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SNIA panel: Docker data center deployments inch to primary storage

Enterprise storage containers aren’t about to supplant virtual machines, but the trend line for Docker data center adoption is going up.  Hurdles of persistent storage and enterprise data protection are being removed, allowing organizations to move from “monolithic applications” to containerized microservices, according to a recent industry webinar sponsored by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA).

The Oct. 6 event was the first of two events planned as part of SNIAs’s Cloud Storage Initiative. SNIA-CSI chairman Alex McDonald, part of NetApp’s Office of the CTO, moderated the session with panelists Keith Hudgins of Docker and Chad Thibodeau of Veritas Technologies.

Typical Docker data center use cases have mostly centered on application development and testing, but the panel said container storage is undergoing big changes.

“Micro-service architecture is designed to enable applications to be deployed extremely fast and make them much more portable to run on a variety of platforms. Containers really are optimized for speed of deployment, portability and efficiency,” Thibodeau, a principal product manager at backup vendor Veritas, told an audience of about 140 attendees.

He said companies often get started by launching containers inside virtual machines, “but ideally, containers are designed to (give you) the most advantage by running on bare metal.”

Containers are similar to virtual machines, yet also distinctly different.  Whereas virtualization abstracts underlying hardware, Docker software virtualizes the operating system, eliminating the need to supply each virtual instance with a hypervisor and guest operating system. Multiple workloads share compute, operating system and storage resources, yet run in segregation on the same physical machinery.

According to Docker, data center downloads of its Linux-based software have topped five billion since its launch in 2013. It claims more than 650,000 registered users. Microsoft threw its support behind Docker containers as part of Windows Server 2016.

Sensing its growing importance, most major storage vendors now have tools to use their arrays as a persistent storage back end for Docker. Data center demand is ticking upward, albeit gradually.  Financial services firms spawn persistent storage containers to authenticate end users.

Hudgins listed payroll-processing giant ADP and government IT contractor Booz Allen Hamilton among major firms using Docker in some fashion. Hudgins, the director of tech alliances at Docker, said ADP approached Docker to build nimble infrastructure for application microservices, using private and public cloud storage.

“ADP wanted a fast, easy way to change their payroll processing as needed. They deployed Docker Data Center internally to run all their data processing in a micro-services-based way… using Docker Data Center on both an internal OpenStack private cloud and public components running in Amazon for people to check their pay stubs. (ADP’s) entire system is now running on Docker Data Center,” Hudgins said.

Docker is a common service platform that Booz Allen uses to host customized applications for its government clients at the federal General Services Administration.  Hudgins said  Booz Allen wanted to migrate from “monolithic applications toward a smaller component-ized structure,” running a commercial version of Docker hosted in Amazon Web Services.

“They greatly reduced their time to market for (customer) applications… and also reduced the surface attack area and improved security,” Hudgins said.

SNIA said a Dec. 7 webinar will highlight best practices on Docker data management.