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8 Reasons To Consider Containers

  • Applications of all kinds are critical to the daily operations of enterprises all over the world. While hypervisor virtualization technology has become the standard for managing applications and software components, containers enable IT professionals to install, run, maintain, and upgrade applications and their surrounding environments quickly, consistently, and more efficiently than their hypervisor counterparts. This is making containers a popular topic for many IT professionals, and is increasing traction in the enterprise.

    Application containerization is gaining momentum, and it appears it is here to stay. Although it is very unlikely that container technology will entirely replace hypervisor-based virtualization technology, it does offer speed and efficiency, as well as other benefits.

    The container technology sector as a whole is still young, however, and the technology lacks several enterprise-level virtualization features. Early containerization platforms such as Docker, LXC, and Rocket have evolved into the need for more advanced platforms that include several enterprise-grade features like versioning and improved migration capabilities.

    Hypervisor virtualization, on the other hand, is a mature industry, with leading enterprises delivering full-fledged solutions for running all sorts of enterprise workloads in virtual machine environments, as well as management and enhancement support programs that have been evolving for years. It may take some time for container technology to build a mature ecosystem to deliver the same kind of enterprise-grade support.

    Despite its status as a young industry, container technology is not new. It basically introduces software abstraction layers to a system, enabling applications to be packaged with their surrounding environments. This results in better portability and reduction in overall resource requirements for applications and their surrounding environments, across physical and virtual machines. Container technology enables development of distributed applications and services at a rapid pace.

    Docker is the most well known platform based on this technology. There are several fundamental factors that differentiate Docker from traditional virtualization platforms. Docker packages an application and its dependencies (like libraries, frameworks, etc.) into a “software container” that can run on virtually any machine, without need of a guest operating system. This greatly reduces the resource requirements for hosting applications. Also, since the software container packages are independent of the operating system, they can be easily ported to different machines as required.

    With all of these benefits, Docker and other containers are making inroads in the enterprise world. Here are the key things to consider about using containers as a powerful tool for your organization.

  • Everybody's experimenting

    Adoption of container technology is becoming ubiquitous. According to a survey by StackEngine, 70% of respondents are either already using container technology or evaluating it for adoption in the near future. An additional 23% are familiar with this technology. These statistics reflect the growing traction of container technology. Organizations unaware of the potential value may find themselves missing out.

  • The need for speed

    Docker containers are lighter than hypervisors. With no guest operating system running, the requirement for processing power, memory and storage is much less. In part because of its light weight, a container can get up and running in just a few seconds, while a virtual machine requires several minutes for a full system boot-up.

  • Quick turnaround

    In a container architecture, a hosted application and its dependencies are bundled into a single package. This package is independent of the host version of the operating system, the platform distribution, and the deployment model, and can run in almost any environment, including bare-metal servers, laptops or virtual machines. Because this lightweight container can be easily migrated to any machine without risk of compatibility issues, transitioning from development to testing and production environments is faster than traditional hypervisor virtualization technologies.

    Comprehensive, flexible, and widely compatible across physical and virtual machines, container technology implemented well -- can help organizations reduce application shipment time.

  • Tracking capabilities

    Docker containers work similarly to GIT repositories, in which users can commit changes made to the Docker images. Since containers are tightly integrated with the dependencies of the hosted applications, any update or upgrade in a container ecosystem can pose a risk to the stability of the applications. In the event of an environment breakdown due to a component upgrade, admins must track the successive versions of the container and roll back to a previous, working version of the application and its dependencies. Fortunately, this is usually a fairly easy task.

  • Ability to isolate

    For every container, there is a separate network stack that has independent control of its ports and access permissions. Applications hosted on a specific container can be configured to communicate with other containers or external entities over specified network interfaces. This provides easy segregation of applications even when they are running on the same host platform.

  • Limited security exposure

    Containers support the use of scripted instructions in setup files, which can control the types of data and software that can be installed. This way, when hosting a critical workload, the container can carry only the essential dependencies, and avoid carrying the additional software components that are part of the guest operating system of a virtual machine. This reduces the exposure of the container and thus the vulnerability of the hosted application.

  • Performance perks

    In container architecture, a single operating system, the kernel, runs all the containers. This means that on any specific hardware platform, organizations can host more containers, of larger sizes, than any corresponding VM environment could support. Typically, a server that can host 10 to 100 virtual machines can be expected to support around 100 to 1000 containers running the same workloads.

    Additionally, when migrating containers, only the binaries for the application and support files need to be copied, instead of the entire guest operating system (as with virtual machines). This provides substantial benefits when sharing or migrating containers.

  • Easy to manage

    Docker images are typically lightweight, which enables rapid delivery and deployment of new application containers. Containers also make it possible to update the environment as part of an application update. This enables frequent patching of applications in a secure manner, while reducing the effort of validating the compatibility between the application and its environment.

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