Containers And IoT — A Match Made In The Cloud

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They're extremely portable across devices and require little resource overhead to operate because, unlike virtual machines, they don't need to run their own instances of an operating system, he said.

IoT implementations, from home electronics to medical devices to massive industrial systems, all rely on three components of infrastructure: the endpoint devices in the field, connectivity to data centers, and then the actual back-end computing systems.

Gartner estimates more than 20 billion interconnected devices will be deployed by 2020. Creating an environment for the front-end software running on those billions of devices is where container tech holds unique promise, said Aater Suleman, CEO of Flux7, a systems integrator based in Austin, Texas.

"That’s the real game-changer," Suleman said. "The front end is where containers really shine with IoT."

The endpoints themselves -- be they mobile devices, remote sensors, or actuators -- present the greatest challenges as far as developing software, managing updates, and making sure those updates don't cause catastrophic failures.

"Phones fail. Now imagine a device that doesn’t have a screen," Suleman said. "Or if you have thousands in the desert that don’t have a screen or a cable attached. Think about the challenges of delivery of software to those devices."

Because Docker containers are inherently portable and lightweight, they offer an elegant solution to those problems, he said.

Containers can run on client and server, and updated software can easily be sent to devices as container images that are "pretty much guaranteed to work at their destination," Suleman said.

While containers are also gaining traction powering back-end infrastructure, Suleman said, that's less due to a unique characteristic of the technology, and more in line with a larger, more-systemic shift. Because IoT applications are inherently greenfields, they are likely going to employ the latest-and-greatest technologies.

"IoT and Docker kind of coincided in time and the combination of the two makes it look like Docker is being used more in IoT," he told CRN. "But anyone starting after 2014 is automatically starting at Docker."

Robin Systems’ Kumar said that container technology has become the cornerstone of front-end IoT applications that follow microservices architecture.

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