Containers make life easier for the software vendors you buy from, and that's why they'll win

Once you can only buy the apps you need as containers, it’s game over

Register Debate Welcome to the latest Register Debate in which writers discuss technology topics, and you – the reader – choose the winning argument. The format is simple: we propose a motion, the arguments for the motion will run this Monday and Wednesday, and the arguments against on Tuesday and Thursday.

During the week you can cast your vote on which side you support using the embedded poll, choosing whether you're in favor or against the motion. The final score will be announced on Friday, revealing whether the for or against argument was most popular. It's up to our writers to convince you to vote for their side.

This week's motion is: Containers will kill virtual machines

And now, today, arguing FOR the motion is SIMON SHARWOOD, The Register's APAC region editor...

Independent software vendors (ISVs) will build the case for containers’ long-term dominance, while also — perversely — building a case for the virtual machine’s long-term relevance.

To understand containers’ imminent dominance of new applications, consider the lot of an ISV. Today, your humble ISV must package its products for many different environments and their VM-centric paradigms.

ISVs need to be relevant to the largest number of customers, and therefore package their wares for Linux (which means RHEL and SUSE for starters) and (probably) Windows Server. ISVs also need to make sure their products play nicely with ESXi, Microsoft’s Hyper-V. The Xen and KVM hypervisors can’t be dismissed out of hand.

Next: packaging for clouds. AWS and Azure are no-brainers, Google can’t be dismissed and one in twenty enterprises will have decided on Oracle or IBM.

Software vendors need to target a lot of platforms and that's expensive and tedious

ISVs keen to chase Asia’s emerging economies will also need to consider Alibaba cloud, because it’s won substantial market share in South East Asia and of course in China. The Middle Kingdom’s other big clouds — Huawei, Tencent and Baidu — each have colossal addressable markets, so will deserve an ISV’s attention and perhaps customisation.

The big tech distributors have also built clouds and by their very nature offer another route to market that is hard to ignore. So add Ingram Micro’s Cloud Blue and Tech Data’s StreamOne to the list.

I could go on and discuss smaller clouds like OVH and Digital Ocean, but you probably get the idea that ISVs need to target a lot of platforms — and that doing so is expensive and tedious.

What if there were a way that ISVs could package their products once for many platforms?

Oh wait, there is. It’s called containers and Kubernetes — which also happen to be a fine way to package applications for delivery as SaaS.

It’s therefore well and truly in ISVs’ interests to sell you containers rather than continue to package their products in so many forms. ISVs can also argue that shifting you into containers will mean they spend less time on multiple versions of their products, and more time innovating on your behalf.

Analysts and even VMware have told me they see commercial software vendors as the key driver of container adoption. They suggest it won’t be long before ISVs politely but firmly insist your next upgrade will also be a re-platforming project — from however you run an app today into containers.

Over time, ISVs’ shift to containers will build an estate that comes to dominate the enterprise and makes container management capability non-negotiable.

Containers’ affinity with agile software development techniques is a huge bonus

Ironically, this shift will also preserve the life of the virtual machine. Many IT shops that have chosen a VM-centric view of the world will be most comfortable running their initial containerised apps inside VMs.

The virtual machine will live on, perhaps for longer than it deserves to. But VMs are already a well-understood, mature, technology for almost everything other than delivering easily iterated applications. But because applications are the reason we bother with IT, and containers’ affinity with agile software development techniques is a huge bonus, containerisation is on track to become the most important and exciting abstraction.

At least until whatever comes along next comes along, and we get to go through another cycle of change. ®

Cast your vote below. We'll close the poll on Thursday night and publish the final result on Friday. You can track the debate's progress here.

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