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Containers on the Ranch
JUN 10, 2016 06:50 AM
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Containers on the Ranch

The advantage of containers is well known for a long period of time, with Docker emerging as a de-facto standard for containerization.  It is being readily adopted by both the developer and the IT community as a viable deployment option, both on-premise as well as on the cloud.

You can read more about this operating system level virtualization technology here. There was an interesting Docker adoption analysis published by DataDog, which mentioned that 70% of companies which try out Docker have adopted it. Also the adoption rate has increased 5 fold in 2015 and on an average companies triple the number of containers they use within 5 months.

Micro-services and Docker go hand in hand and is increasingly becoming one of the preferred packing and deployment solution. While this is fine in a test environment, the production eco-system is a different ball game and requires a complete container management solution.

Cloud providers like Amazon, Microsoft and Google have significantly invested in providing services around containers and container management. Cloud Foundry centric vendors like IBM BlueMix have also added Docker containers to their portfolio, as the space of container management is now maturing to provide production grade features. We now have a new service offering called “Container as a Service”.

While this all sounds great and each one of these options are very compelling, let us look at a scenario where we need to build an enterprise container based solution, which complies with some core architecture principles:

  • Cloud agnostic: Ability to switch to different cloud infrastructure providers (at times as a fall back or just that your end customer has a specific preference).

  • Hybrid ecosystem: Working in a hybrid cloud scenario is also critical. The ability to easily connect and integrate to existing enterprise services in a seamless manner.

  • Flexible to change the orchestration solution: While there are multiple orchestration solutions like Kubernetes, Mesos or Swarm, ideally we would want to be able to switch to some other solution if need be.

  • Standards Based: Comply with the Docker container specifications and standards for clustering.

  • Secure: Both from the perspective of the Docker registry but also be able to integrate with existing enterprise IT security systems like AD , LDAP , network security.

  • Open Source: Avoid any vendor lock-in

  • Dev Ops Ready: Overall solution should easily integrate with existing CI/CD infrastructure or provide extensions to achieve the same.

  • Services Ecosystem: Provide the ability to build a services catalogue can be utilized across multiple applications in a multi-tenant manner.

  • Container management: Ability to build container clusters, monitor, manage, load balance and scale them.

  • Storage management: Running large distributed container based apps and services will require orchestration of the persistent storage services.

Enter Rancher !! , an open source solution that helps you tackle all these in one production grade container management solution. Recently Rancher Labs announced its first GA release of Rancher and is a viable option as it seems to tick all the right boxes. Let us take a look some of the key architecture blocks of the offering

  • Deployment: Easy deployment on a Linux server or as a HA cluster

  • Security: Can connect to existing access control systems LDAP, Github, AD and setup access control policies

  • Cluster Management: This is where it gains over other available options, by providing a flexibility to use either its own cluster management solution of Cattle or configure Kubernetes or Swarm. Mesos support is also being added as well.

  • Cloud agnostic host Infrastructure: Can be configure host infrastructure from multiple sources including AWS, Azure, and Rackspace etc.

  • Infrastructure Management: From the DevOps perspective it provides a management console to manage and monitor the entire infrastructure – hosts, container registry, storage, certificates etc.

  • Application and Services: Provisioning of services and applications is via the same management console. It provides a CLI and an API interface to push applications and services into Rancher. A set of services can be packaged using standard configuration files, set of policies, HA settings, scheduling policies. The Service discovery and networking options help linking these services together. It also provides the ability to setup and integrate with existing IT infrastructure services, load balancers.

  • Service Blueprints: It provides support for Docker compose and Kubernetes files to setup a catalog of blueprint services and can be easily spun off as part of any application infrastructure; for example: ELK stacks or Hadoop cluster catalog items are good use cases. One interesting feature from the maintainability perspective, is the upgrade catalog item feature, where an existing deployed service will indicate if a newer version is available, so that the user can upgrade if so desired.

The key winner here is the flexibility it provides in terms of options. It does seem to hide all the heavily lifting from the end user, which it takes care of under the covers including network, security and storage. While we do look at Rancher, just to mention the other options as well which we must keep an eye on. These offerings from Docker are based on the same concept, the features vary and are more related to the Docker native ecosystem.


Container adoption has stepped up a gear with enterprises wanting a production ready eco-system to be able to successfully deploy and manage the next generation applications and services. The Rancher offering in this regard is a compelling option, given that it is open source, cloud agnostic, standards based and provides the flexibility to change the underlying infrastructure or orchestration engine. In future posts I will explore few more container management options and compare them. Stay tuned.



Tarun is a Senior Technical Architect at TFG, part of the Technology Office in Engineering and R&D Services group of HCL Technologies and has extensive experience in Product Engineering and Consultancy Services, dealing with Data Management platforms, Cloud, Platform Migration, and Digital e-Commerce. He is also a Microsoft Certified Professional and Microsoft Specialist in Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions.

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