Containers have peaked – brace yourself for the serverless takeover

It’s fair to say that the use of containers to manage cloud infrastructure is now firmly mainstream. But just as it reaches maturity, we may have already seen its usage peak. This may seem a counterintuitive thing for me to say, especially as containers are one of the main things keeping us busy right now, but what’s clear is that their days are undoubtedly numbered, and serverless is set to take over.

The reason for this is that serverless, an event-driven alternative, is providing businesses with a far superior option – one that will leave containers redundant. With no baseline infrastructure to maintain with serverless, there are no costs involved when apps are idle. The savings this offers simply cannot be ignored by infrastructure architects for long.

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In addition, adoption means companies no longer need to worry about updates, scaling or security patching – they can, therefore, shift resources away from managing infrastructure and to the devs. This will allow them to focus on improving the business, rather than just keeping the lights on.

The benefits are so abundant that if you have developers not yet writing for serverless, you need to hit the pause button and ask some serious questions. Yes, you may find challenges in adoption at first, but it’s only a matter of time before this becomes the de facto option for all businesses – and containers, as a result, begin to fade away.

Seminal shift

This is a seminal shift, but then that’s nothing new when it comes to infrastructure – it’s not that long ago that people stopped writing for on-premise and embraced cloud. Yet now, you wouldn’t have devs writing for anything but a public cloud environment – it’s the default place to run a business.

The serverless scenario, however, is probably more akin to one we experienced a couple of years ago when containers started to enter the mainstream. It meant that we could all adopt a standardised approach. So, instead of tooling our own packaging and dev workflow from scratch every time, we had an answer straight out of the box. In the same way, with serverless we will no longer need to waste time on managing infrastructure as it allows you to run code only when required, in response to an event or request.

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With any major industry movement of this nature though, the change isn’t going to happen overnight. When you still have existing apps, and devs writing outside serverless, the need for containers will continue for several years to come. Any full-blown switchover would involve rearchitecting from the ground up, and that’s simply not an option for most businesses.

Enterprise driven

Unusually, we are likely to see the shift over to serverless being led by enterprise scale organisations – a rare occurrence when it comes to cloud innovation. But they are the organisations with the resources to do this relatively quickly. When it comes to SMEs, you’re more likely to see containers persist for the next five years or so, as any attempt to make the change immediately could result in them bringing their business to a standstill.

That doesn’t mean they won’t be able to enjoy some of the benefits of serverless in the short term, however. What we’re likely to see is an interim period where organisations deploy services, such as AWS Fargate, which can help bridge the gap to the serverless offering.

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It means that any organisation that wants to shift resources to the devs and away from managing infrastructure right now can do so, as they can simply pass clusters of containers to Amazon to manage on their behalf and enjoy the endless capacity this provides. At the moment this service is only available for Amazon’s own version of Kubernetes, ECS, but they are developing Fargate to also accommodate AWS’s Kubernetes platform, EKS.

The end of containers?

Whether organisations adopt serverless or Fargate however, what’s obvious is there is a clear desire for companies to shift their internal focus toward dev work. It makes sense if you want to concentrate more resources on creating the innovative solutions that will give your business a competitive advantage.

The need to manage infrastructure won’t completely disappear; there will still be some responsibilities which will need to be handled either internally or outsourced to a managed service provider. But they are becoming increasingly minimal.

What’s certain though, is that the desire to move away from managing infrastructure is incentivising the shift to serverless – and containers are going to be swept aside in the process. With many devs already writing for this environment, and Fargate already being viewed as just a stepping-stone towards this eventuality, industry-wide adoption of serverless now seems inevitable.

Written by Rob Greenwood, chief technical officer at Steamhaus

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