Containers are quickly becoming commonplace in workplace applications, even replacing virtual machines in some instances. How do you know if containers are right for your IT environment?
Tech giants like Google, Microsoft and IBM have all invested heavily in virtualized containers. In its most basic definition, a container is an OS-level virtualization method for executing and running applications. Containers eliminate the need to launch an entire virtual machine for every application. They run on an isolated system and single control host and access a single kernel.
In IT circles, you may have heard the name Docker on more than one occasion. Docker is the leading provider of enterprise-level containers. LXC is another big name in virtual container provisioning.
What About a Virtual Machine (VM)?
A VM allows users to run an operating system in an app window on a desktop. The VM acts like a full, separate computer complete with its own virtualized hardware. This enables you to experiment with different operating systems, software and apps – all in a safe sandboxed environment.
VMs run on a firmware, software or hardware called a hypervisor. The hypervisor itself runs on a physical computer – also known as a “host machine” – that provides the VM with resources like RAM and CPU. Multiple VMs can run on a single host machine with resources distributed as users see fit.
Which One Is Better?
Containers are a newer concept and many argue hold several advantages over VMs. The latter consumes more resources; it runs on a full copy of an operating system (OS), as well as a virtual copy of every hardware component running the OS. This eats up quite a bit of RAM and CPU.
Containers, by contrast, require just enough of an OS, libraries and other system resources to run a specific program, and can generally squeeze in about two to three times the number of applications as a VM. Modern containers also run in the cloud, giving users a portable operating environment for deploying, developing and testing new systems.
Containers are the clear winner then, right?
Well, not exactly. VMs do hold certain advantages. VMs are simple and easy to create for someone with a fair degree of IT-literacy. Developers can just install whatever OS they need and get straight to work, and there is very little learning curve. With easily-accessible software on the market, you can also easily return to an earlier iteration of an OS or clone a new OS entirely.
For enterprises and SMBs, however, containers may still be preferable. Containers use much less hardware, making them ideal for running multiple instances of a single application, service or web server. Containers also do what VMs do without a hypervisor, resulting in faster resource provisioning and speedier availability of new applications.
If you think you can benefit from a single service that can be clustered and deployed at scale, then containers may be the better option.
But, in the big scheme of things, in no way do containers make VMs obsolete. Containers simply provide a new solution for improving overall IT efficiency in specific areas of operation. The best approach may be a hybrid approach, which probably isn’t a full transition to containers, but implementing them alongside VMs so users can capitalize on the respective advantages of each.
At the end of the day, every organization’s business needs and infrastructure are different and requires its own unique strategy. So, as cliché as it may sound, you be you…
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