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Containers promise to help organizations write applications in a more efficient manner. While the potential benefits of container adoption are significant, companies often have trouble determining how to take advantage of the fledgling capabilities.
"In many cases, IT is not ready to deploy and manage containers," said Raghu Kamath, vice president of sales and partner success at NetEnrich, which has 600 employees spread across the globe.
Channel partners can play a container consulting role, helping clients use the emerging technology for competitive advantage. But they need to possess the right skills and may find themselves selling outside of their traditional IT department customers.
Container adoption in context
Traditionally, programs have been quite large -- often millions of lines -- and the code worked as a single monolithic unit. If a developer wanted to tweak a security check, the entire application had to be recompiled. With containers, a broad category of next-generation development tools, programs are broken up into small sets of code that are designed to be easily mixed and matched. In this approach, a security check can be recompiled without impacting any other module.
This change is viewed as revolutionary rather than evolutionary.
"The interest level in containers is very high right now," said Gary Chen, research manager of software-defined compute at IDC. "That hype is not unfounded. The digital and web companies, such as Google, have been using containers for many years and have demonstrated their benefits."
Corporations have many compelling reasons to consider container adoption, starting with speed. Container technology quickens the configuration cycle, the setup of virtual machines, and the application delivery process. Because containers standardize APIs, companies have the potential to deliver updates more quickly.
"Containers enable corporations to build applications in a more flexible fashion," noted Simon Margolis, director of cloud platform at channel partner SADA Systems, a cloud solutions and managed services provider based in Los Angeles.
Simon Margolisdirector of cloud platform, SADA Systems
Another plus: Containers mesh with modern system design.
"Containers separate legacy physical systems into a virtual layer that companies can leverage with the cloud to reduce costs and increase availability," said Rick Erickson, co-founder and executive vice present of business development at Agosto, a cloud services company and Google channel partner based in Minneapolis.
Must-haves for container consulting
Consequently, these programming tools have a bright future. Market research firm 451 Research group expects worldwide container revenue to increase from $1.11 billion in 2017 to $2.69 billion at the end of 2020, a CAGR of 28.8%.
If channel companies want to take part in this uptick in a container consulting role, they first need to develop knowledge of how containers fit with traditional compute, storage and networking infrastructure. In order to help their customers build cloud solutions, partners also must know the latest development techniques and application architectures.
Next, they must determine who is buying containers, a step that may push them out of their comfort zones. "The typical containers buyer today is DevOps teams, cloud developers, and [business units] charged with digital transformation," IDC's Chen said.
As the technology gains traction, the traditional IT and infrastructure managers are expected to become more involved in the purchasing process.
Where do the profits come from?
How do partners make money selling containers? Integration services. Containers are a more complicated deployment than virtualization software. Right now, these solutions are not plug-and-play and require a great deal of customization.
"Companies need to architecture their applications and standardize their libraries in order to take advantage of containers' potential benefits," Agosto's Erickson explained.
Sales opportunities exist among middle market customers who lack the resources to do the integration themselves, according to Erickson. In some cases, such customers have legacy systems that have been running for many years. The IT team is busy scaling down those systems and lacks the time and personnel to get up to speed with new development methodologies. That situation opens the door for container consulting services.
Gaining new skills
Selling container solutions creates challenges and the channel partner may need to develop new skills. Traditionally, partners focused on selling infrastructure: server, network and storage resources. Containers represent a new paradigm. The reseller has to move away from infrastructure and up into the application layer.
Because the technology is new, some components are only now being developed. For instance, frameworks for managing containers are now being put in place, but it is not clear which ones will gain market traction.
Security is another issue. "A lot of developers who modernize applications fail to effectively look at the security aspects of these solutions," NetEnrich's Kamath said. Security has to be integrated into the start of the development process and emphasized during the rest of the process.
Software development has been a tedious process for many organizations. Containerization is the latest approach designed to ease that process. The technology is emerging, but resellers need to sharpen their skills before they can help customers with container adoption.