Does your organization currently have one or more online applications running in virtual environments? If you do, container technology has the potential to revolutionize the way in which you develop and deploy your applications. Unfortunately, container technology is also widely misunderstood. Has your company avoided using container-based applications due to security concerns - or because your current setup already seems to serve your needs? You could be missing out on a great opportunity for scaling your organization's digital offerings to reach a wider audience.
Container Technology: A Primer
If you have ever participated in the development of a complex application, you know that many things can go wrong if the development and production environments differ. A change in the operating system, library dependencies, hardware configuration or network infrastructure can make an application behave in unexpected ways. One way of getting around that problem is by adding an abstraction layer. Running the application in a virtual machine ensures that the application's operating environment remains consistent. The problem with virtual machines, though, is that they don't scale very well. Virtual machines start up slowly and sap the host machine's resources.
Suppose that you could instead create a distributable package containing an application and all of its dependencies. That's what container technology is. A container can run reliably without virtualization because it includes all of the dependencies necessary to make it work. The only thing that you need is an operating system compatible with the container technology.
Now that you have a better understanding of what container technology is, these are the five things that you need to know about it.
1. Containers Are More Secure Than Ever
Some companies have avoided using Docker and other container technologies because they believe that exposing a server's host operating system is a poor security practice. Running an application within a virtual machine hides the host computer under an abstraction layer, protecting it from hacking and malware. The fact, however, is that containers are quite secure. Docker and other container technology companies have enhanced the security of containers by adding digital signatures, real-time security scans and more. If a container has a security vulnerability, you'll know about it before a hacker has an opportunity to exploit it.
2. Containers Are Made to Scale
If your company currently uses virtual machines to power its online applications, you know that virtual machines scale poorly due to their heavy resource requirements. Running a few virtual machines behind a hypervisor can slow a server to a crawl. If you move your infrastructure to the cloud, you'll gain access to infinitely more resources -- but moving to the cloud won't change the fact that virtual machines are slow to start up. Container technology is lightweight in comparison. A server can run many containers simultaneously -- and since containers start up almost instantly, you can activate them only when they're needed. Whether you run your application on a single server, in a traditional data center or in a cloud environment, switching from virtual machines to containers will dramatically increase the application's scalability.
3. Container Technology Is Perfect for DevOps
If your company is considering adopting DevOps, switching to container technology can accelerate that transition. Container technology is ideal for a microservice architecture in which each of an application's functions resides in its own container. Adding or modifying the application's features becomes as simple as modifying the associated container; there's no need to test, compile and deploy an entire application just to push a small change out. You'll find, though, that switching to a container-based architecture will require extensive training of your developers and administrators. Some companies put off adopting DevOps until their developers are already well versed in container technology
4. Container Technology Isn't a Replacement for Your Existing Online Strategy
You should think of container technology as a means of augmenting -- not replacing -- your existing online strategy. You can add containers to your existing cloud infrastructure, for example, without needing to replace what you've already taken so long to build. Do you prefer the security and comfort of using virtual machines rather than exposing a host computer to the Internet? You can use containers as part of a hybrid strategy by running them on virtual machines. VMware and Microsoft both distribute software that assists with container management in virtual environments. You'll lose some of the performance benefits that container technology offers, but you'll gain increased security.
5. Container Technology Is Here to Stay
Like it or not, the benefits of containers are so profound that ignoring the technology would do your organization a great disservice. Many of the world's top tech companies -- including IBM, Google, HP, Amazon, Microsoft, VMware, Oracle and more -- have collaborated to create an industry-standard container format, freeing up third-party developers to concentrate on creating technologies that make containers more secure and easier to manage. Containers are perfect for software developers because they eliminate the need to test software under a variety of different hardware and software configurations before distributing it. Containers are also perfect for companies that need their applications to handle heavy user demand. A container starts up in a fraction of a second and can disappear instantly when it's no longer needed. Whether your company needs to serve an online audience of millions or become more agile by adopting DevOps, transitioning to container technology is the perfect solution.
Would you like a more detailed abstract about container technologies? Then download our whitepaper about the basics and implementation of container technology: