For decades, virtualisation has been the go-to method for organisations to streamline and consolidate their workloads. By decoupling apps and services from their hardware, going virtual saves businesses physical capacity, hours of orchestration time, and considerable CAPEX costs. But as is the case with all technology over time, this winning approach is now being challenged by fresh thinking.
The current contender for virtualisation’s long-running title is containerisation.
A quick overview of virtual machines
To fully appreciate containerisation and better understand how it works, we first need to take a step back to look at the role of virtual machines (VMs) in virtualisation. Virtualisation was rooted to the goal of maximising the capacity of an organisation’s hardware by transforming physical servers into a virtual version. By doing so, each of your apps as well as their associated libraries and dependencies get turned into what is known as a virtual machine. VMs all contain their own virtual replicas of your hardware’s operating system (OS), which is often known as a Guest OS, and will interact with the underlying hardware they occupy through the use of a hypervisor. The hypervisor provides each VM with the resources they need to successfully run their apps, so is an integral component of any virtual environment.
Ultimately, VMs have made it possible for businesses to enjoy:
- Greater flexibility across multiple environments
- Better failover and recovery
- Easier management
- Faster provisioning of apps and resources
- Substantial cost savings versus physical-only infrastructure
For these reasons, virtualisation has always been a no-brainer for enterprise. But the interest in containerisation is quickly catching up, making it the frontrunner for many businesses looking to further optimise and modernise their infrastructure.
What is containerisation?
Put simply, containerisation consolidates physical servers even more successfully than VMs. How they work is very similar, but the key difference is that containers don’t virtualise the entire hardware stack via the use of a hypervisor. The hypervisor is instead replaced with a runtime engine, such as Docker Engine, which vastly simplifies the process by only virtualising the OS. This is then shared between the multiple containers held within the host machine rather than being replicated per each individual container as is the case with VMs.
Why containers over VMs?
There are lots of compelling reasons why containers should be the natural next step for organisations who have already harnessed virtualisation, and indeed for those have yet to commit to going virtual at all:
- A lightweight alternative
Because containers don’t host their own individual Guest OSs, this means they are a lighter app package than a VM, and so more portable across environments. Migrating workloads therefore becomes a lot faster and easier. Perhaps most importantly, their compact nature enables you to run a greater number of apps on a single physical machine, potentially doubling the amount versus VMs. This could see you dramatically reduce your physical footprint, saving you further capacity and cost.
- Less resources to run
VMs can require a lot of memory and processing power to run apps efficiently. However, due to the absence of a Guest OS, containers don’t use nearly as many resources as VMs do, but can be tailored to contain only what your app needs. This streamlined approach reduces the amount of hardware overhead and therefore orchestration needed from your IT team.
- Destined for DevOps
Containers are redefining how apps are delivered. They make the development, testing, and deployment of apps incredibly simple thanks to easy-to-apply updates, a controlled and consistent production environment, and the promise of stronger security. The transparency they provide also helps to greatly improve the relationship between DevOps and IT Operations by enabling better collaboration. And because they’re so portable, containers make moving apps into the cloud, as well as between multiple clouds, completely effortless.
Why you should consider containers
Although virtualisation is still rightfully regarded as game-changing in regards to infrastructure management, containerisation has refined this concept even further for those forward-thinking businesses looking to take their IT to the next level. Offering a faster, simpler, and more rewarding route to a modern infrastructure, containerisation is an opportunity worth exploring and ultimately preparing for. So much more than just the latest craze, containerisation is a ground-breaking alternative to virtualisation that could completely transform the very framework of your IT.
If you would like to discover more about containerisation and its place in your infrastructure, please get in touch with one of our team.