Containerization vs. Virtualization


Having taken many forms over the last 50 years, virtualization is tied to both containerization and virtual machines. With that being said, there are a few small, key differences to remember when considering the differences between virtualization and containerization.

While virtualization is an established and well-defined concept, containerization is fairly new and poised to change the way virtualization works. With more enterprise-level businesses shifting to container solutions for rapid virtual storage, the speed and ease-of-use containerization offers stands to change the definition of virtualization as we know it.

What is Virtualization?

Virtualization moves a physical computer or network to the cloud, then uses cloud-based resources to recreate some or all of the computer’s key functions. Using this process, an organization sets up virtual machines on their network, instead of setting up physical computers in an office location. The virtual machine is essentially a software program that emulates a physical computer, and used in conjunction with a hypervisor, i.e. a program that manages virtual machines, that same program has the memory and resources necessary to work when accessed from any location.

Enterprises using virtual computer systems find it cuts the cost of server space as well as DevOps, because fewer physical resources are required to operate a virtual or hybrid setup. For example, virtualization allows for all files to be centrally located on a virtual network, providing employee access from anywhere, and because several virtual machines can operate using the same virtual server, the amount of space required in a data center is reduced as well. With the majority of their data stored in the cloud, businesses are also increasingly able to minimize downtime and prevent successful ransomware threats.

What is Containerization?

Now that we have explained virtualization, let’s take it one step further. Containerization takes virtualizing resources to the next level by enclosing applications instead of machines in an even smaller virtual resource, or container. Why? For the purpose of running the application separately, or as a lightweight alternative to a virtual machine. Containers can run directly on the hypervisor software, or on a virtual machine as a separate entity. Furthermore, containers bundle everything required for an app to function (including the OS and its associated code) in an isolated manner, and because they share the OS’ read-only host kernel, containers can be quickly deployed and run simultaneously while running on the same host, saving server space and associated costs.

Containerization is not without its pitfalls- they don’t store data long-term, making rebuilding in the event of a cyberattack or downtime more challenging. They also have limited interchangeability, in that all containers running together have to be programmed on the same OS, or they won’t work together. But with all that containerization and virtualization have to offer, as long as teams understand and incorporate these limitations into their expectations, the risks are very low, and easy to overcome.

What Differences Exist Between Virtualization and Containerization?

Virtualization, containerization, and where they differ are important concepts to understand when considering a network setup. While virtualization applies to the whole network, containerization only refers to the way isolated apps are running at the OS level. Furthermore, virtualization or a virtual machine must exist before containerization — once either is complete and running, the container method can be used in combination with the hypervisor. When considering containers versus virtual machines in more detail, containers are considered faster to deploy, thanks to the lightweight code they use and the fact that containers share the host OS kernel.

The decision to switch to virtual machines or containers often depends on the ultimate aim of the enterprise. Those with multiple operating systems needing replication in the cloud may find virtual machines work best, while organizations that want to run a more Lean, cloud-based operation may find that containers are more suitable for their needs. Remember, there is no need to choose one or the other — both approaches work together when structured properly.

Large enterprise businesses, government departments, and popular e-commerce businesses use containerization to simplify their operations. Soon, others will adopt these same methods and use a hybrid approach that works for them. By moving to the cloud and using each approach as organizations see fit, enterprise-level businesses will ensure they have increasingly reliable operations, and steadily decreasing operational costs.