Containerization: What is it and how can it help e-grocers migrate to the cloud?
Containerization keeps operational costs low, and dramatically reduces the risk of things going wrong during updates or maintenance periods. Making deployment processes more predictable and easier to control thanks to smaller development batch sizes, it’s perfect for the grocery sector and its recent drive toward e-commerce.
Just as physical cargo containers revolutionized shipping back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, making the transfer of goods quick, safe and reliable, their modern-day digital namesakes are doing the same online. Digital containers are effectively a form of ‘digital packaging’ that allows for the simple and seamless deployment of applications in the cloud. It results in a modular approach to service development, allowing businesses to roll out new features and updates securely without having to re-architect an entire application.
For decades, retailers all around the world have been embracing e-commerce. And they all face a complex challenge when moving their operations online, with the likes of Amazon and Walmart deploying multiple updates on any given day. It could be argued that grocers face an even more difficult challenge in their e-commerce journey due to the complexity of the service they offer. Grocers need to consider things like weight articles, substitutions, complex shopping carts, lists and check-out options.
Users expect more choice and convenience in their online grocery shopping experience than they might do when, for instance, purchasing a book from Amazon. More options mean more features, and more features mean more maintenance.
But before we get into the true benefits of containerization and how it can help grocers transfer the customer experience online, let’s first take a look at containerization technology and how it works.
What is containerization?
Technically speaking, a digital container is a virtual runtime environment that is designed to accommodate a specific piece of software, including all of the code libraries and dependencies to support that software’s function. Thus shipping code from one environment to another is more predictable, faster and cost-efficient, very much like the benefits a container offers to ship goods from one end of the world to another; protecting them from the environment and damage. One of the greatest benefits of using containers is that they can be easily replicated from one machine to the next without changing their behavior, allowing the deployment process to become more automated and increasing time-to-market.
What are the benefits of containerization?
Container technology allows businesses to take the same modular approach they use to develop software and apply it to the update and deployment process. Modules no longer need to be forged into one large release anymore when an update is rolled out. Instead, updates and changes can be rolled out in smaller individual batches allowing for continuous, ongoing development. It’s what allows e-commerce giants such as Amazon to continuously update their platform and make tweaks to the customer experience without halting their service or interrupting purchases. Each microservice can be updated and maintained independently, so the customer experience is very rarely, if ever, disrupted.
In the case of grocers, let’s say a new product range is added that requires a particular function, such as a weight article. That feature can be added to the website and back-end software without disrupting anybody’s online shopping experience. Containerization also makes digital transformation much more manageable for grocers, allowing them to develop and phase in new software and functions in a self-contained way that does not disrupt the existing infrastructure. It also allows workloads to be scaled up and down far more easily, making for more efficient use of computing resources.
Rapid scaling and customization
Businesses of all shapes and sizes experienced a dramatic shift in 2020 following the COVID-19 pandemic, but grocers were certainly among the most affected. Virtually overnight, grocers had to adapt to increased demand both in-store and online, with online delivery slots being reserved for particularly vulnerable groups. Grocers already operating in the e-commerce space will have had to scale up their operations at lightspeed, with no clear sign as to when the demand might subside - or if it would subside at all. Containerization in conjunction with an orchestration tool like Kubernetes allows businesses like grocers to react to these sudden fluctuations in demand with relative ease. Workloads and different functions can be scaled up or down depending on what’s required, allowing a business to ‘fine-tune’ its use of resources. This is something that’s simply not possible with a monolithic, static piece of software, which would be a drain on computing resources regardless of demand or workload.
A containerized approach also allows for unparalleled levels of customization so smaller grocers can deploy microservices as and when they are needed, and large grocery chains can run their business in a more responsive way. The vast majority of grocers already have some kind of e-commerce solution in place, and those that don’t will surely be considering it following the events of 2020 and the onset of the ‘new normal’. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s the importance of staying agile and scalable in unpredictable times, and that’s precisely what containerization allows.
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