Containers likely to disrupt Java Virtual Machine usage, survey says

Java VMs, the original application 'containers,' are now facing stiff competition from a new generation of containers.

For years, Java Virtual Machine (Java VM) has been the "container" technology of choice for dropping the exact same version of an application (as Java bytecode) onto multiple platforms and operating systems. But lately, there's been a new container in town -- called, appropriately enough, containers.

containers-suitcases-cropped-photo-by-joe-mckendrick.jpg
Photo: Joe McKendrick

Interest in containers is going mainstream in enterprises. In a recent survey of 2,151 Java VM developers and IT professionals from Lightbend, 22 percent said they are already running containers in production. Another 31 percent report they are playing around with containers on their local machines, while 20 percent are starting to evaluate containers. Only six percent said they are not interested in containers.

(For details on the Lightbend survey's findings related to microservices and DevOps, see my previous post here.)

Not only are containers rapidly gaining traction within enterprises, but most developers agree that containers are likely to supplant Java VMs. A majority of developers, 57 percent, said containers will definitely disrupt the Java VM landscape, while 32 percent were not quite sure yet. There is still a skeptical segment as well -- 11 percent thought containers were "mostly hype."

Java developers are less inclined, however, to be embracing containers at this point. The survey finds container adoption among Scala developers is higher than with the Java crew. Close to one-third, 31 percent, of respondents whose production applications are written primarily in Scala run containers in production -- compared to 21 percent for Java.

Of course, not all that glitters is containers. Java VMs still have important features to which containers are still catching up -- especially security. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols offers a great comparison between VMs and containers in this article published last year.

In most cases, containers are being employed to launch and support new apps, versus any legacy modernization efforts, the Lightbend survey also finds. Six in ten are primarily targeting brand new applications to be containerized, while 40 percent are targeting existing applications for containerization.

In addition, the survey found a strong correlation between containers and microservices adoption. Forty-one percent of respondents running microservices in production are also running containers in production, compared to 22 percent of total respondents running containers in production, a 54 percent difference.

It's also no surprise, then, that container orchestration is the next great frontier. The Lightbend survey's authors are calling this a "land grab." Docker SWARM leads with 37 percent of overall respondents, with 28 percent employing Google Kubernetes, and 14 percent on Mesos / Marathon or Mesosphere DC/OS.

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