Container technology is the latest lightning strike illuminating cloud computing. If its potential is realized, there’s reason to believe it will transform the way IT operations are carried out, just as virtualization technology did before.
But it’s early days on containers’ learning curve, and lots of IT players have yet to cotton on to their business value. Here’s a primer.
Docker is the most ballyhooed, but lots of companies have horses in this race, including CoreOS, Google, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft.
Broadly speaking, a container is a class, data structure or abstract data type (ADT) that stores objects in an organized way. It serves as a means of getting software to sustain a consistently reliable operation when shifting among computing environments, security situations or network topologies. In other words, a container strategy saves the day if the software environment of a developer’s laptop, say, is not identical to that of, say, a virtual machine in a cloud.
How it does so is complicated, but “containerizing” an application platform and its colonies of supporting tools essentially negates differences in underlying infrastructure and OS distributions. Such streamlined efficiency elevates the container concept to the top of the heap in considerations on how to best run applications in the cloud.
Containers are unique from virtual machines (VMs) in a variety of convoluted ways, but are most notably less cumbersome. VMs encompass an entire OS and an application; containers run a single OS and can share their kernel among them. A server can host more of the less resource-hungry containers than it can VMs, and containers can spring to life more swiftly than can sluggish, slow-to-boot-up VMs.
Indeed, some folks are bullish enough about this newcomer to suggest that organizations building out cloud computing environments should abandon VMs altogether for containers, which have lower overheads and the potential for better performance.
But others scoff at such a prediction, pointing out that VMs, at least for the time being, offer far superior security.