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Virtualization vs Containerization: 5 Main Differences

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Continued and rapid technological developments are changing the landscape of the hosting industry as we know it. Now more than ever, it’s necessary to familiarize ourselves with the new terminology that characterizes the innovative systems we’re using.

Part of this shift in IT culture is an important distinction that we need to make between virtual machines and containers. Virtual machines and containers are both prominent tools within the hosting world. Both are a means for storing data within hosting platforms. And although both terms are becoming increasingly referenced, they are often confused.

Which is the better option? That topic is frequently up for debate and is unfortunately not easily answered.

The truth is that the right option depends on each user’s needs. This article will first provide a rundown of both technologies to answer this question. It discusses their uses, the situations where they perform best, and compares the advantages and disadvantages of virtualization vs containerization.


To better understand how virtual machines function, there needs to be an understanding of what is a virtual machine and what is VMware.

As bare-metal servers improved in processing power and capacity, applications and services designed for those servers failed to utilize all available resources effectively. As a result, those resources are essentially wasted.

Virtualization is a design that takes advantage of all the available reserves on a single server. Consequently, multiple virtual machines can now use the same resources more efficiently.

What is Virtualization?

Virtualization provides for the existence of multiple, smaller virtual servers within the framework of a larger server's physical environment. The virtualization software which runs on the parent allocates resources to each virtual server. The virtual servers also receive their own:

  • Operating system (OS).
  • Drivers.
  • Binaries.
  • Libraries.
  • Applications.

These virtual servers are isolated from each other. Each smaller server exists within a virtualized platform consisting of other servers. They also participate in a pool of resources shared with other virtual machines.

By Kwesterh - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11966833

The software that makes all types of virtualization possible is called a hypervisor. A hypervisor can be hardware, software, or firmware-based.

The hypervisor acts as a virtual layer that separates the physical server from its smaller virtual machines (VMs) regardless of its configuration. The hypervisor's separation allows multiple guest operating systems to run side by side within the overall physical server. 

The hypervisor ensures the VMs access a defined portion of the central server’s resources. It’s also responsible for ensuring the VMs remain separated and are portioned to each virtual machine as configured. VMs can also update and modify the applications within their own space without affecting the applications on another virtual machine.

Increased security is an advantage of the VMs created by the virtualization process. The isolation of each “mini-server” allows for more control over the applications contained within each VM. If one VM becomes infected or corrupted, it will be kept separate from the other virtual machines and the host server. The VM is not affected by malicious activity on other portions of the physical server.

Each VM is essentially a virtual copy of the host server on its own operating system, causing some VMs to be resource-heavy and slow. Although they are only a smaller partition of the overall server, they can still consume a significant amount of memory and processing power.

Size is another challenge affecting the use of virtual machines. VMs tend to be significant in size. Because they are so large, the shareability and portability of VMs become a challenge.


What is a Container?

When comparing virtualization vs containerization, you can view containerization as a more modern solution. The benefits of containerization aim to solve many of the problems associated with virtualization.

The purpose of the containers is to encapsulate an application and its dependencies within its environment. This encapsulation allows them to run in isolation while using the same system resources and operating system as other containers within the server. Since there are no wasted resources on running separate operating system tasks, containerization allows for a much quicker, much more efficient deployment of applications.

Another difference between containerization vs virtualization is the size of the vessel. Each container image could be only a few megabytes in size, making it easier to share, migrate, and move.


A container engine can easily manage large numbers of containers to create, add, and remove containers as needed. The maintenance of containers is also simplified since we only need to update, patch, and fix bugs on one operating system. 

Additionally, containers can decrease hardware costs since they help improve hardware utilization efficiency. Containers make this possible by allowing multiple applications to run on the same hardware.

If you look at virtualization vs containerization, containerization is most certainly an improvement. But, it’s not without its disadvantages. The most critical of these is data security.

Partitioning a server via containers makes the server more susceptible to a breach. Any vulnerability in the host kernel will also affect all of the containers. Furthermore, in the case of malware, the compromised container can’t be terminated and replaced with a new clean image.

Vital security features are lacking when it comes to a container vs virtualization. All applications within the server are running on the same operating system. Since one operating system powers all containers on the server, adaptability and diversity of applications become limited. This limitation results in more difficulty keeping the system secure. 

