What are Virtual Containers and its Benefits.
Virtual containers have recently gained prominence with the open-source container platform, Docker. It promises to change the way IT operations are carried out, just like virtualization technology did a few years ago.
What are containers?
Virtual containers are similar to shipping containers, which have made the transport of bulky goods much easier.
Prior to the introduction of containers, virtual workstations and servers granted users access to software and computing power across a local network or the internet. This is what has become known as “cloud computing,” as it created entire desktop experiences over the internet.
However, there was room for improvement, as virtual machines are known to take up a lot of system resources. This is because they run a virtual copy of an operating system alongside a virtual copy of all the hardware that the operating system needs to run. Such heavy load on one machine quickly takes up a lot of RAM and CPU cycles, slowing processes down.
Containers improve on the inefficiencies of cloud computing by promising developers that their software will run smoothly, regardless of the type of computer their end users are running.
Top benefits of using containers:
- Platform independence: Build it once, run it anywhere
A major benefit of containers is their portability. A container wraps up an application with everything it needs to run, like configuration files and dependencies. This enables you to easily and reliably run applications on different environments such as your local desktop, physical servers, virtual servers, testing, staging, production environments and public or private clouds. This portability grants organizations a great amount of flexibility, speeds up the development process and makes it easier to switch to another cloud environment or provider, if need be.
- Resource efficiency and density
Since containers do not require a separate operating system, they use up less resources. While a VM often measures several gigabytes in size, a container usually measures only a few dozen megabytes, making it possible to run many more containers than VMs on a single server. Since containers have a higher utilisation level with regard to the underlying hardware, you require less hardware, resulting in a reduction of bare metal costs as well as datacentre costs.
- Effective isolation and resource sharing
Although containers run on the same server and use the same resources, they do not interact with each other. If one application crashes, other containers with the same application will keep running flawlessly and won’t experience any technical problems. This isolation also decreases security risks: If one application should be hacked or breached by malware, any resulting negative effects won’t spread to the other running containers.
- Speed: Start, create, replicate or destroy containers in seconds
As mentioned before, containers are lightweight and start in less than a second since they do not require an operating system boot. Creating, replicating or destroying containers is also just a matter of seconds, thus greatly speeding up the development process, the time to market and the operational speed. Releasing new software or versions has never been so easy and quick. But the increased speed also offers great opportunities for improving customer experience, since it enables organisations and developers to act quickly, for example when it comes to fixing bugs or adding new features.
- Immense and smooth scaling
A major benefit of containers is that they offer the possibility of horizontal scaling, meaning you add more identical containers within a cluster to scale out. With smart scaling, where you only run the containers needed in real time, you can reduce your resource costs drastically and accelerate your return on investment. Container technology and horizontal scaling has been used by major vendors like Google and Twitter for years now.
- Operational simplicity
Contrary to traditional virtualisation, where each VM has its own OS, containers execute application processes in isolation from the underlying host OS. This means that your host OS doesn’t need specific software to run applications, which makes it simpler to manage your host system and quickly apply updates and security patches.
- Improved developer productivity and development pipeline
A container-based infrastructure offers many advantages, promoting an effective development pipeline. Let’s start with one of the most well-known benefits. As mentioned before, containers ensure that applications run and work as designed locally. This elimination of environmental inconsistencies makes testing and debugging less complicated and less time-consuming since there are fewer differences between running your application on your workstation, test server or in production environment. The same goes for updating your applications: you simply modify the configuration file, create new containers and destroy the old ones, a process which can be executed in seconds. In addition to these well-known benefits, container tools like Docker offer many other advantages. One of these is version control, making it possible for you to roll-out or roll-back with zero downtime. The possibility to use a remote repository is also a major benefit when working in a project-team, since it enables you to share your container with others.