Containers and the Chasm: The State of Container Adoption

Geoffrey Moore’s
technology adoption lifecycle is gospel for tech marketers. The model describes
the path of diffusion for discontinuous innovations and explains how ecosystems
emerge and coalesce around IT winners.

Moore and his
work have been top of mind the last couple years now as we’ve observed the rise
of and hype around Linux containers.

Containers are
the next evolutionary leap forward from hypervisor-based hardware virtualization,
offering a way to package an application with a complete filesystem that holds
everything it needs to run: code, runtime, system tools and libraries. Containers
are smaller, faster, more portable and more developer-friendly than their
virtual machine predecessors. In that, containerization represents a paradigm
shift in how systems and applications are built, deployed and managed.

In the tech
sector, paradigm shift is a euphemism for opportunity, and, appropriately, we’ve
seen a flood of companies come to market with their flavors of tools and
platforms ultimately enable organizations to run container-based, cloud-native
applications.

The rapid onset
of this innovation cycle has been exacerbated by a trend toward faster release
times. VMware got buyers comfortable with a new vSphere release every year.
Then the OpenStack Foundation promised releases every six months. With Docker,
CoreOS and others we’re seeing releases every three months, if not faster, as
each vies to become the standards bearer (if only judged by press mentions or
Github stars).

Consequently,
lost in this shuffle have been customers who are struggling to keep up.

To assess the state
of container adoption, it’s helpful to evoke Moore’s model. Let’s take a look
through that lens:

Innovators are “willing to take risks, have the
highest social status, have financial liquidity, are social and have closest
contact to scientific sources and interaction with other innovators. Their risk
tolerance allows them to adopt technologies that may ultimately fail. Financial
resources help absorb these failures.” These are the Googles and Twitters of
the world who have been running containers as part of distributed systems architectures
years before Docker was open sourced. These companies battle test approaches
and provide blue prints for the broader market but operate at a scope and scale
that is many years ahead of it.

Early adopters are “individuals with the highest degree
of opinion leadership among the adopter categories. Early adopters have a
higher social status, financial liquidity, advanced education and are more
socially forward than late adopters.” These ‘gear-heads,’ are the developers
and infrastructure engineers who have been test-driving container technology
because it’s the cool, new thing. These devs are evangelists and core open
source contributors and are responsible for driving standards, best practices
and use cases. Early adopters are gatekeepers for new technologies in
organizations and drive bottoms-up adoption.

However,
bottoms-up adoption will only take a new innovation so far, which brings us to Moore’s
famous chasm. The chasm is a
gap that exists between the first two adoption cohorts and the early majority, where buyers are
described as “pragmatists in pain,” and adoption decisions are driven by
business need.

The chasm is
precisely where we stand today: developer interest continues to surge as standards and best practices are beginning to emerge, but the
industry is still waiting on the applications
and business cases
which are requisite to drive more mainstream adoption.

Given that we’re at this
critical inflection point, we urge companies competing in this market to take
the pragmatic, customer-centric view. Ultimately, this all relates to a
potential brewing problem in the formation of any new ecosystem or value chain:
when the rate of innovation outpaces the rate of customer adoption companies fail.