Virtualization vs Containerization

After reviewing virtualization vs containers, you might be wondering which one is best. Several factors come into play when attempting to find the answer.

Each business and application will have different needs for their server. Choosing between virtualization and containerization will come down to the way you run your business. You’ll need to consider your plan for business development and operations. The way your team writes and produces applications will also play a role. 

Virtualization and containerization are both data storage methods that create self-contained virtual packages. But, when comparing virtualization vs containerization, it will help to consider the following factors before deciding which one is right for you.

  • Speed: When it comes to speed, containers are the clear winner. They are designed to reduce loading and runtime for software applications significantly. Since the operating system is already up and running, the application will start without noticeable delay. This lack of delay is an excellent solution for software development teams because it will save time during the application testing cycle. Conversely, virtual machines need ample time for a complete boot process of the entire operating system, causing VM startup time to take much longer than a container.
  • Resources: Since virtual servers run separate operating systems and every system call has to go through the virtualization layer, they tend to be resource-intensive. This is particularly true for memory, as virtual machines consume memory even when not processing user requests. Since CPU virtualization is relatively inexpensive, the processor costs of virtual machines tend to be less. When it comes to containers, they start up quickly, keeping their memory consumption low compared to VMs. Containers also cut down on overhead because they can function without using a hypervisor.
  • Security and isolation: Virtualization wins when it comes to security and isolation. By their very nature, VMs remain separate and isolated from each other. One infected virtual machine will not affect another, and each virtual machine can implement its own security protocols. Since containers only isolate data and applications at the process level, they provide a less secure environment and depend on the security protocols of the host system.
  • Portability and application sharing: Since container images are much smaller than VMs, they are easier to transfer and save space on the host’s filing system. On the other hand, virtual machines need to copy the entire operating system, the host kernel, system libraries, configuration files, and any necessary file directories. This dramatically increases the image size and makes VMs challenging to share or transfer. Container images can be shared in several ways, and there are various application sharing hubs on the Internet. Virtual machine images can’t leverage these centralized hubs. Transferring them requires uploading them to another server instead.
  • Operating system requirements: A virtual machine is best when a business runs multiple applications that require a dedicated operating system. But, if most of the applications have the same operating system requirements, containerization would be a much more practical solution.
  • Application lifecycle: Containers work well for short-term application needs. They are quickly set up, portable, and have much faster startup times than VMs. Their limits stem from the lack of a dedicated operating system, processing, and storage resources. Use containers when your primary goal is to optimize your server resources' efficiency. But, virtual machines are a better choice if you plan to run applications that need to stay running for an extended period. VMs are better suited to handle extended runtimes since they operate in a virtualized environment that is more robust and versatile.

Hybrid Solutions?

Today, hosting technology has evolved to the point where providers can begin to offer the best of both worlds. There are several ways of combining virtualization and containerization to leverage the power of these technologies to further their IT and business growth. This type of platform is called a hybrid container architecture and is formatted in various ways. The platform can be structured by putting a virtual machine inside a container, a single container inside a virtual machine, or multiple containers inside a virtual machine. This structure offers the security and isolation of a virtual machine with the fast and lightweight setup of a container.

Which Is Better: Virtualization or Containerization?

In comparing virtualization vs containerization, we see that each technology serves a different purpose. Determining the better option relies heavily on the user’s application needs and required server capacity.

Choosing one method over the other is a big decision. IT managers should consider all of the significant differences before taking the plunge. To help you decide more efficiently, we’ve created a quick overview in the table below.

Wrapping Up

Interested in maximizing the power of your hosting platform? Liquid Web can help you leverage the benefits of containers and VMs through our managed private cloud. We can even layer your storage images internally on multiple types of servers. 

Need to run a container? Require a private parent to implement a hypervisor? We have dedicated server options to meet your needs!

Contact our sales team to learn how you can take advantage of these technologies for your business.

Avatar for Antonia Pollock

About the Author: Antonia Pollock

I would describe Antonia as a person who enjoys obtaining knowledge in different fields and acquiring new skills. I majored in psychology, but I was also intrigued by Linux and decided to explore this world as well. I believe there should be a balance in every aspect of life, and thus I enjoy both nature and technology equally.

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