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Adapting to the IT Infrastructure of the Future

Conoa provides expert advice and pragmatic solutions to companies adapting to the complex demands of modern IT infrastructure, and has been a key partner of Mirantis throughout the evolution of the Docker (now Mirantis) platform and beyond.

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Take-Aways

True Partnership is Essential for Integrating Open Source Solutions – As expert developers and consultants with unmatched experience in modern infrastructure, Conoa provides the level of collaboration necessary for businesses to undergo successful transformations into open source consumers and practitioners.

Establish a Business Basis, Build a Roadmap – Businesses can avoid the frustrating setbacks that come with adopting new technologies by seeking guidance and exercising adequate preparation. By first setting a small scope for implementation and gradually expanding applications, developers can successfully build a roadmap for unlimited growth.

The Company

Founded by Thomas Ljungfeldt, Daniel Sigwid and Kenneth Albinsson in 2012 and acquired by international service provider Proact in April of 2021, Swedish based IT company Conoa has nearly a decade of experience conceptualizing, building, and distributing modern infrastructure solutions in a rapidly changing technological environment. As an early adopter of modern open source software, the company has long been in a unique position to optimize IT for an evolving landscape, and continues to expand its own operations, as well as aid the growth and transformation of its customers.

By 2015, Conoa was one of the first to see the potential of, and subsequently invest in, advanced container technology.

From the very beginning, Conoa’s work has benefitted from an understanding of how transformative—and potentially disruptive—advancements in technology can be for entire industries, particularly businesses tasked with managing increasingly high volumes of data for a diversity of applications. In fact, the basis and foundation of Conoa’s inception was an educated intuition that Linux and open source-based solutions were the keystones of

future development for IT infrastructure, and that to optimize the software and its various applications for hardiness and adaptability would be critical as the technologies inevitably became more sophisticated over time. As expert consultants and talented developers with a knack for guiding businesses through complicated, often frustrating digital transformations, the company’s mission has always been fairly straightforward: maintain a relevant, future-oriented command over existing and developing technologies, and use that skill set to deliver value to businesses wherever possible. By 2015, Conoa was one of the first to see the potential of, and subsequently invest in, advanced container technology, becoming the first European partner of Docker Inc., and unofficially sparking what has been an immeasurably successful and creatively rewarding relationship with Docker and, after the Docker acquisition, Mirantis over the years. By way of a carefully cultivated versatility and foresight, the company has demonstrated mastery and innovation in traditional and emerging technologies, from its Linux beginnings to the more modern cloud, cloud-native, and Kubernetes applications. In addition to being the first company in Sweden to be appointed both as a Docker Certified Training partner, Kubernetes Certified Service Provider (KCSP) and Kubernetes Training Partner (KTP), Conoa has been named a “Gazelle” company by Dagens Industri for five straight years since 2016, maintaining its position in the top 0.5% of growth for limited organizations in its home country.

Conoa’s original intuition about the evolving relationship between businesses and technology was, as we now know, spot on. To confirm this, we only need to take a brief look at IT infrastructure today, as well as the increasingly complex demands of data management and systems development across virtually all industries. Before advancements in technology gradually crept up on any number of unprepared institutions—and naturally gained a considerable amount of momentum as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic—Conoa had already been on the frontlines of emerging developments in IT. Praised on more than one occasion by numerous large, internationally respected tech corporations such as NetApp and Microsoft, the Conoa team’s unwavering dedication to their mission as well their constant innovation in the field has proven time and again their ability to have a leg up on the competition, whether in terms of practical expertise or sheer institutional growth. The company’s recent acquisition by Proact is a sure sign of expanded operational capacity, and a further testament to Conoa’s achievements over the years as a leading authority on modern container solutions.

Why Containers?

In order to understand Conoa’s success and greater journey up to this point, it’s necessary to take a brief detour (or perhaps, the scenic route) and discuss the value of implementing container technology in a broader context.

First of all, we need to consider just how transformative the emergence of advanced software solutions has been for businesses over the past twenty years or so. If we look at the explosion of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) industry, for example, we can see how the increasing capabilities of powerful technology have done more than make businesses more efficient; in fact, they have spawned entirely new business models constructed around the technology itself. To put it a little differently, the bulk of IT work is no longer about turning things off and turning them on again—it’s about conceptualizing, building, and supporting sophisticated and infallible roadmaps to a company’s success.

