What are containers and how is this technology changing how businesses deploy applications? Read here some benefits they can offer to your company.
With the current business transformation, which focuses primarily on applications and safe, quick implementation, it has become more important to develop strategies for timely delivery of the product and its updates.
A software environment like today’s, where tasks run primarily in the Cloud and in a DevOps culture, has strongly pushed organizations across all industries to prepare for infrastructure upgrades. In this sense, companies have begun their migration to have better performance in their applications with greater efficiency and competitive operating costs.
In the process of acquiring strategies that allow organizations to manage infrastructure more efficiently, virtualization is a means to improve server efficiency and maximize server resources. It is in this context where the concept of “containerization” becomes more relevant.
Gartner predicts that by the end of this year, more than 75% of global organizations will be running containerized applications in production, and management revenue worldwide will grow strongly from a small base of $465.8 million in 2020 to reach $944 million in 2024. This is the first time that Gartner has published a forecast for container management in response to the growing importance of the underlying technology.
Containers have become popular because they provide a powerful tool for addressing several critical application developer concerns, including the need for faster delivery, agility, portability, modernization, and lifecycle management.
What are containers?
A container is a standard package of software that bundles the code and all its dependencies so that the application runs quickly and reliably from one computing environment to another. Containers provide an infrastructure that allows application deployment to be packaged lightly and immutably. The code, runtime, system tools, system libraries, and settings are packaged together as a container image.
What is the difference between containers and virtualization?
With virtualization technology, the streamable package is a virtual machine and includes a complete operating system as well as the application. On the other hand, a server running multiple containerized applications runs a single operating system, and all containers share the operating system kernel. Shared operating system components are read-only, and each container has its own mount to write to. That means that containers are much lighter and use far fewer resources than virtual machines.
Switching to containers is a path to modernization. Containers are primarily used to ensure that applications are decoupled from the environment where they will run. This means that containerized applications can be deployed faster and more efficiently in almost any environment.
Containers often include software and library dependencies, resulting in a consistency benefit. With this type of isolation, we can be sure that the final application will run consistently, regardless of the environment in which it runs.
Here are some of the top benefits of containers for business.
Agility and productivity
By using containers, new applications can be reliably moved from development to testing or production environments more quickly. This must be accompanied by a change in the construction and implementation processes of these components.
Scaling a new container image can take a few seconds. So if problems are found, the changes can be quickly tested and deployed. This clearly has immediate benefits in terms of productivity.
Containers seek to meaningfully contain the consistency and quality of the various deliverables. All dependencies are contained in the same container, reducing the configuration problems that often occur in traditional server environments.
Containers allow for abstraction and do not require knowledge about maintaining complex typologies for load balancing or availability of software components. Regardless of what the container has internally, how it is compiled, deployed, or updated, scaling is accomplished in exactly the same way. It is necessary to know how a generic container orchestration platform works.
This use of a container orchestration platform enables the automatic creation and maintenance of topologies in a consistent manner, allowing for standardized scaling and high availability.
Scalability and optimization of the infrastructure
This structure allows the container to react to changes in the workload in real-time, favoring scalability. Since containers are started and managed within a running operating system, they can be created or destroyed in seconds.
Each container only uses the resources it needs, thereby freeing up the leftover resources for other containers on the platform. It is important that the components are designed as disposable components so that by moving them into containers they can be scaled efficiently.
This benefit is not closely related to the use of containers. Nevertheless, detailed components present the opportunity to provide resilience in a less noticeable way. A new function or change can be safely deployed or changed without the risk of impacting other functions. That is, if one component fails, it does not need to affect other components. Added to this, these components are lightweight as they contain much less code and libraries, and their reboot times are significantly faster.
It is important that the software components are implemented as disposable components. In this way, the orchestration capacity can implement clean installations of the containers, being able to stop, start and relocate them at will, and in turn ensure that the set of replicas is well distributed in the physical nodes.
A container environment makes applications run smoothly on any digital platform that abstracts applications from the environment to be deployed.
The key to really take advantage of the portability that containers provide is to move to image-based deployment to simplify moving or copying containers from one platform to another. In order to move or copy quickly, it is important to implement the software components in fine-grained components to allow for smaller image sizes and faster startup times. It is important that they are designed as disposable components to ensure that they can be removed from their previous locations efficiently. At this point, container orchestration platforms come into play, allowing for the transfer of images to new nodes.
As already mentioned, software components must be designed and packaged differently to take advantage of containers. This process is known as containerization. It includes packaging an application with its environment variables, libraries, configuration files, and dependencies. In this way, the result is a container image that can be run on a container platform.
