By Michael Cade, Senior Global Technologist, Veeam
Cloud-native adoptions and the use of Kubernetes are on the rise. 451 Research notes that nearly three-quarters of organizations globally are currently using or planning to adopt Kubernetes within the next two years. Many businesses, particularly in industries such as financial services which produce and consume massive amounts of data, were already looking for ways to speed up application and IT development cycles before the pandemic. With so much business going online in 2020 and organisations looking to build or extend their digital offerings, this need is accentuated further still.
To understand why Kubernetes is experiencing such growth and what it means for businesses, we need to understand the pets versus cattle analogy that is so familiar to many in IT. At a fairly basic level, the idea is that some IT managers view the servers and systems within their organisation’s IT infrastructure as pets. They name them, care for them, and devote their working lives to keeping them happy, healthy, and alive. As organizations’ IT provisions scaled up, their menagerie of three or four servers became 10-20 physical servers, perhaps a few virtual machines (VMs), and a couple of different clouds. What we now have is a herd of cattle rather than a few pets. Yes, we look after them, but as individual entities they’re replaceable.
If we wanted to continue this analogy, modern IT teams now manage something which is more akin to an industrial farming facility. We can’t count or see all our animals anymore. Vast amounts live on other farms and we pay other people to look after them, even though it’s still our still responsibility if they get lost, stolen, or sick. In fact, nowadays it doesn’t matter where they are and what they’re being kept in. All we care about is what they produce – or returning to the world of technology – what they enable. This of course refers to the modern digital infrastructure, comprised of physical, virtual, and cloud workloads.
Refreshing applications faster
In recent years, we’ve added containers. Whereas VMs refer to hardware being run on multiple operating system (OS) instances, containers enable multiple workloads to run on a single operating OS instance. This makes them lighter, more agile, and faster to spin up than VMs, which run on their own OS and have larger storage footprints and requirements.
In layman’s terms, using Kubernetes means businesses can upgrade, patch and refresh applications far more frequently than they could before. In financial services, for example, this is a key advantage. When bank branches across the world were forced to close in 2020, the vast majority were ready to service their customers digitally through online and mobile banking. This level of digital sophistication is partly due to the disruption of challenger banks which has taken place over the past decade as companies like Monzo and Revolut have forced the hands of the global powerhouses. A consequence of these events is that banking apps and services now need to be updated more often.
While the ability to refresh faster carries obvious benefits in terms of speeding time to market for new services and tools available to customers, organisations must bear in mind that any change in the way they’re managing and deploying applications needs to be right for them. For instance, Kubernetes clusters can be ran by the organisation themselves as part of their own IT infrastructure, but they’ll need the in-house skills to look after this environment.
Modern data protection
Staying with the example of financial services, as we emerge from the pandemic, what physical retail branches are being used for will change, requiring more advanced digital and contactless systems. This will likely mean some level of IT refresh across branches to provide a consistent customer experience.
Approaches such as Infrastructure as Code (IaC) will therefore become vital to organizations looking to provide a consistent and inclusive ‘in-person’ experience across physical sites. IaC refers to the process of managing and provisioning infrastructure through machine-readable definition files rather than manual configuration, which can be hindered by human mistakes. IaC provides the ability to take a repeatable task and run it the same way every single time. This not only speeds up the process of rolling out a digital infrastructure across multiple sites, it also reduces the possibility of human errors, which may not be malicious but can lead to system outages and cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
Organizations should always remember that any move towards a new IT platform has to be right for them and their needs, not simply because it’s a new way of doing things. Leaders must stay informed of what any new platforms could do for their business – and the advice of a third-party specialist can help in doing that.
Deploying technology like Kubernetes can be done in several ways, but it must be suited to what skillset and resources the organization has. Managing everything in-house is one route, which of course carries an associated need for skills to deploy and maintain it. There are then options all the way up to paying for a fully managed Kubernetes service, which may be better suited if in-house skills are non-existent or challenging to develop.
In financial services, as well as so many other industries, data protection is undermining digital transformation efforts, with backup failures and incompletions leaving 58% of organizations’ data potentially unprotected according to the Veeam Data Protection Report 2021. Kubernetes and cloud-native platforms are fundamental to organizations’ continuous digital transformation, but do not remove the requirement around data management, and if anything, due to their use of code to deploy applications, there are more nuanced challenges. Organizations looking to leverage Kubernetes are therefore best-advised to partner with an expert in modern data protection with specialist capabilities around cloud-native platforms and tools.
As containers continue to grow in terms of both popularity and impact, businesses must ensure that they have the ability to protect and backup data across physical, virtual, cloud and Kubernetes environments. This is why businesses looking to take advantage of the agility, scalability, and automatability that Kubernetes offer cannot overlook the need to modernise their data protection strategies and capabilities in tandem.