But whatever the promised benefits may be, to say that each new development in IT infrastructure has been embraced with open arms by all parties would be inaccurate. The truth is that change management, in any context and regardless of industry, can be costly, time consuming, and generally overwhelming. In fact, almost any organization in good financial standing might be inclined to shy away from undergoing any significant technological restructuring, even when the incentives for doing so are particularly enticing. Ultimately, it’s an understandable hesitation, especially when you consider the increasing rate at which technology advances today. How does one balance the need to adapt to a new system with the sneaking suspicion that a newer one is already emerging? And besides, why not just stick to what already seems to be working?

This is, in part, the dilemma that many organizations were faced with when Docker, together with Conoa, were advocating for container technology in the Nordic regions, years before it gained the traction that it has today. Conoa ended up playing a huge role in making that early implementation a resounding success, but before we detail that use case in a later section, it’s important to understand exactly what these early adopters were promoting.

Before the use of container environments, IT teams relied on the use of physical servers to build, test, and deploy various applications. If they weren’t dependent completely on the server, they might utilize virtual machines (VMs) as a way to visualize their operating systems and manipulate their functions for a desired result. When working with a small, isolated application, servers and VMs work just fine. However, the more you try to improve functionality, and more specifically to integrate various applications, the more difficult these platforms become to manage, often consuming valuable resources, overhead, and time.

Operating system virtualization is what makes various software processes workable, and as the need to integrate additional processes and microservices becomes more urgent, organizations are often confronted with the frustrating limitations of server or VM-based methods for virtualization. Because these methods require the use of operating system images—and individual guest OSs with layers of corresponding data in the case of VMs—their processes consume unreasonable amounts of overhead by running numerous applications from a single physical server, with a typical VM taking minutes to load and become functional. In the worst case, a developer may have built a truly transformative application for a business in theory, only to find out that, in reality, it does little more than drain company resources and deploy with less than optimal functionality.

Containers emerged as an alternative operating system virtualization tool, ditching both the need to depend on isolated physical servers as well as operating system images for functionality. Designed specifically to address the above complications, containers hold all the critical aspects of an application, from binary code to data libraries and configuration files, and can be activated in multiple environments. One of the most notable features of modern container platforms, particularly in the case of Docker and Conoa applications, is their ability to leverage the cloud as a way to increase efficiency and decrease the use of overhead that comes with hardware based solutions.

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In addition to freeing up resources, the portability of containers makes them a far more practical option for any business that might need to run applications in diverse environments, even allowing developers to build and test programs from a personal laptop. Moreover, the development process itself becomes much faster and more efficient through the use of containers, and once developers gain a clear understanding of how to navigate the technology, the possible applications are nearly limitless.

Essentially, Docker provides a runtime environment that allows you to create containerized applications and automate their deployment, and it does this with virtually none of the compatibility issues or reliance on hardware that has plagued previous virtualization methods. It works by using text images, originally referred to as “Dockerfiles,” to deliver the containerized software to its target, and the container can be as simple or as complicated as the developer desires. By learning to build or work with pre-built Dockerfiles, DevOps teams can instantly benefit from drastically more efficient processes and advanced functionality, seemingly packing years of technological growth into the relatively short time frame of a few months long training program.

It turns out, however, that initiating a successful implementation of the technology for a company’s unique environment is where a lot of developer’s get stuck, at least in the beginning. And this is often because, by no real fault of their own, they lack something in relation to Docker of which Conoa has a surplus: experience.

Because containerized applications are only as useful as they’re designed and directed to be, there is simply no substitute for the guidance of trusted advisors who understand how to extract real benefits in the context of real life applications. Open source solutions, as well as their strategic implementation, is the foundation of Conoa’s expertise, and their team has the advantage of years of experience working directly with Docker developers on the technology prior to its more widespread adoption.

This is what has made the Mirantis and Conoa partnership so effective over the years; the experience and technical competency of Conoa’s consultants, enhanced further by their unique visibility into present and future developments of the Docker platform, consistently translates into tailor-made guidance for Mirantis’ customers. Whether it’s a large financial institution or a small business, the shared mission between our teams is to provide open source solutions that actually empower developers and produce reliably positive outcomes.

Through the use of in-depth and company-specific workshops, in addition to a more generalized offering of online courses and training programs, Mirantis and Conoa are constantly promoting the education of their customers, as well as remaining trusted advisors on all projects at varying capacities. There is simply no denying that the diversity of potential applications can be overwhelming at times, and that different applications often require vastly different skill sets to run effectively. Whether developers are just getting started on containers with Docker, or are beginning to venture into more complicated functionality with orchestration software like Kubernetes or Swarm, there will inevitably be a learning curve that most organizations would agree is worth mitigating at the outset.

