​Container adoption speeds up to the detriment of VMs

As containers grow more popular, virtual machine deployments are declining.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Video: How Docker brought containers mainstream

Ever since Docker arrived to make containers popular, companies have turned to containers. The inevitable result was virtual machines (VMs) began to decline.

According to Diamanti, a bare-metal container company in its 2018 Container Adoption Benchmark survey of 576 IT leaders, enterprises are using containers to save money by reducing their reliance on commercial virtualization technologies such as VMware's VM. The report examines the current state of container adoption, evaluates container "stack" technology choices, examines containers' impact on VM infrastructure, and finds high levels of enterprise dissatisfaction with VM licensing fees.

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According to the survey data, more than two-fifths (44 percent) of respondents plan to replace some VMs with containers. Over half (55 percent) spend more than $100,000 annually on VMware licensing fees, with over one third (34 percent) spending more than $250,000 annually on VMware licensing fees.

This decline doesn't come as any surprise. Pat Gelsinger, VMware CEO, said in 2016 that "a big strategy of ours to sell no more naked vSphere," its lead enterprise virtualization program. Frankly, with the rise of "free" virtualization programs such as Microsoft Hyper-V and Linux's KVM, I'm surprised it took this long for VMware hypervisor sales to decline.

VMware has answered this challenge by expanding into the OpenStack cloud and partnering with IBM and Amazon Web Services (AWS) to make itself a hybrid-cloud power. In short, VMware no longer relies on the VM in its name to achieve its profits.

Read also: What is Docker and why is it so darn popular?

True, the rise of rival hypervisors took its share of VMware's traditional market, but containers did even more damage. According to Diamanti, nearly half (47 percent) of surveyed IT leaders are planning to deploy containers in production, while another 12 percent say they already have.

The most widely adopted container technologies are to no surprise: Docker (52 percent) and Kubernetes (30 percent). Seventy-one percent of respondents have deployed containers on a VMs, so it's not like VMs are going to disappear. They're not. IT executives do, however, want to cut their VM licensing costs.

Interestingly, the movement towards containers is being driven by the C suite. The survey found platform architects and developers are driving most of the decisions to adopt containers at 22 percent each. These groups were followed by IT operations teams and integrated DevOps teams at 17 percent each. C-level executives came in at only 8.5 percent.

Containers are primarily being used for cloud-native applications (54 percent). This is followed by lightweight stateless applications (39 percent), cloud migrations (32 percent), and modernizing legacy applications.

Read also: VMware, AWS expand their hybrid cloud service

The survey also reveals some of the stumbling blocks of the early adopters of containers. Thirty percent of respondents running containers in production cite infrastructure as their "greatest challenge," followed by security (22 percent), deployment (22 percent), performance (19 percent), and persistent storage (12 percent).

Arguably, though, the biggest obstacle to adoption of any new technology platform such as containers is inertia. Enterprise IT organizations simply don't shift direction overnight. With Docker having recently turned five, containers are slowly, but surely, shifting IT away from relying primarily on VMs for server applications.

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