Containers: They’re efficient, portable and Google really wants you to run them

The drumbeat around container computing just keeps getting louder. In the past couple weeks, we’ve seen container-based startups such as Shippable get funded, cloud provider Joyent double down on the container messaging it has been quietly pushing for years, and Google follow up its open source Kubernetes container-management software with a new Compute Engine service called Container Engine.

Brian Goldfarb, Google’s head of cloud product marketing, came on the Structure Show podcast this week to explain once again why Google and everyone else is so excited about containers. It’s an entertaining interview — and pretty insightful for anyone still wondering whether Google is serious about being a cloud provider — but here are the highlights with regard to containers.

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On the point of container computing

“It’s really to transform the way developers think about working with infrastructure,” Goldfarb said. “Instead of thinking about virtual machines, you’ll have logical clusters and let the system kind of dictate how applications are run.”

Operations folks like them too. Containers, which include a runtime and all the necessary components of an application, can run pretty much anywhere and users can cram lots of them onto a single server in order to maximize cost efficiency.

“Let the warehouse be one computer, as far as you’re concerned,” Goldfarb explained, in the the context of Google’s cloud platform. “And then let Container Engine manage where the containers go so that we can optimize your density and your costs and all those things automatically, and that’s I think where this whole Kubernetes and container orchestration [thing] becomes interesting. That’s how we work and that’s how we want [users] to work.”

Brian Goldfarb

Brian Goldfarb

Will containers simplify portability in the cloud?

“We want a container to run anywhere, and we want to compete on who runs those containers the best and who makes that experience the most efficient and the most useful,” Goldfarb said about the growing number of technology companies and cloud providers now supporting Kubernetes.

Regarding Docker, which created the container technology that helped spur all the hype, he added: “I expect Docker to work with everybody. It helps us create the portability that I think the industry needs to be successful, and that makes all of us successful.”

Just a matter of time until containers become common

Goldfarb compared what’s currently happening in cloud computing (outside of many internet companies) to when airlines switched from mainframe terminals to PCs but ran emulators to recreate the mainframe experience on their new clients:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”If you think about where cloud is today, we believe that’s exactly what’s happening. Virtual machines are effectively doing what we’ve always done in a slightly different way, and as you move to containers and you move to platform-as-a-service, that’s where you begin to instantiate these cloud-native solutions where you really get to take advantage of the disruption and the paradigm shift. We’re really trying to lead the way as innovators to get us away from doing things the same way to doing things the new way, which would be better for everybody.”[/blockquote]

But despite his confidence that it will happen, Goldfarb wouldn’t commit to a timeframe. “We often surprise ourselves with how fast innovation happens,” he said, setting up an analogy to the recent advances in smartphone technology. “What happens in a year might feel like a slog, but you look back after five years and you can’t even imagine what happened.”

For extra credit, or just to get more familiar with Docker and containers, listen our July interview (or read the recap of it) with Docker founder and CTO Solomon Hykes.

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Oh, and Google knows cloud computing, even if it’s new to selling it

Asked about having play catch-up with its more-established competition in Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, Goldfarb acknowledged that Google is “spending a lot of time checking boxes,” but noted that the company isn’t exactly starting from scratch.

“Technically, we’re not [playing from behind],” he said. “We’ve been building data centers and innovating on technology for ourselves for a lot longer than anybody else, and we’re going through the exercise of making it available. And you really get to see that when our v.1s are as good as peoples’ v.5s.”