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Containerization vs Virtualization: What’s the Difference

By: Alan Seal on November 21, 2019

Virtualized, software-defined computing environments have revolutionized the way organizations manage their infrastructure. In the past, it was only possible to scale capacity and performance by purchasing new hardware, which could be equal parts costly and difficult to manage. Now, thanks to virtualization techniques like virtual machines and containers, organizations have much more flexibility when it comes to expanding their infrastructure.

Containers vs Virtual Machines

Virtualization involves using software to create a virtual machine (VM) copy of a server, complete with its own operating system, drivers, and libraries. Several virtual machines can be created using the processing power and storage capacity of a single server or multiple servers that are integrated to share resources between them.

Physical vs Virtual Server

The key component of a virtual machine is the hypervisor, which is a monitor positioned between the underlying server hardware and the virtualized server. A hypervisor can be hardware, software, or firmware. It is responsible for allocating power, memory, and storage resources to multiple virtual machines running side-by-side.

Disadvantages of Virtual Machines

Since each virtual machine is running its own operating system and emulating the hardware necessary to power it, they consume a great deal of memory and processing resources. This makes them more difficult to move from one physical server to another or migrate them between cloud environments. While moving them is certainly possible, doing so is typically very time-consuming.

Difference Between Container and VM

Where virtualization creates an entire virtual machine, containerization is a much more specialized form of virtualization. A container isolates an application in its own virtualized environment, but instead of powering its own operating system, it shares components of a physical server’s OS. Several containers running on a single server will all use the same operating system while keeping their application data isolated.

VM Containers

Containers are much easier to manage than virtual machines because every container isn’t running its own operating system. This makes challenges like fixing bugs and installing patches much easier to address. On the downside, it also means that problems with any one system could take down multiple containers. The lightweight nature of containers, however, makes them easier to move, which is much more difficult with virtual machines.

Containers vs VMs: Which One is Right for Your Business?

Choosing between containers and virtual machines is highly dependent upon an organization’s application needs. Generally speaking, there are three major determining factors that need to be considered.

How Much OS Functionality is Needed?

Some applications have unique operating system requirements. If an organization needs to run multiple applications that require the full functionality and power of a dedicated operating system, a virtual machine is the ideal choice. They are more cost-effective than dedicating an entire physical server to an application, which could quickly lead to inefficient deployment that doesn’t leverage the full capacity of each server. On the other hand, if most of the applications being used have the same OS requirements, then containerization will be a much more practical solution that allows a high degree of flexibility.

What is the Application Lifecycle?

Applications that are expected to be in use for a long period of time are good candidates for virtual machines. That’s because the virtualized environment they operate within is much more robust and versatile. Since they are software-based copies of physical servers, they have the same capabilities and can be utilized in a variety of ways. Containers are more suitable for short-term application needs. They can be set up much faster and are easily transportable, but they are ultimately limited by their lack of a dedicated operating system, processing, and storage resources.

How Much Isolation and Security is Needed?

Data security is one of the most important challenges facing today’s organizations, especially if they handle any amount of data gathered from consumers. Storing data in a virtualized environment has significant benefits in terms of management and cost-effectiveness, but security needs can often dictate which software-based strategy makes sense. Since containers only isolate data and applications at the process level, they provide a slightly less secure environment than virtual machines. The fully isolated environment of a virtual machine effectively functions as an independent server, which means it can incorporate its own dedicated range of security protocols to provide additional protection.

Virtualization technology has made it possible for organizations to meet their ever-expanding computing needs without having to constantly invest in new hardware. For data centers and hosting providers, software-defined solutions allow them to balance the growing demand for greater performance against the power costs associated with that infrastructure. By using high-density servers to create virtualized environments, providers can maximize the performance and value of their existing infrastructure without pushing their power costs to untenable levels.

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