Earlier this year, Facebook began integrating chatbots into its Messenger platform. What is lesser known, however, is the back-end secret weapon that’s been powering the quick release schedule of this update, while also driving efficiencies in the wider enterprise space. Luke Bond, senior consultant at software engineering company, YLD, explains why, despite all of the advances being made with mobile devices and automation, it’s the back-end systems like container technologies that the hold the key to unlocking the fast growth and scalability the business community craves.
Take a few seconds to think about the world’s fastest innovators. Those companies that lead by example, pioneering new technologies and experiences that we could never have previously dreamed of.
There’s no doubt that Uber, Google and Spotify will have featured somewhere in these lists. This is because all of these companies have particular technologies in common that enable the rapid software updates that have come to define their leader status.
Working at this scale, with 24/7 availability and the constant addition of new features, requires back-end systems that function seamlessly and efficiently. In particular, there is no doubt that cutting-edge organisations are increasingly turning to containers to unlock their fast growth potential and maintain their competitive advantage in today’s digital world. This should come as little surprise when we consider the tangible benefits that they can deliver.
In basic terms, container technology enables software engineers to bundle a piece of software into a complete filesystem that contains everything it needs to function, including runtime, system tools, code and system libraries. The software can therefore run in the same way every time, regardless of the environment in which it is operating, which guarantees a more predictable and reliable service. Also, because containers running on a single machine share the same host server’s operating system, containerised applications can also start rapidly and make more efficient use of underlying hardware resources such as CPU & RAM, when compared to virtual machines.
It is this functionality that has drawn the likes of Google, Uber and Spotify – plus multiple other companies operating at extreme levels of service – to invest in the technology.
The uniqueness of container technology lies in the way it can help businesses realise organisational efficiencies. This is because, in order to work optimally, it demands that the barriers that have existed between developers and operations are broken down. Where code will traditionally have been written independently by a developer and then handed over at a later stage to the operations team, containers force developers to address operational considerations from the outset by virtue of the fact they package up software into a self-supporting system.
This means that problems that may have once only been discoverable in the latter stages of development are now identifiable early on, and can be addressed with fewer knock-on implications. This not only saves valuable time throughout the development cycle, but also delivers cost-saving efficiencies in terms of both personnel and resource utilisation.
However, perhaps the greatest advantage of container technology is its ability to enhance agility – which has become a necessity in a business world categorised by rapid technological advancements and ever-shortening release schedules. In this evolving environment, businesses are being forced to increase their speed of execution in order meet the exacting demands of their customers and stakeholders.
Container technology plays an important role in enabling a quicker development cycle by reducing deployment failure. Containers are easy to start, stop and move around which means strong test infrastructure can be set up in the test pipeline. As a result, software engineers can be assured that they are developing something that performs consistently each time, which means there will be fewer surprises when it comes to releasing the software.
For businesses that rely on frequent software updates, such as e-commerce websites or consumer apps, the impact is potentially huge. When they want to release a new feature, they can simply push their code into production through a well-tested pipeline which allows them to move quickly and confidently. From a challenger perspective this functionality is priceless, as it helps businesses to keep up with disruptive competition.
While there is no disputing the obvious business benefits of containers, those looking to invest in the technology must remember that they are not a magic solution to solve all of their problems. Indeed, container technology can only be truly effective if an organisation already has its ‘ducks in a row’ and is ready to integrate it into their operation.
Often, this will mean that a company is operating with a DevOps culture that can support the integration of containers. However, if a company is not quite at this stage, containers can still play a vital role in helping businesses prepare for DevOps by beginning to break down the barriers between these two teams.
By Luke Bond