Agile IT: a better way of doing business

One of the most powerful new ideas to emerge from the cloud computing revolution is IT agility. Agile IT organizations are able to easily adapt to changing business needs by delivering applications and infrastructure quickly to those who need it. Does your organization have what it takes to be truly agile?

There are many components of agile IT infrastructure, but three that we think are particularly important are containers, microservices and automation. These form the foundation of the new breed of cloud-native applications, and they can be used by any organization to revolutionize the speed and agility of application delivery to support the business.

Containers: Fast and Flexible

Containers are a sort of lightweight virtual machine, but they differ from VMs in fundamental ways. Containers run as a group of namespaced processes within an operating system, with each having exclusive access to resources such as processor, memory and all of the supporting elements needed for an application. They are typically stored in libraries for reuse and can be spun up and shut down in seconds. They’re also portable, meaning that an application running in a container can be moved to any other environment that supports that type of container.

Containers have only been on the IT radar screen for about three years, but they are being adopted with astonishing speed. One recent study found that 40% of organizations are already using containers in production and just 13% have no plans to adopt them during the coming year. Containers are especially popular with developers because coders can configure and launch their own workspaces without incurring the delay and overhead of involving the IT organization.

Microservices: a Better Approach to Applications

Use of containers frequently goes hand-in-hand with the adoption of microservices architectures. Applications built from microservices are based upon a network of independently deployable, modular services that use a lightweight communications mechanism such as a messaging protocol. Think of it as an object assembled from Lego blocks. Individual blocks aren’t very useful by themselves, but when combined, they can create elaborate structures.

Service-oriented architecture is nothing new, but the technology has finally matured to the point that it’s practical to rethink applications in that form. The microservices approach is more flexible and efficient than the vertically integrated applications that have dominated IT for decades. By assembling applications from libraries of services, duplication is minimized and software can move into production much more quickly. There’s less testing overhead and more efficient execution, since developers can focus on improving existing microservices rather than reinventing the wheel with each project.

Containers are an ideal platform for microservices. They can be launched quickly and custom-configured to use only the resources they need. A single microservice may be used in many ways by many different applications. Orchestration software such as Kubernetes keeps things running smoothly, handles exceptions and constantly balances resources across a cluster.

Automation: Departure from Routine

Automation is essential to keeping this complex environment running smoothly. Popular open-source tools such as Puppet and Ansible make it possible for many tasks that were once performed by systems administrators – such as defining security policies, managing certificates, balancing processing loads and assigning network addresses – to be automated via scripts. Automation tools were developed by cloud-native companies to make it possible for them to run large-scale IT operations without legions of administrators, but the tools are useful in any context.

Automation not only saves money but improves job satisfaction. Manual, routine tasks can be assigned to scripts so that administrators can tend to more important and challenging work. And in a time of severe IT labor shortages, who doesn’t want happier employees?

Agile IT makes organizations nimbler, more responsive and faster moving. When planned and executed with the help of an experienced integration partner, it saves money as well.