The use of containers is undoubtedly one of the hot topics in IT. The market is predicted to be worth $2.7 billion by 2020 according to 451 Research, as businesses continue to leverage the performance, cost efficiency and scalability benefits for running applications in the cloud.

The technology may still be in its relative infancy, but its ability to combine the security of traditional v irtual machine isolation with speed and flexibility is prompting a wide variety of businesses to take the plunge. Indeed, 42 percent of respondents to a recent survey said their organization is already using container technology, while nearly a quarter (23 percent) are currently evaluating the use of containers.

There are, of course, some challenges that need to be overcome - such as re-architecting legacy apps, a lack of developer experience, and ensuring application security - but the promise of container technology is clear.

This growth in popularity has resulted in an explosion of start ups appearing in the market that are focused on building, managing or providing container services, adding to the plethora of container-based solutions released by virtually all the major cloud providers and vendors.

While this has created an abundance of choice for customers, it’s that choice which makes it difficult for businesses to understand what is exactly the right choice for them.

A disconnect has also emerged between the interest being shown in containers and actual adoption - with many enterprises hesitating due to security and implementation concerns - both of which are issues that the industry will be keen to solve.

– Holly Tillier

Risky business?

Despite the promise of ‘containerization’ and the potential benefits on offer, the technology is at a stage where many businesses are yet to be fully convinced.

The financial services industry, for example, is one that has been quick to embrace containers, but CIOs and IT managers in other sectors are still unsure if the technology is the right option for them.

It’s still relatively early days of course, so this hesitation is to be expected as any new technology comes with risks. But, one way of calming any fears is for the industry to establish best practice guidelines that businesses of all sizes can follow.

This is currently missing from the world of containers, primarily because early adopters are attempting to figure out what best practices should look like as they go along in an effort to get ahead of the competition. The result is that conventional wisdom is continually being challenged as businesses figure out exactly what works and what doesn’t.

But, by collaborating to provide recommendations for the creation, deployment and usage of containerized applications, vendors and customers can consolidate their experiences and help the industry to develop.

Not only will this provide businesses with confidence in their deployments, it will also encourage them to try new things and come up with innovative solutions to traditional business problems.

Driving adoption through standards

As with any emerging technology, fostering greater standardization across the industry is key to kickstarting adoption.

Traditionally, a lack of standards has held back technology from progressing. Without having common building blocks that the whole industry must adhere to, businesses can’t be sure that the technology will work in the way they expect it to.

But, once most of the industry agrees on a certain base standard, technology tends to take off. Businesses get a clearer path along which to travel and can be sure that the fundamental aspects of the technology will work in the same way, regardless of the vendor that built it.

The world of containers is no exception. By creating a standard way to build and manage container technology, all customers get access to a similar set of basic services that they can be sure will meet their performance expectations.

They can then pick solutions from specific vendors, whether that be Canonical, Google, Microsoft or anyone else, based on their specific business needs.

Various industry bodies are already in place to help shape the future of the industry, with the Open Container Initiative (OCI) and the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) being two of the biggest organizations seeking to tackle complex business and technology problems through open source collaboration.

The OCI, for example, was established in 2015 with the aim of creating open industry standards around container formats and runtime, while the CNCF boasts 138 members after less than two years of activity - including the world’s six largest public cloud providers – and is continuing to grow at a significant rate.

Progress is certainly being made, but more needs to be done if the true promise of containers is to be realized. The adoption of common standards and best practices will not only serve to guide the container community, but also provide a more level playing field for vendors and customers.

It will also significantly increase the level of technological innovation within the industry, helping the world of containers evolve from chaos to widespread adoption.

Marco Ceppi is an Ubuntu product strategist at Canonical