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Risks and benefits of Containers as a Service in app development and maintenance

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Containers are about control. Much like how scientists create isolated environments to test their hypotheses without the intervention of extraneous variables, software engineers use virtual machines and containers to run their software in isolated spaces. The idea is to minimize the risks of unknown interactions causing bugs and issues.

Containers are essential in any streamlined process to develop, test, deploy, and redeploy
software in multiple environments. They are, to put it mildly, a godsend for agile teams and
DevOps considering that:

1. They consume fewer resources than virtual machines, so there is less overhead
involved.

2. Significantly reduce the time of scaling, patching, testing, and deploying software.

3. By using them, projects become extremely portable, as they can be deployed on multiple operating systems and hardware.

Photo by Ishant Mishra on Unsplash

As we move our processes to the cloud, the “as a service” model has cropped in every step of development. From infrastructure to IT, everything is offered as a service, and containers are no exception.

The idea of containers as a service (CaaS) can be intimidating. Much like offshore software
outsourcing, there are risks involved in moving your process off-site, but just like when you hire the services of excellent offshore software developers, the benefits far outstrip the risks.

What is CaaS?

The notion of Containers as a Service can mean different things to different people, especially since every offering has its own take and built-in functionalities. At its core, CaaS is a hosted container infrastructure that offers an easy and flexible way to deploy containers.

In other words, think of CaaS as a content management system that can be scripted or
automated by the developer. In it, most of the low-level heavy lifting (if not all) is handled by the service provider, so developers can focus on working directly with their software.

If you have ever worked with platforms as a service you might find it quite similar and, in fact, the same problems can be tackled with either a CaaS or a PaaS. The biggest difference is that, with PaaS, the containerization is handled by the service provider, while you handle it yourself with CaaS.

Containers have quickly become a standard for software deployment. As a testament to that, we are seeing almost every provider offer CaaS in one way or another.

The benefit of flexibility

Since the service provider is handling the infrastructure, there is a lot of room for developers to play around with their containers – some even consider CaaS as a sandbox for sandboxes. You can work with any structure and with as many containers as you wish without having to worry about local resources.

Another point for CaaS is that it runs generic containers such as Docker. As such, most
container providers can handle almost everything language and technology under the sun. In contrast, PaaS tends to be more opinionated both on the languages supported and the
technologies implemented.

Finally, PaaS ties you down to the cloud service of your choosing, so migrating between
services can be a headache, since your new location has to have a similar configuration as your previous PaaS. With CaaS, moving between services is as easy as moving the container since everything needed is within each container.

One image to rule them all

Containers are built from an immutable image. In other words, what your developers and testers are using is what eventually gets deployed. With that in mind, you no longer have to worry about two different developers working with out-of-sync configurations nor dealing with the issues of trying to deploy software in an environment that doesn't have the required libraries.

Deployment is extremely fast, there is almost no preparation beforehand aside from installing the container platform. Afterward, future updates can be handled just as easily.

Also, keeping your containers on the cloud is a guarantee that your whole team is working on the most up-to-date version of the project, regardless of where they are working. Granted, one could also log to an on-site server to work with the project, but local servers have to cope with bandwidth limits and infrastructures that may not be able to handle multiple instances of the same project.

A powerful infrastructure

Cloud providers like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, have some of the most powerful
infrastructures in the world, in comparison to local servers, the big providers can offer:

1. Recursivity and backup servers to preserve your data, that makes data loss improbable.

2. Strong security measures that protect projects and assets from cyberattacks and
sabotage.

3. Large bandwidth and storage and elastic capabilities.

Most CaaS services charge per instance (container) as well as additional services (balance
loading or metrics). Unless your project is handling massive amounts of data, chances are that you end up spending more on hardware and maintenance than hiring a cloud service.

So what are the risks?

So far, it seems like CaaS is the be-all and end-all of DevOps, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, data loss is improbable, but not impossible. Obviously, any IT department or software development team knows that recursiveness and backups are a must for every project. And even if it was impossible, any catastrophe that may cut you off from the cloud service will also limit your access to the project.

While most providers have support for Docker, in the last few years we are seeing a push
towards limiting CaaS to certain content types. As it is to be expected, most providers are
looking for ways to keep clients tied to their services. When choosing a service, make sure they are OCI compliant

Finally, as with any new technology, adopting containers requires your team to adopt new
methodologies, which implies training and additional costs. If you are aiming for fast
deployment, keep in mind the additional time your team will take in getting used to the cloud or to containers.

In summary

Containers are a great tool for app development. With a clean and isolated environment,
developers can be sure that issues with the code aren’t due to missing libraries or unintended interactions. Coupled with the flexibility and scalability of cloud computing, containers as a service has become one of the preferred solutions for app deployment.
As with any new technology, CaaS isn’t the solution to every problem out there, and the team looking to adopt it has to balance the costs associated with adopting new technology with the benefits that it brings to the project.

 

 
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