Although the growth of open source solutions may have been initially fraught with hesitation, the benefits have become so clear at this point that it’s no longer a question of why a business should implement containers, but how. Attitudes around open source solutions have been changing rapidly, and the conversations that Conoa and Mirantis are having today with existing and potential customers sound almost nothing like they did two years ago. As recently as 2019, there was often still the need to work hard educating and convincing developers that containers were superior virtualization tools, and that open source applications would almost certainly become necessary to remain competitive and efficient. But today, the technology has garnered so much buzz that most businesses and developers know they want it, including many who aren’t sure exactly why.

Solving for Compatibility

Conoa’s ability to remain ahead of the curve on both technologies and their various implementations has been the key to their success from the beginning. In fact, it was the company’s early interest and specialization in open source solutions that allowed them to be instrumental in many of Docker’s early adoptions and successful integrations in Sweden and the greater Nordic regions.

One of the first rollouts of the Docker platform at scale involved one of Scandinavia’s largest financial institutions. In 2017, the future of container technology appeared bright, however the fragmented nature of competitive development across unique operating systems made it difficult to bring into focus. In general, the shifting landscape of software solutions put many businesses in an uncomfortable position. Change management was clearly needed in the realm of IT infrastructure, but hardly anyone had an idea about where to start.

This customer was particularly struggling with how to integrate containers for use on the Windows platform. There were a number of technical issues, the largest of which involved an overall instability of the Windows system in relation to container applications. At the time, the software was still in Beta, and the latest available Windows OS (2016) had simply not been designed to support containers. In essence, there was a seemingly insoluble disparity between the application Windows was trying to get off the ground, and the operating system of their machines.

What made this situation uniquely important to both Conoa and Docker was the customer’s urgency to fix the problem, and subsequently the value their teams could offer to a company in operational distress. And it wasn’t just the one customer; several similar entities across the Nordic region were coming up against change management initiatives that seemed to be doing little more than draining time and resources, to the point it was becoming difficult to maintain regular operations. Everyone was interested in the benefits of containers and open source solutions in general, but they didn’t have the knowledge, experience, or even the proper tools for integration. After hundreds of hours spent debugging escalation calls and mitigating increasingly slow runtime environments, the situation was appearing more and more desperate by the minute.

It should also be noted that this was one of the first instances in which either Conoa or Docker had experienced so much enthusiasm about open source, specifically the implementation of Docker for virtualization. When Conoa’s Head of Sales Diego Villaman and co-founder Kenneth Albinsson set up a meeting with the customer to discuss Docker and container technology implementations, they expected maybe five people from the IT department to show up. But contrary to expectations, about 25 people attended from different departments with varying skill sets.

After that point, overwhelming turnouts to educational events held by Docker and Conoa had become a trend across Europe and the Nordics, including one seminar in Iceland that attracted upwards of 350 attendees with little promotion and less than a week’s lead time from the invitation. And despite the situation, people weren’t attending out of mere desperation or distress about change management initiatives, but rather, they were attending out of excitement for what the technology could offer their profession, both immediately and in the longer term. This wasn’t your typical going-through-the-motions response to a necessary adaptation in a rapidly changing industry. Something had clearly changed.

Conoa rose to the challenge together with Docker, and with the simple shared mission of finding not just a short-term solution, but one that would lay the groundwork for what the Docker platform is today across operating systems. Within seven months of meeting with the architects of the Windows container platform, Docker Datacenter was born. Docker Enterprise followed shortly after, and eventually four distinct implementations had been created in the form of two platforms for Windows and two for Linux.

Since the emergence of the Windows Server 2019, the performance of containers on Windows has become increasingly stable. The compatibility problems that troubled the original customer have since been resolved, and Mirantis and Conoa continue to assist them with further implementations as the technology continues to mature and evolve. In many ways, these early interactions and collaborative evolutions of the Docker platform would ultimately set the tone of what continues to be an endlessly rewarding partnership between Conoa, Mirantis, and their valued customers across Europe and beyond.

Implementation & Onboarding

More than building and providing the tools and infrastructure to run containers successfully, a great portion of Conoa’s work with Mirantis and customers is to promote a diversity of open source applications. Once teams become educated about the technology and understand its basic principles, it’s time to initiate an onboarding process and figure out exactly how to leverage containers for measurable and sustainable growth. And from Conoa’s perspective, this is where the real journey begins.

