Archive for software trends

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.

SAP States the Obvious But That’s Alright

The recently concluded SAP’s SAPPHIRE 2016 conference left me with an odd feeling. On the one hand, I really liked much of what I heard – machine learning, microservices, design thinking, and API catalogs. On the other hand, these are all topics that are well-known to SAP’s customers, even though they were presented as if they were brand new. In addition, SAPs competitors have been talking about these subjects for a long time and most already have products in the field. That left me thinking that SAP is moving in the right direction but just a little behind the curve set by their competitors and the market.

To be honest, that’s not necessarily a problem. It’s not so much that SAP’s customers are overly conservative. SAP’s software, however, runs the most important, mission critical, functions of many of the world’s largest companies. These companies need to have software that is rock solid, all the time. The bleeding edge is not for them. Viewing SAP’s announcements through this lens, it seems that they are following an old pattern of releasing software only when it’s completely thought through. A great example of this approach has been SAP Jam. SAP was not, by any means, the first company to release social collaboration or enterprise social network software. There were dozens of competitors who had developed or acquired solutions in this space long before what has become SAP Jam truly crystalized. SAP took the time to get this right, especially with introduction of work patterns. It’s why SAP Jam is a successful product with solid customer implementations.

What gave me pause most was the way these new technologies were presented. Company executives acted as if these were new concepts, insinuating that SAP customers are unaware of what is going on in their industry. I doubt that. More likely, SAPs new product announcements were driven by the demands of customers for the kind of useful and important technology that many of their peers already had. I’m pretty sure that the emerging needs of their business had something to do with it as well. In some cases, SAP seemed compelled to talk about technology they don’t quite have yet. For example, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of machine learning technology that is actually in the field or even in products. It was discussed quite often but always in the future tense.

Something that was clear was that SAP is finally getting around to integrating the products of their recently acquired companies, such as FieldGass, their contingency workforce applications, and Successfactors’ human resources software. This was an obvious integration that creates tremendous value but, understandably, takes time to get right. The same is true of Successfactors and the Concur travel platform, and SAP Ariba’s procurement platform and S4/HANA ERP. This series of interlocking, mutually supportive but independently deployable applications allows customers to recognize the most leverage from SAP purchases. By integrating the operating units’ products, they create value for the customer that has been just waiting to be unlocked.

In the opening keynote of SAPPHIRE 2016, SAP CEO Bill McDermott stressed empathy with customers. In that spirit, I’m trying to have empathy for SAP even though they seem to be trailing behind their competitors. I get the impression that SAP is willing to appear to lag behind the market if it allows them to deliver unbreakable and more relevant solutions to their customers. Hopefully, this is an example of good things coming to customers who wait.