Archive for software trends

Traveling without Tech

In February and March I was in Mexico City for two weeks. I was then in Ireland for ten days in April. In both instances, I realized that I have become completely dependent on the ability to access voice and data networks anywhere and at any time. Why the revelation? Because I didn’t have access to the local mobile phone network in both places. All of a sudden, I didn’t have access to Google Maps on demand. I couldn’t communicate instantly with other people to meet up or change plans. If I saw something interesting, I couldn’t just call up Wikipedia or a web site to find out more. When I didn’t remember to check Yelp beforehand, I had to just guess at the quality of restaurants. It was as if I was suddenly transported to a digital version of the Middle Ages.

It also became apparent how both useful and unhealthy it was to live constantly connected. There was no doubt about the convenience of calling up information wherever I might be. On the other hand, constant checking to see if a place had open Wi-Fi no matter where I was or why I was there can’t be good psychologically or socially. There I was, looking out over the Cliffs of Mohar in western Ireland, one of the great natural wonders of the world, looking for an open Wi-Fi network. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to put away the stupid phone and just enjoy the moment. The fact that I was almost craving email was certainly not a good sign.

This is what we have become in less than fifteen years. We may not be physically jacked in like a protagonist in a Cyberpunk novel but we are psychologically addicted to constant connectivity. We are losing the skills to schedule events, meetup, or navigate a city without a networked device. In the future, losing connectivity will be like losing electricity; We will lack the ability to survive without a network.

It just shows that there is a dark side to the marvelous devices we have created – our reliance on them. Maybe this is what should frighten us the most about AI. We may become so dependent on software, devices, and networks that won’t be able to function without them.

Docked!

I admit, I sometimes have weird vacations. I’ve had a few weeks off from work while awaiting the start of my new job. There was a trip to New Orleans (in the summer!) but also time spent watching the livestreams of two tech conferences. A little while back I watched and commented on Apple’s WWDC and, before heading off to NOLA, I tuned into DockerCon. I’m truly a geek. DockerCon is the conference for Docker users. In case you are unaware, Docker is arguably the most used (or at least well known) container technology. Containers are a type of virtualization. There’s plenty of places to look up containers so go do that now if you are ill informed about them.

DockerCon, unlike most conferences I have attended or viewed, is entirely oriented toward technology professionals. Even Microsoft Build and WWDC have more business influence than DockerCon. That’s not unexpected given that Docker’s whole business is centered around developers and sysadmins, It does, however, does add a certain flavor to the proceedings. For instance, the speakers seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time talking about why one would use a container. I would have thought that anyone who was at DockerCon was there to understand the “how” and had already figured out the “why”. It was whipped cream on ice cream – generally unnecessary and in the way of the good stuff.

The most interesting part of DockerCon was seeing how far the technology has come in such a short period of time. It’s not just the growth numbers – though there has been phenomenal uptake in Docker container usage – but the rate of evolution of the product itself that is so startling. In two years, Docker has gone from having only the basic container engine to networking and security upgrades along with the addition of plugins and orchestration. The platform choices have also expanded, though much of it is still in BETA. Whereas Docker, like most containers, has been based on LXC and limited to 64-bit Linux, they are now expanding into Windows and MacOS as well as various cloud platforms such as Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure.

The upshot is that Docker is making itself more attractive for large scale production environments. Docker 1.12 adds features that are important to deploying containers in production, as opposed to developer, environments. For example, orchestration will be part of the 1.12 release. Called Swarm, this feature allows large numbers of containers to be instantiated easily and then managed effectively. Manual tools are fine for individual developers but not for production environments. Swarm, which is similar to Google Kubernates, does all this. The upgrades to security are also important to expanding the use of containers into more robust environments. The addition of key management, while mundane, is very important to maintaining secure environments and Docker 1.12 has it.

Docker is also introducing a new container format. Typically, containers have encapsulated one piece of processing. What the Distributed Application Bundle or (terribly nicknamed) DAB does is package many containers together so that a sysadmin can deploy the entire application at once. Not only does this make it easier to deploy a new application but makes it much easier to migrate or move whole applications. Coupled with Swarm, this is a big time saver for the OPS crowd. DAB is still experimental so it isn’t certain if it will become a feature but it shows that Docker is thinking the right way.

The big takeaway from DockerCon is that Docker containers are now ready for the big time. The ecosystem is growing and the product itself has evolved into something that is useful to production environments. Our little container tech has grown up and is ready to wear big boy pants.