Everything you need to know about containers can be found on the internet, right? Well, not exactly. While there’s certainly no shortage of blog posts, white papers and vendor solutions all claiming to be the ultimate guide to containers. Indeed, the explosion of interest in container technology has led to a plethora of new solutions that make it easier than ever for users to deploy applications in isolated environments called containers. These lightweight virtual machines are also known as “ Linux containers ” or “virtual private servers (VPS)” or “process virtualisation” or “Serverless computing” or…you get the idea. There are multiple names for essentially the same thing: a way to deploy applications in isolated environments called containers. You don’t have to fully understand everything about containers yet; this article will give you everything you need to know right now.
What are containers? #
Containers are a software solution that allows you to run applications in an isolated environment. They’re lightweight because they don’t require their own operating system like traditional virtual machines. Instead, containers run applications within the host operating system. This means you can use containers to improve application portability, reliability and security. Container environments provide an isolated runtime environment that is completely separate from other applications. This means each application has its own set of resources, including memory, disk space, and a few other things. Unlike virtual machines, containers don’t include a full OS. Instead, they share the OS resources of the host OS. Containers are ideal for short-term projects, such as testing and staging, where you want to deploy a consistent environment that lasts for months. For long-term projects, virtual machines are a better choice because you can more easily customise their OS.
Why use containers? #
Since containers are isolated environments running on top of the host operating system, they enable you to run multiple applications on the same server. This reduces the amount of hardware and resources you need, which translates into lower costs. Using containers also reduces the time and effort required to deploy new applications compared to using virtual machines. You can also seamlessly integrate containers with your existing DevOps or CI/CD processes, which can go a long way toward reducing the time it takes to deploy new applications.
The benefits of using containers #
Faster hardware utilisation – Containers can be run on a single server, enabling you to accommodate more users or handle more transactions than if you were running virtual machines on the same server. This reduction in hardware resources can lead to cost savings.
Faster Deployment – Containers don’t require the lengthy installation process that comes with virtual machines. This means you can deploy new applications and services more quickly.
Flexibility – Containers are portable, so you can run them on any server, on any OS. This provides greater flexibility in terms of where you can run your applications.
Shared OS resources – Unlike virtual machines, each container uses a small portion of the OS resources. This means multiple containers can run on the same server, significantly reducing the cost of hardware.
Simplified security – Containers benefit from the security of the host OS. This means you don’t have to worry about installing additional security software or configuring it correctly.
Drawbacks of using containers #
Containers aren’t without their drawbacks, however. The most significant of these is that containers are less secure than virtual machines. In fact, some security experts have gone as far as to say container environments are “dangerous.” This is because containers use a shared kernel. This means that if one application has a security flaw or is compromised, the flaw is essentially “inside the house” so to speak. Instead, virtual machines use a hypervisor to create a virtual environment that is separate from the host OS. This makes it harder for hackers to exploit vulnerabilities in an application and infect the host OS. Containers also don’t scale as easily as virtual machines. This is because you have to manually add more containers on multiple servers to increase the number of users a system can handle. In contrast, with virtual machines, you can increase the number of instances running on the same servers.
Strategies for using containers in production #
Start with a basic container environment – Don’t try to deploy a production-ready container environment from the beginning. Instead, start with a basic container environment and gradually add new features. This allows you to avoid the “big dig” scenario that often happens when people try to implement containers from the very beginning.
Use containers as a service – Run containers on a platform that provides built-in monitoring and scalability. This makes it easy to manage your environment, reduces the chance of error and frees up your team to focus on higher-level tasks.
Choose the right container environment – Not all container platforms are created equally. Before you decide to use an existing container environment or deploy an in-house solution, make sure you understand the tradeoffs of both options.
Wrapping up #
Container environments are a lightweight software solution that allows you to run applications in an isolated environment. They’re different from virtual machines in that they don’t require their own operating system. Instead, they run applications within the host OS. For most organisations, containers are a good choice for short-term projects, such as testing and staging, where you want to deploy a consistent environment that lasts for months. For long-term projects, virtual machines are a better choice because you can more easily customise their OS. Containers, however, have their drawbacks. They’re less secure than virtual machines because they use a shared kernel. This means that if one application has a security flaw or is compromised, the flaw is essentially “inside the house” so to speak.
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