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admin | Category: Container Cost | 12.01.2016
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One of Joe’s analogies (well quoted in the press) was to compare VM encapsulation to a shipping container.
In the four years since Chuck wrote his post the practice of cloud computing has advanced considerably.
So it is with virtualisation where we’re at the start of the standardisation journey. The ships transporting containers have continued to evolve as people create designs to carry containers more efficiently and the ecosystem around them adapts. These are just two facets to consider – what about security, application metadata, automation interfaces etc? Until standards are fully established and adopted we’re unlikely to realise the full benefit of virtualisation and cloud computing. When shipping containers were first introduced in the late 1950’s some longshoremen resisted working with the new mechanization (a trend which continues to this day). In much the same way (although I’ve yet to see an IT professional refuse to work with virtualisation!) the skills required in the cloud era are changing and many people are predicting a significant change in the IT profession. As larger ships transported greater numbers of containers the economic benefit was clear but so the impact of any single ship’s loss increased. When shipping containers were first introduced improved security was one of the selling points – a full container could be locked after the goods were loaded, reducing the number of people with access and therefore reducing the chances of theft. Once people considered the convenience, flexibility and cost efficiency of the container a diverse range of alternative uses were found such as office space, housing, shops, a bar, and even bridge supports. In the early years of virtualisation the initial benefit was desktops users who wanted to run more than one OS on a single PC.

OK, I agree I’ve stretched this analogy way past breaking point – time to stop rambling! This is the blog of Edward Grigson, an IT professional with a keen interest in cloud, virtualisation, and storage. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Any of my code, configuration references, or suggestions should be researched and verified in a lab environment before attempting in a production environment.
The speaker was Joe Baguley, a well known cloud evangelist who recently joined VMware as Chief Cloud Technologist.
Whereas his focus (in that post at least) was networking it’s now clear that most areas of IT are being impacted from infrastructure to applications. I’m going to explore the analogy a bit further and include a few miscellaneous facts which were too good to ignore! There were originally competing standards for the container: different sizes, how to stack them, how to load them onto ships, how to secure the contents etc all of which limited its initial adoption.
Today the major vendors (VMware, Microsoft, Citrix, RedHat and Oracle) are all using different formats and most companies haven’t started tackling the complexity of multi-hypervisor management.
This is also playing out in the networking world where advances are integral to the global success of cloud computing but networks are increasingly holding back virtualisation.  In the case of container shipping the current bottlenecks are the depth of waters in key shipping corridors (depth of the Strait of Malacca for example). In the cloud industry there are many developing standards and almost as many standardisation bodies Рso many in fact that a group has sprung up whose purpose is simply to coordinate amongst the different groups. A highly regulated industry and strong union backing ensured that rather than finding themselves out of a job they were able to negotiate for better pay and shorter hours in return for working with the new containers, despite this undermining the economic benefits the containers were introduced for.
This isn’t the first time dramatic predictions have been made and turn out to be rubbish but unlike the longshoremen there are no unions to protect the IT profession so whatever changes occur will be at a pace dictated by market economics. It is estimated that if a Malacca-max container ship should sink it would take nearly $1 billion in cargo with it! That was rapidly followed by server consolidation but the last few years have seen benefits spread to business continuity, desktops and now cloud computing.

As a commodity trader working with a team of shippers I thought she’d find a book about the history of the shipping container interesting (the New York Times listed it as one of the best business books ever written) but instead I found myself reading it during a weekend break. Standards were developed but it took over thirteen years (from 1957 to 1970) before the first full ISO draft was completed and further standards have evolved since. Just as the tools to transport containers evolved from ropes and pulleys to shipboard cranes to larger¬† land based cranes, so the migration tools are evolving from basic P2V through to cloud migration tools such as VMware’s Cloud Connector, CloudSwitch and Racemi. Most of these standards are not comprehensive or mature enough to have much impact yet (the OVF format has limitations, further standards required). The same efficiencies that make containers ideal for global trade also work for illegal immigrants, drugs and potentially even terrorist bombs (fascinating read!). In a show of complete disrespect for their own analogy shipping containers were also used to provide the toilets at the VMworld Copenhagen party! Just as surplus containers are becoming an environmental issue so server sprawl has taken it’s toll on IT departments – although getting rid of surplus VMs is a much easier process! Some tools just focus on the VM while others consider applications which have their own constraints.
Automation is one of the big promises of virtualisation yet until standards evolve it will limit the scope of what is achievable or cost effective. Fast forward to today and despite the headline of massive job losses (there were 100,000 longshoremen working the US west coast in the 1950’s compared to 10,000 today) those who remain in the industry are able to demand higher salaries and better working conditions. These toolsets are largely proprietary and sometimes limited to running on the same underlying technology. Just as security is an ongoing challenge for the maritime industry so security in the cloud is likely to rumble on for quite a while!

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