Watch out for the ‘container tax’

Containers are sound, portable ways to deploy applications to the cloud, but don't forget these extra costs

Watch out for the 'container tax'
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 Containers have a few basic features and advantages when it comes to application development. Here’s some of the benefits you can gain:

  • Reduce complexity through container abstractions. You deal with the containers not the underlying platforms of applications.
  • Maximize portability through automation, meaning write once and run many places.
  • Provide better security and governance, external to the containers. 
  • Improve distributed computing capabilities, since distribution is a core architectural pattern of containers.
  • Provide automation services that offer policy-based optimization.
  • Use container orchestration, such as Kubernetes.
  • Take advantage of a large ecosystem of providers that support containers.

The problem with containers is that everyone wants to use them, but nobody understands how much more they cost to build and deploy. Indeed, I’m seeing an average excess spend (“the container tax”) of about 35 percent for net new and existing applications moved or built on containers.

What are you paying for? Here is my short list.

First, the design of containers is a bit more involved. Thus, it makes sense to spend more time on the initial design or the refactoring of existing applications that are moving to containers. 

Second, the tools cost more. Container-based tools—not the free stuff, but the tools that provide database access, security, or governance—cost about 50 percent more than traditional tools. Although it’s good to have useful tools, be aware that you’ll have to pay more for them.

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Finally, containers are more expensive to operate and maintain. Although there is some debate here, I will draw from my own experience: Containers do provide a better architectural approach to application development, but you need higher-level skills and ops tools to run them longer term.

Put these three factors together, and that’s where I get the 35 percent container tax. It goes without saying that your tax may vary.

Of course, you need to consider the value of containers as well. I’m not doing that here; instead I’m focusing on the extra costs that you’re likely to see so you avoid sticker shock.