Package your code and run it anywhere: That is what containers essentially do. Containerization is the hottest technology trend in cloud computing today. It is innovative and works like magic! It has changed how we develop software and think about architecture. Every major tech firm on the planet is invested in container technology today. While the idea of this technology is nothing new, with Linux operating systems using it since the early 2000s, the credit for its tremendous success today goes to Docker, which made it mainstream. This article is dedicated to the many benefits of containers we enjoy today.
Platform incompatibility can occur in the following cases due to different computing environments:
1. Migrating from development to production environments
2. Migrating from one platform to another
3. Migrating from on-premise to cloud
4. Migrating from legacy to modern platforms
Knowing the target environment in advance can solve this issue but, in many cases, the software will be used on a variety of unanticipated platforms. A solution to this challenge is to deploy platform-agnostic containers that can move between computing environments quickly and efficiently.
Containers package code and its dependencies, such as configuration files, into standard units of software. This enables applications to run reliably from one computing environment to another, such as a local desktop, physical server, virtual server, production environment, or any type of cloud infrastructure. This portability enables organizational flexibility, speeds up the development process, and makes it easier to switch between vendors if need be.
Resources can be scarce on a server when multiple applications are running.
Unlike a Virtual Machine (VM), which is comprised of an entire operating system to accompany the application, containers have a smaller footprint in terms of server power.
A VM package (app+os) is a “guest” on the physical machine on which it runs and relies on a hypervisor to allocate physical computing resources. Since physical machines run multiple applications simultaneously, VMs can quickly become resource hogs. For example, a physical server running three VMs at a time would require a hypervisor and three separate operating systems to function. It is clear that running a complex set of applications on a single physical server would incur huge server bills and likely cause maintenance issues.
Containers solve the same problems as VMs but much more efficiently. The architecture of a containerized app is built with efficiency in mind, so it only takes up a fraction of the resources needed for virtualization.
A container consists of an entire environment including:
- An application
- Libraries and other binaries
- Configuration files
All of these components are bundled into a single package. This ensures that the application platform and its dependencies, as well as differences in OS distributions and underlying infrastructure, have no impact on performance.
A physical server running three containerized applications uses a single operating system kernel. The only dependencies are unique to the app in question, but all other resources are shared.
Since containers do not require a separate operating system, they use up far fewer resources. While a VM is often several gigabytes in size, a container is usually only a few dozen megabytes. Thus, it is possible to run many more containers than VMs on a single server without compromising on speed or performance. Since containers require lower hardware utilization, this will result in a reduction of bare metal costs and data center costs as well.
Scalability and Fault Tolerance
Imagine you are promoting your app during the Super Bowl and need more resources to handle all the traffic from the ad campaigns. It is often impractical to design an app for such large audiences unless due consideration is given to software architecture. These incremental hikes in traffic are best handled by scaling your resources when you need them. When you slow down on promotions in the off-season, you can scale down to help manage costs. Scalability allows you to cater to small audiences whilst having the capability to handle millions of users.
Breaking down a monolithic app into small functional chunks makes the process much simpler. These chunks, or micro-services, can be achieved through containerization and are smaller parts of a huge app, making them easier to manage, maintain and deploy. Problems with individual micro-servers can be isolated so that they do not impact the entire platform.
Containers support horizontal scaling, meaning you can stack identical containers within a cluster. With smart scaling, where you only run the containers needed at any given time, you can reduce your resource costs drastically and accelerate your return on investment. Container technology and horizontal scaling have been used by major vendors like Google, Twitter, and Netflix for years now.
In software development, code efficiency is a form of currency. A program written in 100 lines might work with 50. While this might not seem significant, a large app can contain millions of lines of code and these savings translate directly into ROI when you analyse the associated server costs, maintenance costs, testing costs, and so on. At the same time, this code can be shared with multiple services. Write once, run anywhere.
Reusing the code saves time and resources. It leveraging existing tools, libraries or other code. A software component which has taken weeks to develop has the potential to serve other projects, saving the organization several weeks if another project reuses that component. This helps reduce budgets on big and small projects. In other cases, code reuse makes it possible to complete projects that would have been impossible if the team were forced to start from scratch. Containers also facilitate reusability. It can be difficult and wasteful for IT professionals to move an application to a new platform or operating system using traditional methods. With containers, the same code can be shared or deployed to multiple platforms without being re-written.
The same code can be shared or deployed to multiple platforms without being re-written.
Software can fail. Most organizations are concerned with software security and are willing to invest heavily to prevent malicious attacks. However, many technology teams need some guidance when it comes to building secure software. Software defects such as buffer overflows and inconsistent error handling can be daunting and immensely damaging.
Containers are well suited for situations where security is a primary concern, which is practically every application. Containers can be decoupled. That means if your business is running a series of containers and one of them crashes, the others will keep running without interruption. Furthermore, if one container is hacked, the impact is easily – as the name suggests – contained. It offers fault tolerance in such cases, allowing parts of the service to run even if one part of it is unavailable. This provides the IT team with some relief and debugging team can focus its efforts on the effected service instead of the entire system.
Lightweight containers can be started and stopped in a matter of seconds. Problematic containers can be brought to a halt without affecting other enterprise systems. Updates can also be made quickly, meaning new features can easily be added and bugs can quickly be minimized or resolved.
All in all, containers allow IT professionals to focus on their core tasks and responsibilities. Developers can concentrate on application logic and dependencies, and operations specialists can deal with software deployment and management issues, without having to worry about application versions and configurations.
Containerized development also means IT professionals can spend less time debugging and more time innovating. The result for your business is productivity. Talented IT staff – both in-house and outsourced – can spend less time testing and more time creating.