Containers, Continuous Operations and Getting to Zero Downtime
If you are yet to discover the benefits container technology can bring to your business, it’s time you started taking notice.
This is especially true if you rely on continuous operation systems, because containers offer real value, and when implemented and managed correctly can result in zero downtime.
But like any new technology, before diving in it’s important to understand and identify the special skills, tools and processes you’ll need.
Does your business need continuous operations?
Firstly, what is continuous operations? In a nutshell it’s a system that reduces or eliminates the need for planned downtime. With continuous operations the system should never stop, thanks to the hardware and software solutions that are in place.
The value of continuous operations to your business can be found by determining the cost of any system downtime. It wasn’t all that long ago that most businesses had set trading hours, and any necessary maintenance could be scheduled outside of these hours and have little or no impact on operations. In today’s world however, many companies now have 24 hour global operations – and this requires continuous operations to support online sales, inventory access and mobile applications.
For organisations with around the clock demands, migrating to continuous operations makes sense. And containers can make the transition and ongoing management easy.
The benefit of containers
Container technology provides you with a standardised way to divide your applications. When broken up in this way, they can be placed on different physical and virtual machines – in the cloud environment or on your premises. By doing this you have greater flexibility for workload management and can build fault-tolerant systems.
There are benefits when it comes to testing and deployment too. You can operate new and previous versions of applications on different systems within a container - or within clustered containers. This allows you to seamlessly redirect users to the newer version, without the user ever knowing.
Some organisations, including Google, have been using containers long-term to support continuous operations. As a result their operations have almost zero downtime. With container technology now widely available, your business can do the same.
Where DevOps fits in
If you’re already using containers in your continuous operations, you’re ahead of the game. But the rest are fast catching up. As interest in DevOps grows and the value of continuous operations becomes more known, many businesses are coming to us ready to implement container technology to enhance portability options and improve operations.
To get the most out of the technology, it’s important to understand how it can help your business. Zero downtime won’t happen automatically when you move to continuous operations. Much thought from developers and application architects is required on how to best structure applications within containers and how to manage the containers as clusters.
It’s a good idea to include continuous operations as an automated and seamless part of your DevOps processes. It’s when you have highly automated processes managing the transition of code from development to operations, that you’ll see true value in your DevOps investment.
For many organisations the biggest challenge when moving to DevOps and continuous operations is within the manual processes that are still needed – those operations that are yet to be replaced with automated tools. The key here is to make everything automated and everything repeatable. This ensures consistency across the board.
Getting the most from container technology
For containers, continuous operations and DevOps to work effectively for your business it’s vital that your people and culture are ready for it. Some in your organisation may hold more traditional views on how things should be done, and others may lack the necessary skills to fully understand the technology. You’ll need to get everyone on board and provide training as necessary, so that your team is ready to make it work. We work closely with our customers to ensure this happens and provide ongoing support and advice to keep things on track.
A feature of the technology that we love, and our customers do too, is the ability to isolate applications within containers. This allows you to manage them using a consistent interface, and with container clustering you can keep things running and seamlessly update applications that are inside containers with no downtime.
So how do I begin?
The first step in moving to continuous operations is to clearly define your automation and DevOps processes. These are directly linked to how successful your changeover to continuous operations will be.
Creating a work culture that is team oriented and embraces change will make the transition a lot smoother. Equipping your staff with the skills and knowledge required to support the DevOps team is also critical.
Having said all this, it is possible to move to continuous operations without containers – but containers bring a number of very useful capabilities that are impossible to ignore.