

Containers are changing the way the enterprise develops and deploys applications, but this is affecting more than just the operational side of IT. Some leading experts are saying that the technology is so revolutionary that it threatens to supplant the operating system as the linchpin of the data stack.

This would upend literally decades of IT architectural design, altering the configuration of everything from the smartphone and PC to advanced data center and IoT infrastructure – and perhaps producing new tech leaders on the vendor side as well.

According to Mark Russinovich, none other than Microsoft Azure’s chief technology officer, the fact that containers allow you to run applications independently of the operating system means that eventually the container orchestration platform will take on much of the resource management and operational control currently handled by the OS. As he explained to Geek Wire recently, this will not eliminate the OS altogether, but it will start to alter the way in which data environments are viewed on a structural level, leading to new architectures and even the rise of new resource consumption models, such as serverless computing.

This explains two things about the rise of Google’s Kubernetes container orchestration system, says TechRepublic’s Matt Assay. First, it provides the rationale behind its broad acceptance as a means to organize and implement container architectures, including by container pioneer Docker and virtualization giant VMware. And secondly, it clarifies the way in which leading developers are striving to leverage Kubernetes to become “the Red Hat Enterprise Linux of the data center operating system.” Red Hat itself is a leading contender in this fight, utilizing OpenShift as its own distribution of Kubernetes, although Google, Microsoft and others are striving to build distributed container ecosystems through their own implementations.

And although they may be late to the Kubernetes party, VMware is still hoping to make its mark on the container environment in ways that support the continued involvement of traditional virtualization. The company recently released Project Photon OS 2.0, which originally grew out of the now-defunct Project Photon cloud-native environment but is now seen as a standalone solution for container management. The system runs on both VMware environments and public clouds, offering tools like an API-based interface to coordinate user commands, application sets and networking within a containerized environment, as well as a new series of binaries for rapid development and distribution of Kubernetes clusters.

Container management may also play a significant role in the future of the OS on various user devices. Chrome Unboxed’s Gabriel Brangers notes that containers open up the possibility of running non-native apps on top of the Chrome operating system, which would give it a significant leg up in Google’s drive to supplant Windows in the PC market. While he argues that this may still be a little too techy for most casual users, the enterprise might see a distinct advantage to building applications, especially cloud-facing ones, using Chrome. Version 63 of Chrome OS is due to launch December 12, which means we should start seeing users running containerized applications by the end of the year.

It’s hard to tell what the impact of an all-new operating paradigm will be on the enterprise, particularly if it means a rehash of the OS wars of the early 1980s. The tech industry does have a way of filtering out weak ideas and allowing the strong ones to flourish, even if those strengths sometimes have more to do with economics than performance, but with the IT stack becoming increasingly fragmented due to the highly customizable nature of software-defined architectures, it is not at all clear that the enterprise will be content to settle on just one means of container orchestration.

Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

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