Businesses follow various approaches to host an application on a computer system. With the rapid growth of technology and the rise of cloud computing, the need for hosting applications on the cloud became a need. This lead to the birth of two popular technologies, virtualization and containerization.

Virtualization, which has been in the play for a while, uses virtual machines as the logical unit. Meanwhile, a comparatively new, yet popular technology, containerization uses containers for hosting purposes. Both these technologies have been dominating the world of computer applications for quite some time.

While both techniques have their pros and cons, you must figure out which approach your business needs to follow.

Here’s an in-depth analysis of containerization Vs virtualization, which will give you the much needed headstart.

What is Containerization?

Containerization is a popular method of hosting applications where we run them in isolated spaces, known as containers, with its operating system (OS). In short, instead of creating virtual machines to run the application, these containers use the host OS, comprising everything the code needs

Application containers consist of all the runtime components, including binaries, libraries, and files needed to run an application. Multiple containers can use a single host to run while accessing the same OS kernel via APIs.

What is Virtualisation?

To better understand the functionalities of virtual machines, we must first understand their role. As servers became innately better in their processing power and memory capacity, Application development and services providing became common. However, businesses could not effectively use all the available resources. Thus, resource utilization was not up to the mark. 

Virtualization was born to take better advantage of these available resources on a single server by allowing multiple virtual machines to apply them more effectively.

Virtualization enables us to create software-based virtual versions of computer resources. The computer resources can include storage, computing devices, networks, servers, and applications. It lets businesses partition a single physical parent computer into multiple Virtual Machines (VMs), where each VM can run different operating systems and interact independently. 

The virtual environment itself will run on its physical computer or computers. Meanwhile, other VMs isolate themselves from each other and run independently. This allows more than one operating system to run independently while sharing resources with other members in the same physical space!

Containerization Vs. Virtualization

Containerization and virtualization are somewhat similar in how they isolate applications, so it stays operational in various environments. That said, they aren’t the same! The primary differences between containers and VMs are in the portability and their size.

containerization VS virtualization

Size

VMs are more extensive as compared to containers. They are typically measured in gigabytes and have their own OS that allows them to do multiple resource-intensive tasks simultaneously. The resources available to VMs enable them to split, abstract, duplicate, and emulate the complete servers, operating systems, databases, desktops, and networks. 

Containers are comparatively smaller. They are measured in megabytes, and have 

nothing other than the application and its running environment.

Containers, also referred to as “lightweight”, share the machine’s OS kernel. They don’t need the overhead of associating the OS within every application like virtual machines. The common bins and libraries can be shared among multiple containers, making them smaller in capacity as compared to VMs and much faster to startup.

Several containers can run on the same system as a single virtual machine, resulting in greater efficiency while reducing server and licensing costs. 

Compatibility

VMs work best with traditional and monolithic IT architectures. Meanwhile,  containers are more compatible with modern technologies like Cloud, DevOps, and CI/CD.

Container technology delivers significant benefits over virtualization. It has now become a hot favourite of IT professionals.

Are containers better than VMs?

Which technology suits your business the most? You might think containers come out to be the most popular and will have several advantages of containerization over virtualization. However, there are several factors you need to consider when looking for the right IT solution for your company.  

Each business has different needs and purposes. The choice of the technology depends on the organization’s needs, operational model, the way applications are made, and what they want to achieve. To choose what will work the best for your company, let’s understand specific points: 

Speed: Containers considerably reduce the time it takes to deploy and run an application. Containers start quicker as their OS is already running. Therefore the application starts without any delay. This is very helpful in a development environment as it saves a lot of time in the application testing cycle. Virtual machines have to start the entire OS, including the whole boot process. Therefore, it takes longer than a container. 

Portability and application sharing: Container images are smaller than the ones of virtual machines. Therefore, they are easier to transfer and save space. On the other hand, virtual machines need to have a copy of the entire OS, including the kernel, configuration files, all directories, system libraries, and all the utilities. This increases the size of an image which is not simple to share. Container images can be shared using many application sharing hubs on the internet, whereas virtual machines don’t have any centralized hubs for sharing images. In virtual machines, the images need to be uploaded to another server manually.

Security and isolation: Virtualization wins here. This is because virtual machines stay separate and isolated from one another. Hence, one infected virtual machine does not affect others. Each virtual machine can incorporate its security protocols as they are running in an entirely isolated environment. Containers only isolate data and applications at a process level and therefore provide less security, which depends on the security protocols of the host system.

Resources: Virtual machines run separate operating systems. Every system has to go through a virtualization layer. A significant amount of overhead is created and more resources are used. This means virtual machines consume memory even when they are not running an application. But, CPU virtualization is considerably cheap so, then CPU overhead can be less. Containers can start up quickly; hence their memory usage is less. There is also less overhead as they use the same OS.

Operating system requirements: When a business needs to run multiple applications requiring full functionality of a dedicated OS, then virtual machines are the best options. But, if the majority of the applications have the exact same OS requirements, then containers are a better option.

Application lifecycle: For short-term application needs, containers are the best option as they can be set up quickly, are portable, and can be started much quicker. However, a lack of dedicated operating systems, storage resources, and processing is a limitation of containers. When the priority is the maximization of applications running on a minimum no. of servers, VMs are better suited for applications that need to be used for extended periods of time.

Key differences between containerization and virtualization

Here are the key differences between containerization and virtualization in a tabular form for a quick reference:

ParameterVirtualizationContainerization
Operating SystemNeeds more system resources as it runs a whole operating system, including its kernel.Uses fewer system resources as all containers use the same operating systems and kernel.
IsolationAllows the total separation from the host operating system or even any other virtual machines.Typically provide lightweight isolation from other containers or the host but don’t offer the same security as virtual machines.
SecurityBeing isolated, they are more secure than containers. One infected virtual machine doesn’t affect another virtual machine.They isolate data and applications only at a process level. Therefore they are much more vulnerable, and their security depends on the security protocols of the host system. 
NetworkingUtilizes virtual network adapters.Utilizes an isolated view of a virtual network adapter. Therefore, it provides a slightly less virtualization.
DeploymentIndividual VMs are deployed using Hypervisor software.Individual containers are deployed using Docker or a container orchestrator such as Kubernetes.
Portability Not very portable as they need more resources and are bulky.An entire application packaged up with all of its dependencies. It runs on any computer without being dependent upon the host operating system. Therefore, it is incredibly portable.
SpeedHave to start the entire OS, including the full boot process. Therefore, they need more time. Are quick as their operating system is already running, and there is no delay.

The next step

As discussed, Containerization and virtualization are software technologies that create self-contained virtual packages. Beyond that similarity, they differ in their architecture, operations and use cases. Containers virtualize on the OS level and allow to run multiple workloads in a single OS instance wherein virtualization, the physical hardware is virtualized to run multiple OS instances. The key decision-maker on choosing an approach for your organization is the way your IT operates, the skill sets it holds and finally how you envision your future IT. 

Although virtual machines have been a popular choice in the IT world, enterprises are now acknowledging the importance of containers for multi-cloud deployments and other modern IT practices. If your application demands speed, agility and portability, containerization tools make it the best stack to streamline software development.

We’d love to help you choose between containerization or virtualization for adopting strategies to transform your business. Let’s talk!

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