After all, versatility is one of things that makes open source solutions so attractive to businesses and developers. The potential applications are nearly limitless and remain open to creative discretion, but this also means that having a specific outcome in mind as well as a detailed plan of execution is just as important, if not more so, than being able to navigate the technology itself.

This first step in this process is for the customer to build out a qualified team, positioning members with specific skill sets in optimal environments for success. Competitive players with specialties in development, operations, monitoring, logging, and every relevant area to a company’s mission are needed to implement open source solutions effectively. Of course, wherever improvement is necessary, Conoa provides the tools and guidance to mine the potential of all involved parties.

Partnership is absolutely critical throughout onboarding, and a truly collaborative approach is what sets Conoa and Mirantis apart from their competitors. This approach can be summarized as a fairly basic formula: the customer knows their business and environment, Mirantis knows the technology, and Conoa knows how to bring it all together effectively in practice. By the time the necessary tools are in place, and a true partnership is realized, most competitors in the space tend to walk away, as they typically lack the wealth of experience with the technology as well as the resources to provide their customers individualized support on a day to day basis.

Partnership is absolutely critical throughout onboarding, and a truly collaborative approach is what sets Conoa and Mirantis apart from their competitors.

Conoa’s consultants are endlessly flexible, and comfortable taking on multiple roles throughout the life cycle of a project. Additionally, because an emphasis on adaptability has been built into their business model from the very beginning, Conoa had no problem accommodating remote support throughout the pandemic, and continues to remain flexible to the situational demands of customers. Consultants will stay involved in the process for as long as needed, with the shortest projects lasting no less than six

months. Whatever support the customer needs to secure a successful transition, Conoa provides it.

Once the technology has been implemented and roles have been established, customers are advised to zero in on an even more specified business basis for application. By first setting a small scope, teams can get comfortable building containerized solutions with minimal complexity for the services they already provide, eventually being able to use this foundation to gradually reach more complicated functionality and expand on their product or service offerings.

Having a strong business basis is essential for building an executable roadmap for open source solutions. Because Conoa and Mirantis have first-hand experience building these platforms from the ground up, they know how to identify an effective roadmap from the earliest stages of the onboarding process, as well as how to educate developers on moving gradually into more advanced functionality with the aid of orchestration software like Kubernetes.

Utilizing orchestration software effectively becomes a necessity very quickly after a company starts to implement complex, multi-container applications, which is typically inevitable, however dependent on the scope of the project. Kubernetes is an incredibly useful program for analyzing and maintaining successful configurations, or the various text files within multiple containers, and can manage the monitoring, hosting, and troubleshooting of applications in local or cloud environments. It balances the heavy workloads often associated with containers and the various challenges that can arise in different use cases, such as applications shutting down unexpectedly or running into performance issues. In the simplest terms, it makes building and running complex, multi-container applications significantly more manageable, and leveraging Kubernetes strategically can go a long way in saving developers and operators time, effort, and resources.

Kubernetes clusters offer developers a control plane from which to manage APIs in charge of scheduling and replicating specific container groups. Users are provided with an interface that allows them access to detailed information such as the runtime state of a given application, its overall performance, and exact locations of its distribution. Clusters allow operators to keep applications running despite complications, in addition to providing an added layer of visibility and access for monitoring, debugging, or redirecting specific functions. Kubernetes clusters enable the next level of sophistication for containerized applications, promoting the activation of more advanced behaviors and more easily allowing applications to manage other applications within the cluster.

The Mirantis Kubernetes Engine allows Conoa to adapt to a customer’s environment easily in order to provide detailed guidance and solutions. Whether it’s improving on a customer’s existing pipeline or building a new one, Mirantis’ technology can be applied to multiple solutions across virtually all available operating systems. Conoa and Mirantis work closely with their customers throughout each individual project to identify the appropriate Kubernetes application for their needs.

Leveraging Kubernetes and similar orchestration solutions is also how Conoa and Mirantis customers can start to realize cost-savings related to their digital transformations. Moving applications over to a new platform can be a costly endeavor, particularly when maintenance and debugging initiatives become overwhelming and hard to keep up with. But by applying the best technology to these challenges with the guidance of the architects themselves, companies can save money on upkeep in addition to increasing revenue through more efficient processes.

