Will containers replace VMs in the near future? How would that impact networking?
Containers are lightweight application instances that run in servers without the need for a full VM. To get an idea of what containers are, see the Wikipedia article on Docker, which is one type of container system. A library and kernel functions provide the abstractions needed for storage, network access, security, etc.
Why should networking people care? Well, it means that applications will be able to be provisioned and functional much faster than if they had to wait for a full OS to be installed and booted. We’re talking about times under a minute, with an eventual goal of having fully operational applications within seconds of deciding that it is needed. That’s fast enough to respond to rapid changes in compute demand.
The Impact on Networking
Maybe it still isn’t clear how this is important to networking. The network will need to be provisioned within that same timeframe. That’s way faster than even what has been discussed with regard to configuring the network to support new VMs and VM migration. There’s no way that humans can be in the middle of this process. It is happening in a big way across all the big infrastructure providers, as described in this Network World article.
OK, so it will probably not impact most enterprise customers for a while yet. But one thing is for certain: It is coming to enterprises in the next few years (3-5?). As equipment refresh times come up, enterprises will have a choice on what technology upgrades to implement. Those enterprises that are the most agile will have an edge over those who don’t adapt. Think of it as evolution in the business world. The agile and adaptable will survive best.
Networking must embrace automation in a big way. This is going to be a shock to a lot of people. It will take a while to happen, primarily due to the rollout of the necessary systems, both hardware and in terms of policies, processes, procedures, and staff education.
What can we networking people do? We’ll have to give up on the old processes we followed that involved manual network configuration. Most of the networking people I know don’t like to use automation. They know that it can break a network very quickly if it tries to implement something that’s not right. Many network staff members didn’t want to use a tool that could propagate a bad configuration change faster than they could manually go behind and fix it. Well, those days are numbered.
Read, learn, and start adapting. Automation is on its way.