Saturday, December 03, 2011

Will Amazon Support Linux Containers?

Early on, Amazon EC2 was recognized as the leading IaaS provider because of their ability to easily provision new virtual machines with a variety of configurations (size, speed, attachments, etc.) Virtual machines are a powerful, yet simple tool for engineers to use but they come at a price (a performance hit). At MomentumSI, we've been pondering if Amazon would ever support Linux Containers in their cloud. 

When asked, "Will Amazon Support Linux Containers?" Raj comments, "Would love it. We may see a type of instance which allows containers on it. You will have to take the whole machine and not just a container on it. That way AWS will not have to bother about maintaining the host OS. Given the complexities I think it will be a lower priority for Amazon and as it may be financially counterproductive; they may never do it."

Tom comments, "I doubt it. While I'm one of, if not *the*, biggest proponent of linux containers, the business reasoning still lags the technical reasoning. Intel, for instance, would *hate* such a move. Why? They spent a ton of money on virtualization at a chip level, which becomes a non-issue in containers (no hardware gets shared at the metal, rather, it's all one kernel for all containers). So, while it would be a great thing to see, the business market simply doesn't support this at this point, other than for folks like Pixar or other compute heavy folks.

What I *would* bet on is that AWS internally switches to some container based systems. For instance, ElasticMapReduce is far better off in a container world than in a VM world. Easier to maintain, direct access to 'cpu speed' and no need to virtualize access to disks -- it's all just there (even ISCSI ends up better in containers -- no 'vm to hypervisor' network translations)."

Amazon will likely be forced into one of three positions: 
1. Delivering sub-optimal platform performance on VM's (current state)
2. Supporting Linux Containers behind the scenes but not giving customer access to it. 
3. Delivering Linux Containers to customers and dealing with a whole new set of technical headaches. 

I'm more optimistic than my counterparts on the likelihood of #3. My reasons are simple: First, Amazon has done what they needed to do to satisfy customer needs.  Second, I think they'll need to do it to remain competitive with companies like Rackspace. As developers move from "needing a vm" to "needing a platform" (database, app server, etc.), Amazon will be pressed to expose a more highly performant layer to platform developers. One thing my associates and I agreed on is that we will not likely see containers in 2012... perhaps 2013?