Are containers ready for prime time yet?

It's all too easy to get caught up in the excitement of "The Containerization of Everything"

Containerization illustration: loading dock for binary code data containers

As we enter 2016, Linux containers look like one of the hottest technologies of the year. It's all too easy to get caught up in the excitement of "The Containerization of Everything" (CoE, for those who love their acronyms). After all, big tech companies are all falling over each other to stake their claims. Google with Kubernetes, Microsoft with Windows Containers, Amazon and RedHat with their equivalents. Add to that the countless startups popping up to help IT organizations adopt containers.

As of the writing of this article, there are no less than 20 Docker-based startups on AngelList backed by almost 1,000 investors. Some of the most popular are Replicated, Giant Swarm, and DCHQ. Docker themselves have acquired numerous small startups, including Tutum, Kitematic, SocketPlane, Koality, and Orchard.

But are containers really ready for enterprise IT adoption yet?

After all, that's the big question many large IT organizations are spending a lot of time evaluating right now. But I say the question is phrased incorrectly. I think the right question to be asked is whether enterprise IT is really ready for containers.

Certainly IT organizations at the leading tech-native companies like eBay, PayPal, and Apple are quickly adopting containers (with mixed results) right now. But for the Fortune 1000 that was is not tech-native, is now really the right time to be adopting containers?

Hell no. That's just container madness. I would argue that for non-tech-native companies, 2016 is a horrible time to start adopting containers. I'll give you three reasons.

First, the benefits of containers can only be achieved when the applications run within containers have been built-for-cloud. Many large companies are still just beginning to understand agile and 12 Factor application architectures. If your code is still built and maintained as large monolithic legacy applications, containers will not end up helping you at all right now.

Second, the truth is that enterprise container technology is still half-baked. That's why so many young startups are trying to fill in the gaps. But so much of the container landscape will be changing so quickly over the next few years. The hot Docker companies today will either go out of business or be acquired and then potentially shut down. So putting bets on young startups is a risky proposition.

Third, the sad truth of the matter is that the people within many large IT organizations right now are still struggling just with the migration to virtual machines alone. Much of enterprise IT today is stuck 10 years behind the state-of-the-art in cloud technology. Trying to jump ahead to the bleeding edge is not the right solution for these organizations. There is a huge knowledge gap in enterprise IT that will need to be filled by new blood or extensive training programs.

Linux Containers are the future of cloud infrastructure. There is no doubt of that any more. They are the next generation of building blocks that will fundamentally change the landscape of cloud infrastructure for the next decade. But container technology is still young and complicated. There are still large gaps that need to be filled and scalable management tools that are not yet mature.

In this column, we'll closely follow the progress of Linux Containers and their maturation process from the perspective of a veteran programmer and DevOps pioneer. I'll write about the innovative tools being built by Docker and the ever growing ecosystem around Docker in order to give you my opinion about their viability for both developers and enterprise IT today.

If you want to follow along in this often baffling journey to find out exactly when containers will be finally ready for you, sign up for bonus content and email alerts at or follow me on Twitter @containermadnes (Twitter won't let me spell madness correctly which also makes me so mad).

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.