The truth is that businesses need both enhanced capabilities and cost-savings now more than ever. The rate at which technology has advanced even in the past couple years has left many companies with the challenge of adapting operations at a larger scale than would normally be advisable. But at the same time, it would be unwise to assume the high-risk of transitioning without a carefully thought out roadmap in place. Conoa and Mirantis’ approach is unique in that it helps even the largest institutions, many of which find themselves under industry pressure, figure out how to start as small as possible without falling behind or compromising truly sustainable solutions.

Starting small and orienting operations toward incremental growth is simply the most pragmatic way forward for most companies, regardless of size. Beyond learning how to build and implement the technology, there are other considerations that can’t be ignored and in fact require extra attention, such as addressing industry-specific regulatory concerns. Banks, financial institutions, and telcos, for example, will need to be aware of how regulations in various territories affect the use of their applications. If companies fail to build their infrastructure with these considerations in mind, it can give rise to any number of complications, the worst of which are legal concerns, and the most benign of which still result in a costly and time consuming reconfiguration of their platforms.

Conoa consultants will walk customers through every step of the planning and onboarding processes, with extreme attention to detail and expert utilization of Gantt reports and other visualization tools for building reliable roadmaps to success. Companies will learn how to gradually expand their network of stakeholders and occupy a digital environment that becomes increasingly immune to the rapid changes within their industries, and instead position themselves to take advantage of new developments and trends as they unfold. However immediate the demand for change management might seem, careful planning and unwavering confidence are the key to adapting to the complexities of modern IT infrastructure. The mantra is simple: first start small, and then continue to grow without limitations.

Mirantis & Conoa in the Future

2021 has already been an incredibly exciting year for the Conoa and Mirantis partnership. Conoa’s recent acquisition by Proact, a leader in data and information management services across Europe, marks a new era for the company and is an ode to everything their team has been able to achieve up to this point.

Going forward, Conoa will continue its operations as usual, maintaining its mission to assist companies in their efforts to adapt to modern IT infrastructure, and develop more advanced solutions with a focus on Kubernetes, cloud and hybrid cloud native container technology, IaC, CI/CD, automation and DevOps. Importantly, Conoa’s current partnerships and projects with customers will not be disturbed by the transition, and the company expects to enjoy an increased capacity to develop its products and services further, continuing to build and maintain unparalleled trust with existing and future customers. It’s safe to say that Conoa’s mission from the beginning fits right in with the core values of the Proact brand: integrity, commitment, and excellence.

Together with Conoa, Mirantis continues to expand on their current product offering as well as the diversity of applications available to their customers. Mirantis practices the same methods that it advocates for the companies utilizing its services, and embodies the invaluable standard of never putting a limit on growth and further adaptation.

One recent shared initiative between the two companies is to promote the broader implementation of Lens, an integrated development environment (IDE) for the further simplification of Kubernetes. Lens was developed to eliminate some of the complexities of Kubernetes that arise when clusters become particularly involved and subsequently more difficult to manage. By unlocking enhanced situational awareness, Lens gives users the power to manage their applications across multiple Kubernetes clusters in real time, adding yet another layer of simplicity to an inherently complex process. It is currently the most popular IDE for Kubernetes solutions on the market, and Conoa and Mirantis are finding more interest in its benefits among their customers on a regular basis.

Additionally, Mirantis launched two upgrades to the Lens application in November of 2020, Lens 4.0 and the Lens Extension API, further empowering developers to build for novel functionality. With these additions, lightweight integrations can be coded with minimal time and effort, allowing for the customization of the Lens platform for a company’s unique tools and workflows. Lens 4.0 also addresses the need for additional security protocols, and simplifies the users’ ability to gain access as well as act upon important security features. These upgrades work directly through the traditional Lens user interface, but provide additional opportunities for a variety of automations.

To make the offering even more attractive, Mirantis and partners were sure to develop their own integrations through the new Lens extensions, allowing developers to borrow carefully constructed applications to use in the context of their own operations. This way, customers can still benefit from the upgrades without needing to take on the coding burden themselves.

The connection between Mirantis and Conoa grows stronger by the day, and their shared customers and industry collaborators continue to benefit from the superior technical competency, best-in-class open source solutions, and expert guidance that has made their partnership second to none since the beginning. Going forward, the overall goal is to continue improving both the products and services they provide, as well as the businesses that utilize their technologies and solutions. As an already historic team with a track record of delivering profoundly revolutionary technology, one can only attempt to imagine what the two might accomplish in the future.

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