Container orchestration automates provisioning, deployment, scaling, availability, networking, and lifecycle management of containers. Kubernetes is currently the most popular container orchestration platform, and most of the major public cloud providers, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform, IBM Cloud, and Microsoft Azure, offer managed Kubernetes services. Other container orchestration tools are Apache Mesos and Docker Swarm.
Why should you use container orchestration?
Containers are lightweight, executable software components that combine application source code with all the libraries and operating system dependencies necessary to run the code in any environment.
While the ability to create containers has been around for decades, it became more widely used with the advent of the open source containerization platform, Docker, in 2013. In many organizations, the number of containerized applications is growing rapidly. While containers are fairly easy to deploy and manage manually in small numbers, for a large set, management without automation is virtually impossible.
Container orchestration automates operations tasks related to deploying and running containerized applications and services. According to IBM research, 70% of developers that use containers report using container orchestration solutions.
Benefits of container orchestration
The primary benefit of container orchestration is automation as it greatly reduces the effort and complexity of managing a large state of containerized applications. It supports an Agile or DevOps approach that enables teams to develop and implement in rapid and iterative cycles, as well as launch new features and capabilities more quickly.
An orchestration tool enables the enhancement and extends many of the inherent benefits of containerization. For example, automated host selection and resource allocation, based on declarative configuration, maximizes efficient use of computing resources and automatic health monitoring and container relocation maximize availability.
How do companies use containers?
Here are some scenarios in which containers offer benefits:
- Standardization: Containers are a great way to provide standardized development, testing, and a production environment. Traditionally, a major challenge in setting up different environments is installing and maintaining all the necessary infrastructure services, such as databases and message brokers. Some infrastructure services are difficult to install. Keeping the environment for all developers and environments up to date and consistent is error prone and time consuming. Containers make it easy to ensure consistency no matter what environment the image is being implemented. For this reason, containerization is recommended for organizations that use DevOps in order to speed up the delivery of applications.
- Microservices: Containers are ideal for microservices architectures, where applications are divided into small, self-sufficient components, which can be individually deployed and scaled. Containers are a very good option for deploying and scaling each of those microservices.
- Multi-cloud: Containers provide much more flexibility and portability than virtual machines in multi-cloud environments. When the software components are deployed in containers, it is possible to easily “lift and switch” those containers from on-premises native servers to on-premises virtualized environments to public cloud environments.
- Automation: Containers are easily controlled by API and therefore also suitable for automation and the continuous integration / continuous deployment (CI / CD) pipeline.
Although containers provide significant benefits in terms of portability and consistency and business advantages for an organization, they are not a panacea. In order to realize its full potential, container technology must be accompanied by changes in the way applications are created and how they interact.
Here are some of the challenges when using containers:
- Since they are inherently more complex than traditional applications, not all applications are suitable for them. In fact, containers can become more complex than simple applications.
- They also add another layer for engineers to learn and stay up-to-date, and in many cases, the containerization ecosystem can be difficult to analyze.
- They consume resources more efficiently than virtual machines. However, containers are still subject to performance overhead due to network overlap, interface between containers, and host system, etc.
- Another problem with moving containers to the Cloud is the enormous mess they can cause. Containers can be run quickly, which is the advantage of using them. However, it can also consume many more resources in the Cloud than necessary.
- It is important to make an orderly closure of the containers that are no longer in use. In the public cloud space, not doing this could come at a high cost that provides no benefit to the business.
- It is clear that the path to cloud portability will be paved by containers. However, they are not a cure-all in terms of cloud portability. There are limitations. Fortunately, the major public and private cloud providers support containers.
To sum up
Containers have become very popular and for a very good reason. Container clusters have several benefits over virtual machines, noting portability and consistency. In an environment that emulates production, it is possible to set up a test environment and then, once approved, deploy the final code in production. This provides a high level of confidence that the locally written code will not have any adverse effect on production.
However, not all applications benefit from containers. In general, only those that are designed to run as a set of discrete microservices can take full advantage of containers. Otherwise, application delivery can be simplified by providing a simple packaging mechanism.
As it has been mentioned, containers are great for developing and deploying microservice-type applications because they can link containers together to form a cohesive application. The idea is to scale the application across distribution and only launch container instances for just the part of the application that needs to support the increased processing load.
Containers have both positive and negative aspects, like any other technology. It is important to ensure that applications are designed with containers in mind so that they take full advantage of the capabilities offered by this platform.
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