Only a few years ago, we heralded the arrival of the virtual machine (VM) as the answer to our problems concerning utilizing every resource on our server hardware. Virtual machines came along to revolutionize the way we thought about computing and it seemed as if all of our resource woes were finally coming to an end.
But little did we know that the humble VM was only the beginning of a new era in computing and that a few years later, we’d be debating its merits as the ideal solution for building the systems of the future.
Today, the software container stands as a strong contender to replace the VM entirely thanks to its ability to run applications with virtually no operating system dependencies, making it far more lightweight and portable than VMs. This blog takes a closer look at the how these two technologies can serve your organization and why you’d invest in one over the other.
A closer look at VMs
A VM consists of an entire operating system, complete with configuration and maintenance requirements, updates and applications that make up the system. With VMs, a hypervisor acts as the moderator between the host system and the actual virtual environment to provide the necessary layer of abstraction. As the middleman between VMs and host systems, hypervisors ensure that all VMs residing on the host system are allocated their required resources to operate in the desired way.
As hardware technology improved and computing and storage capacities increased, applications could no longer utilize the abundant resources available to them. VMs were the perfect solution to this problem in that they allowed system admins to install multiple copies of different operating systems on a single server to make better use of the system and its resources. But over time, VMs typically grow in size as OS updates and application patches add up, placing strain on the underlying host. When you add ten or twenty VMs to this scenario, your host quickly becomes overwhelmed by the demands placed on it.
What makes containers different?
Just like VMs, containers have their own private processing space, can execute commands and have private network interfaces and IP addresses, but they use only a fraction of the resources VMs demand. Independent of hypervisors, containers include all the necessary libraries and configurations required to run specific applications, which makes them extremely lightweight compared to VMs and require far less administration than VMs do.
Here is a look at some more of the benefits around containers:
- Simplicity: Containers’ ease of use allow you to build and test portable applications in very short spaces of time. You can easily package an application on your local machine and transfer it to any private or public cloud platform seamlessly.
- Scalability: Because of their light weight, containers allow you to stack large numbers of them on a single server or cloud platform without exhausting its resources. They also fire up within seconds and can easily be replicated to meet business demands for a particular application, service or resource.
- Modularity: Container technology makes it possible modularize applications and run components in their own separate space. This makes scaling or updating individual components independently possible. They also function very similarly to GIT repositories in that they allow software developers to commit changes to applications and version control them. This makes rolling back after a new release or update breaks your system as simple a single mouse-click.
So which is the right option for your business?
If running a maximum amount of software applications on a minimum amount of resources is a top priority for you, containers are the natural choice. While some companies will have a bona fide requirement to run a mixture of operating systems in their full splendour, the pace at which containers are evolving will soon see them surpass their current limitations to outperform VMs in every playing field.
To find out how you can get started with containers, or how you can manage them more effectively, have a look at our Configuration Management vs. Containers ebook. It’s packed with useful information, packaged in an honest, easily digestible format.