Has container hype jumped the shark?

Docker this, container that, and Kubernetes it all. Welcome to IT in the twenty-teens, but will it continue to be "all containers, all the time?" Some developers are turning to other approaches.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

You can't read tech news anymore without seeing containers everywhere. Containers have become the way for everyone to run their jobs on the cloud. And, to manage containers, Kubernetes is everyone's favorite. But, according to a Cloud Foundry, the open-source Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) survey of CIOs and top-level programmers, developers are calling the IT shots, and they're getting a little tired of all containers all the time. 

Instead, the report, Climbing up the Stack, found that while PaaS usage has jumped 6% in the last two quarters (41% to 47%), serverless usage and container usage are leveling at 14% and 37%, respectively. It's not that containers are going away. They're much too valuable for that happen. 

Instead, container adoption appears to be stabilizing. Those who are committed to containers are deepening their deployments. But container usage is no longer growing explosively as it did from 2016 to 2018. Instead of doubling down on containers, developers are seeking out higher levels of abstraction -- such as PaaS. These let them focus more on writing applications than mastering containers. Thirty percent of respondents say their organization has plans to evaluate serverless within 12 months, up 11% over the same period. 

Of course, you can also have both. In a conversation at All Things Open, Brad Topol, an IBM Distinguished Engineer, told me about how a new IBM open-source project Kabanero, which is also available as a product. And IBM Cloud pak for applications enables Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) developers to build applications using their skills on top of Kubernetes. 

Topol said:

"We're taking all of our middleware and making it cloud native. We think that's really helping a lot of folks who want the benefits of cloud native, but really enjoy their Java code. It's not easy easy to master containers and Kubernetes, but we know how to do it right, so we make those invisible so they can get their J2E work done while getting the benefits of Kubernetes without the pain of mastering these new technologies."

That's exactly what the Cloud Foundry found. Developers are taking enterprise development strategies into their own hands by adding levels of abstraction to the container/container orchestration underlayer while decreasing complexity. 

So, as 60% of large enterprises report hosting their IT infrastructure in an increasingly complex multi-cloud environment, many of them, 59%, are giving developers more authority to choose the tools they use to address these new demands. This is a path to success. As Abby Kearns, executive director at Cloud Foundry Foundation, said, "Enterprises that actively engage their development teams in their digital transformation initiatives will be successful."

What else do developers want? Survey said: 

  • Productivity and flexibility are key drivers for developer tool selection. When asked how they want to feel when using a tool or technology, 46% of developers choose "productive." Almost two thirds, or 63%, of respondents say that a technology's ability to integrate with their environment is the touchstone that makes technology better.
  • Underscoring the increasingly prominent role developers are playing throughout the enterprise, 48% of the developers surveyed say leadership expects them to provide details around security features, and a little more than a third say they must establish proof of concepts and provide specific business use cases for new technologies to the executive suite. 
  • Developers place their highest value (69% of respondents) on a proven, mature platform. Sixty-five percent say they place the most value on a platform that delivers a consistent experience. Fifty-nine percent said a platform that integrates innovations is of the greatest value to their team's ability to develop software applications.

What I see when you add it all up isn't that containers aren't still important. They are. They're at the heart of today's IT world. But, containers are beginning what Gartner calls the "sliding into the trough" part of the hype-cycle journey. 

Containers won't go away. Unlike some technologies, which die out, containers will rise into the plateau of productivity. In the meantime, developers want stable, productive platforms, which will let them get their work done without demanding they learn the ins and outs of containers and Kubernetes before they can be productive.

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