Everything you need to know about containers

Everything you need to know about containers

Posted in Articles on Friday, May 18, 2018

by Richard Vester - Group Executive, EOH Cloud Secrices Division


Cloud computing’s benefits of lowered costs and improved agility have been two of the primary reasons companies of all sizes have moved their infrastructure off premise over the years. Now, the same benefits are extending to applications, thanks to technologies like containers.

Just like many containers can share space in a ship or a truck when physical goods are being transported, a containerised application is able to share compute space with many others while remaining separate in its own “box”. This allows for the running of many more applications on a single server, lowering costs, and because a container can be booted much faster, it improves agility.

Containers are similar to virtualization, but while virtualization provides a complete environment running an operating system and applications totally separate from the OS of the host server, a containerised application is fully self-contained but is designed to work with the operating system kernel of the host. This provides a lighter weight alternative to full virtualisation, allowing the application to be run on any physical machine that shares the same operating system, but otherwise behaving as though it’s independent.

Containers are “sandboxed” so that they can’t interact with each other in order to preserve the integrity of data and keep them secure. For business users, the big advantage of using containers is that they offer a consistent environment. There‘s no risk of introducing errors when software is moved to a different machine as the same container is used by developers, testers and in production.  

Moving to new hardware or to a different cloud platform is also easier, since if the software is in a container it should run in exactly the same way wherever it is. And because a container is also much smaller than a full virtual machine, it’s easier to share.

Essentially, containers offer the resilience and isolation of a virtual machine but a lighter footprint and lower licensing and maintenance costs. Because it frees applications from the hardware, it makes transitioning to the cloud and even moving between public cloud providers a much easier process.

Containers are particularly useful in development environments. Containerised applications can be started almost instantly, so they can be used in a “just in time” fashion when they are needed and can disappear when they are no longer required, freeing up resources on the hosts. It also allows for greater modularity, so rather than running an entire complex application inside a single container, the application can be split in to modules. Applications built in this way are easier to manage because each module is relatively simple, and changes can be made to modules without having to rebuild the entire application. Because containers are so lightweight, individual modules can be spun up only when they are needed and are available almost immediately.

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