5 Benefits of Using Containers

If you’re looking for a secure, lightweight solution to consolidating and managing application environments, you might consider using containers. In this article, Thomas explores some of the benefits of using containers.

Similar to virtual machines (VMs), containers are built to manage various runtime environments from a single platform. Both VMs and containers work to make provisioning infrastructure easier and more consistent.

While teams have similar motivations for implementing VMs and containers, the latter offers more flexibility, efficiency, and cost savings. Check out some of the benefits of containers listed below.

1. Performance

Perhaps the most obvious benefit of containerization is its performance capability; in other words, the “footprint” of a container versus a VM.

VMs feature an abstraction of physical hardware that turns one machine into several. VMs can run on a single machine, but each VM must have its own software libraries and operating system. All this requires quite a bit of space – often multiple gigabytes – which can make VMs slow to boot up and function.

Container images, in contrast, typically only take up a few hundred megabytes. This is accomplished by sharing key resources from the host operating system across containers, rather than duplicating them. Not to mention, since containers lack the extra layer of virtualization that VMs have, they are able to interact with the host operating system more quickly than a VM. This means the same application deployed in a container may perform better than when deployed in a VM.

2. Documentation

Another benefit of using containers is that they are virtually self-documenting. Because configuration files are made to provision your specific environments, you know exactly what your dependencies are – what you need to run your app – and can trace through your change process to ensure consistency.

VMs offer the benefit of being able to consistently reproduce an environment, but they don’t track the steps that were taken to get there. It is easy for teams to spin up an environment, get it up to speed, and snap an image – but tracking back through the provisioning process is not possible without external tools or documentation.

3. More time for IT operations

Consider manual provisioning of systems, which requires a set of sequential steps to properly get an infrastructure up and running. For example, if an IT operations member goes into Amazon and provisions an image, he might have to go into the command prompt and install every dependency that he needs – in a specific order, too! He might have to consider different runtimes from resources like Git, Java, or Python, then go through and check that everything is running correctly. At this point, he might store a snapshot for future use – except the snapshot will tell him nothing about the steps he took to get to the current state.

Containers help bring the DRY (don’t repeat yourself) principle from the dev world into the ops world. Once a container configuration has been written, the work is done. It can then be version-controlled and shared so no one else has to repeat the work, either. Unless requirements change, the ops team never has to manually trace through the provisioning process for that environment ever again.

4. Consistency for developers

Containers aren’t just great for operational teams; they make life easier for dev teams, too. It’s not uncommon for modern applications to have nodes numbering in the double digits. Developers need to be able to spin up these environments on demand to run and test their code. The last thing they have time to do is environment troubleshooting and manual configuration.

Containerization can also encourage collaboration between coders by lowering the barrier to entry. A coder is much more likely to contribute to a project if it’s easy to set up. If they have to spend a day or two provisioning environments just to get started, they may pass on writing that feature or bugfix.

5 .Cost savings on computing resources

By now, it might seem like common sense to mention the cost savings containers can afford users, especially on a business scale. In addition to reducing the amount of memory needed, containers only require the core parts of an operating system. Containers can be defined in much smaller units than a VM. This cuts down on cloud computing fees by allowing apps to scale more smoothly along the demand curve.

Related: 5 benefits of the OpenShift container platform

Final thoughts

With their consistency, cost, performance, and documentation benefits, containers offer an easy-to-use, lightweight solution for businesses to consolidate and manage apps. Even if companies use VMs for most of their needs, containers can be used in conjunction with these systems to provide more flexibility and integration in app deployment and management.

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