Clouds need containers, and Containers-as-a-Service smooths the way

Latest State of the Cloud report shows CaaS now the second-ranked Platform-as-a-Service offering in use among cloud-driven enterprises, right behind Database-as-a-Service. Why CaaS now?

Containers are well regarded for the flexibility they add to application development and deployment, especially when it comes to moving application workloads between clouds, between clouds and on-premises systems, or even from one on-premises system to another. However, effectively building a complex containerized environment still takes skills and experience. Enter Containers-as-a-Service (CaaS), a variation of Platform-as-a-Service that has been around as a concept for a few years, and lately is being embraced in a big way to speed up container adoption.

So, is CaaS just another "as-a-Service" term from vendors intended to confuse the market and wrap their offerings in some glorious-sounding "aaSy" package? Or is there more to it? 

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

The data suggests CaaS may be serving a righteous purpose. The latest survey of 750 IT executives from Flexera's 2020 State of the Cloud Report (originally launched by Rightscale), finds a majority of cloud adopters, 53 percent, also use CaaS, which is on the upswing as containers become a mainstream part of enterprise development and operations environments. Notably, CaaS is now the second-ranked Platform-as-a-Service offering now in use among cloud-driven enterprises, up from sixth place in last year's survey. Database-as-a-Service tops this year's list with 62 percent. "Organizations are driving this shift due to their growing interest in leveraging containers to speed deployment, scale operations, and increase the efficiency of workloads running in the cloud," the survey's authors state. 

In terms of fastest-growing technologies, CaaS ranked second with 17 percent year-over-year growth, right behind IoT services at 21 percent. Another fast-growing category, machine learning and artificial intelligence, also saw 17 percent annual growth. 

Overall, the survey, conducted in the first quarter of 2020, finds rising adoption of public and hybrid cloud solutions, with AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud taking significant shares of the market, explored in Larry Dignan's analysis of the results here at ZDNet.

Along with their foundational cloud offerings, many organizations are also choosing CaaS offerings from these public cloud providers to enhance and accelerate application delivery. AWS' Elastic Container Service and Elastic Kubernetes Service (ECS/EKS) experienced substantial adoption, with 54 percent using it, up from 44 percent in last year's Flexera cloud report. Another 24 percent planning to adopt ECS/EKS. Azure Container Service adoption reached 46 percent (up from 28 percent last year), and Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) reached 24 percent, up from 15 percent.  

CaaS provides numerous benefits, as pointed out in an informative overview by Scalyr's Eric Olsson. CaaS can bring a good balance of speed and control to deployments, he notes. "Agile methodologies shortened the development and testing pieces while cloud computing has shortened the deployment piece. Continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD) further improved the time it takes to get a feature to customers. In addition to these, containers can give you a more powerful and flexible solution. But with all these pieces come additional configuration and complexity." 

The rise in CaaS adoption may be helping to alleviate some of the challenges with technical expertise and migration issues involved in containerization, the Flexera survey's authors state. Lack of expertise is the top challenge for container use, cited as a major issue by 41 percent of respondents. Another 38 percent regard this as "somewhat" of a challenge. Migrating traditional apps to containers is the second-ranked challenge, cited by 34 percent as a major issue, as is security. More than one-fourth, 26%, even note that their service providers lack expertise in container technology. "The resource challenges can be attributed to the relatively recent adoption of container technology," the survey's authors point out. "Migrating traditional applications to containers is problematic because containers are optimized for microservices, while traditional apps aren't."

The use of Docker and Kubernetes continues to be considerable, the survey also shows. Close to two-thirds (65 percent) of organizations use Docker, and 14 percent plan to use it. Fifty-eight percent are using Kubernetes, a container orchestration tool that leverages Docker, and another 22 percent plan to use it.