Containers are the future of application development and hosting. They enable DevOps, developers, and system administrators to build, test, deploy, and maintain applications quickly, securely, and efficiently. Tools built around the containerization concept provide simple solutions for basic web applications. These advanced granular configuration options provide the control many enterprise applications may need.
Containerization is the process of packaging software code, its required dependencies, configurations, and other detail to be easily deployed in the same or another computing environment. In simpler terms, containerization is the encapsulation of an application and its required environment.
The containerization process extends the capabilities Virtualization has provided compared to bare metal solutions. Containers offer more flexibility as they are much easier and faster to deploy, require fewer resources to run, and are generally more manageable.
What are Containers?
A container is a standardized unit of software abstracted from the operating system. It contains code and all its dependencies that can be transferred and run without changing one environment to another. Container states are easily stored in an image that is lightweight, standalone, easily transferable, and provides everything needed for the application to run: code, runtime, system tools, system libraries, and other settings. Containers will always provide the same state, regardless of the infrastructure they run on. Containers isolate software from its environment and ensure that it works uniformly despite differences, for instance, between development and staging.
Bare-Metal → VPS → Containers
Containers are often compared to virtual machines as they follow the same principle in making provisioning faster, easier maintenance, and reducing resource needs. Arguably containers are the next phase in infrastructure virtualization. VMs are guest operating systems such as Linux or Windows that run on top of a host operating system with virtualized access to the underlying hardware. Similarly, containers abstract the underlying operating system and libraries, making them more lightweight and environment independent. Containers utilize the host’s operating system, kernel, and libraries that enables many benefits useful in modern application development, deployment, and management. Although containers can run on both dedicated and virtual setups, running them in the cloud reveals their full potential.
- Ease of Deployment — Containers are built and deployed from a local image in only a few seconds. This feature makes them perfect for dynamic environments since multiple instances can be started to satisfy traffic demands without losing potential visitors. Images are easily stored (pushed) and retrieved (pulled) from remote repositories, making container transfers seamless.
- Scalability and Flexibility — Containerized applications are perfect for scaling both up and down. This option makes them ideal for dynamic applications that may often have traffic surges during peak hours. Such applications are also perfect for the “follow the sun” concept. If, i.e., web store with many products has clients worldwide who mostly shop in the afternoon. As the peak hours progress from one time zone to another, container solutions allow us to provision resources worldwide, so they are close to the customers, providing faster access to the resources.
- Consistent — Since containers are standardized units, they will work in any provided environment. This structure resolves the common, “but it worked in the development environment” problem. Both development and production environments are enclosed within the container itself, making application upgrades and deployments seamless and without issues. Moreover, various tools were built, which provides automation and testing to this process.
Containers usually run a single process that is dedicated to one application function. A simple application can consist of two roles: database and web server, which would be two microservices that are run within two containers. This makes the application scalable both up and down. If you need an additional web server to handle incoming traffic spikes, you can spin up a new web server container within seconds. Once the traffic spike is over, unneeded containers are destroyed, keeping resource usage optimal and keeping costs at a minimum. Various tools allow us to define an application using interdependent services using simple human-readable files that can start containerized applications on any platform running our choice of containerization solution.
Many solutions exist which provide container solutions. Below is a couple of which are the most popular.
- LXC & LXD: Linux Containers were the first production containers that came around 2001. Utilizing the new Linux features like kernel namespaces and cgroups upon which containers are used until today. They are easy to use but may lack features for easier management and deployment of more complex applications.
- Docker — Docker is the most famous container platform. It is available for Linux and Windows, and macOS operating systems. More importantly, Docker provides some easy to use tools for container management like docker-compose and Docker Swarm. Docker is also a go-to containerization solution for more and more DevOps solutions/tools that make development, testing, deployment, and monitoring any modern application automated, safe, reliable, fast, and efficient.
Containerization is the new norm in DevOps. The DevOps culture has adopted containers, which are essential building blocks for modern pipelines, clusters, applications, etc. The collaboration process usually consists of the development (staging), build, and live phase. In the development phase, developers build or update containers without worrying if and how they will work in a live environment. The build phase is initiated when developers push their changes to the repository, and the tests are triggered automatically. If tests are successful, new production containers are built and deployed, replacing the old ones that are destroyed.
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