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Are Containers Always the Best Way to Save Money and Provide More Agility?

This post originally appeared on IBM, November 29, 2021.

From time to time, it is good to review the solutions that make up your infrastructure.

Perhaps there are efficiencies or cost savings to be made. Perhaps your needs as a company have evolved. Or perhaps a new technology or trend is challenging or supplanting existing approaches.

Containers are getting a lot of attention, and one of the ways that IBM has embraced this is through the release of IBM Cloud Paks. With the breadth of deployment options available to IBM MQ users, it might not be surprising to learn that MQ also has container options. The container options for MQ are to use it as part of the IBM Cloud Pak® for Integration or as a standalone enterprise messaging solution.

Despite the current drive towards container adoption, not all companies have a mature container strategy — never mind an environment for deployment — and being the pioneer within the organization can be a daunting prospect.

Containers boast a lot of advantages, including simplicity and development acceleration, but are there alternatives that provide the same or better? ­

For messaging, IBM MQ Appliance is a great option to consider. Although it is a different form factor to containers, it shares a number of the same benefits, and for some use cases, it can be a superior choice. Let’s look at the similarities between the two approaches and at the MQ Appliance’s additional strengths to help you decide which option might be best for you. 

The power of simplicity

Due to staff turnover or the multitasking so typical in many roles, in-depth knowledge of a given technology or dedicated resource can be a luxury. With a focus on acceleration, technologies that require little time investment are attractive. After all, the less time that employees spend learning how to use a solution, the more time they have available to focus on other tasks.

The IBM Cloud Pak for Integration is a container-based approach that reduces the time and effort required to maintain an integration estate, which often have messaging as their foundation. A cornerstone is ensuring that upgrades are low-touch activities that avoid the need for deep expertise and costly migration tasks. Where the Cloud Pak includes multiple integration components, some of the complexity of using multiple solutions together is reduced.

The IBM MQ Appliance has a simple maintenance model. The MQ Appliance upgrades contain updates to MQ, the operating system and all dependencies in a single, signed package. The MQ Appliance is also pre-tuned by IBM MQ experts to provide exceptional performance, which provides less expectations for users to configure it themselves. This streamlines both adoption and maintenance to deliver a solution for users to easily get started and deliver value to the business. This theme is continued by the MQ Appliance being locked down, which prevents users from building their own custom code (e.g., MQ exits).

Saving money

Spending budget wisely is always a priority — even more so following challenging economic times.

IBM Cloud Pak for Integration enables businesses to purchase a broad set of integration capabilities under a single license and flexibly use the capabilities that are needed to support business goals. If your business requires support for multiple styles of integration, (messaging, application integration, API management, etc.), the Cloud Pak delivers great value for money. The license provides production and non-production entitlement and can be used across public cloud and on-premises applications, providing a compelling business case for adoption.

If the only integration capability that you want is MQ, or if performance is a priority for your messaging (perhaps as part of a hybrid solution), the MQ Appliance might be a good fit. The MQ Appliance eliminates the need to purchase and maintain hardware, software and other dependencies individually. By consolidating existing messaging deployments onto fewer MQ Appliances, businesses often see a reduction in spend on licenses, data centers and time. For example, this research paper shows that businesses can achieve a 33% lower five-year Total Cost of Ownership when using the MQ Appliance vs. messaging software. Businesses normally reach a breakeven within a couple of years, and the MQ Appliance lifecycle means less frequent hardware refreshes than when running software on other servers.

Building resilience

Resilience is vital if businesses are to remain available and to be trusted by their customers. A break of business continuity can mean an interruption in productivity, data loss and disruption to those relying on that business. It is important to build solutions that protect against these risks.

An attractive feature of containers is the ability to quickly spin up a new container to replace one that is damaged. Additionally, the Cloud Pak for Integration includes native high availability, which enhances resilience for IBM MQ through a quorum model that assures that data is rapidly available in the case of a failure.

The MQ Appliance provides out-of-the-box high availability through paired appliances that are situated locally to each other (ideally — but not always — in the same data center). These provide automatic failover in case of disruption. Similarly, disaster recovery can be enabled between appliances in two different geographically distant data centers.  

Performance is key

It is important to be responsive both at the busiest of times and during periods of more predictable workloads. For those with high traffic peaks, performance can be an important factor when considering the right solution.

Both the Cloud Pak for Integration and the MQ Appliance perform well. However, because the MQ Appliance is dedicated to IBM MQ and only IBM MQ, its performance outshines what you’ll experience with other deployment options. For infrastructures that require highly performing messaging, the MQ Appliance is the clear choice. For those that still need the other integration capabilities in the Cloud Pak, both solutions can be used together to achieve a hybrid approach.


With changing or unpredictable workloads, the ability to scale up and down can be very valuable. IBM MQ offers scalability by deploying multiple queue managers, and where needed, these participate in MQ clusters.

The Cloud Pak for Integration benefits from being container-based. Containers can be created and destroyed at will, making scalability trivial.

The MQ Appliance has a lot of capacity, meaning that many queue managers can be added before hitting a limit whether you buy the full-capacity A mode or the restricted-capacity B model. Many find the B model sufficient for their needs, but if they grow, they always have the option to scale up even further with an in-place upgrade to the A model, without the need for new hardware.

Securing your business

Regardless of final deployment choice, security is an important consideration to protect against both internal and external threats. A breach can have financial consequences. One of the barriers to container adoption relates to concerns about security, and there are those who feel more comfortable with on-premises deployments.

All versions of IBM MQ use TLS to protect messages in flight. Messages at rest are further protected by encryption when using the Advanced Message Security (AMS) feature. For containers, you must select the MQ Advanced option to enable AMS. The MQ Appliance includes it as standard.


Containers provide a great option for modernization, but they might not be a suitable approach for those who do not have a wider containerization strategy. In this article, the common drivers for the adoption of containers have been compared with the benefits that can be delivered by the MQ Appliance. Considering the strengths of each alongside your needs and priorities is key when thinking about a container-like approach. Both solutions have advantages and can be used independently or together as part of a hybrid solution.

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