Recently, containerization has become very popular in the software development industry as a viable extension to virtualization. Simply put, it allows developers to create and deploy applications faster and it’s the easiest way to modernize legacy apps.
So, unlike the traditional methods where developers would develop applications for a specific platform, containerization allows them to develop once and deploy everywhere. This eliminates many of the issues and bugs that developers encounter when they want to develop an application for various platforms.
This is particularly important in a competitive market where getting a product out to customers as soon as possible is becoming increasingly important.
Now, this is one major benefit of using containerization, but what are some other benefits developers enjoy when using containerization? Also, what are some of the challenges that developers face when using it?
In this post, we’ll look at these questions in more detail.
What Is containerization?
Traditionally, when developers wanted to develop an application and deploy it across platforms, they used virtualization.
They would set up a virtual machine where the application would run. Despite this, they would still encounter issues and errors when transferring code to virtual machines or between operating systems.
Containerization effectively solves this problem by bundling the application code with all its configuration files, libraries and dependencies in one container. As a result, developers can deploy this container on any host machine and it can run across any platform without any issues.
Also, unlike virtual machines that each contain a full operating system, containers share the host operating system’s kernel and do not need a full operating system to run. As such, they use far fewer resources than traditional virtual machines and that’s why they’re often referred to as “lightweight.”
With that in mind, let’s now look at some benefits and challenges of containerization.
Benefits of containerization
For developers and development teams that need to create applications that run across various platforms or deployments, whether it’s on-premises or in the cloud, containerization offers significant benefits. Some of these benefits include:
- Portability. Because a container contains everything needed for the application to run and be abstracted away from the host operating system, it can be deployed consistently across any platform or operating system. This makes containers far more portable than virtual machines.
- Agility. As developers can still use their usual tools and, largely due to Docker, a universal packaging approach, they can continue using Agile practices and DevOps tools and processes. This allows them to develop and deploy applications faster.
- Speed. Because containers do not contain a full operating system and share the host machine’s operating system kernel, they do not have the same resource overheads as virtual machines. This drives higher server efficiencies and speeds up startup times because there is no operating system to boot.
- Fault tolerance. When using containerization, every container is isolated and operates independently of every other container. This simply means that a failure in one container does not affect the operation of the other containers. And when this happens, developers can identify and fix issues earlier while the remaining containers keep running, helping reduce downtime.
- Efficiency. As we mentioned before, containers share the host machine’s operating system kernel. As a result, containers are not only smaller and use far fewer resources than virtual machines, but they also start up faster. Thanks to this, more containers can be run on the same server or cloud instance, which, in turn, reduces the cost. In addition, it also provides the capability to scale better compared to virtual machines.
- Security. Since containers are isolated from one another, they’re more secure because malicious code in one container can’t affect any of the other containers or the host system. Developers can also define specific security permissions that limit communications with unnecessary resources or automatically block unwanted components from entering containers.
- Ease of management. A container orchestration platform like Kubernetes can automate the installation, scaling and management of containerized applications, workloads and services. This makes container-based applications far easier to manage, monitor, update and troubleshoot.
As with many other things, there are some challenges that developers experience when using and deploying containers. The recent 2020 Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) Cloud Native Survey discovered that development teams experience challenges in several aspects of containerization.
Some of the challenges include:
- Complexity. 41% of development teams reported that complexity was their main challenge.
- Cultural changes with development. 41% of development teams also stated that cultural changes with development posed a challenge.
- Security. 32% of development teams reported that security is a challenge for them.
- Storage. 29% of development teams reported storage as a challenge with containerization.
- Lack of training. 27% of development teams reported a lack of training as a challenge.
- Monitoring. 27% of development teams cited monitoring as the main challenge in containerization.
- Networking. Networking was cited as a challenge by 26% of development teams.
- Service mesh. 25% of development teams cited service mesh as a challenge.
- Logging. 22% of development teams reported logging as a challenge.
- Scaling deployments based on containers. 20% of development teams said that scaling their container-based deployments is a challenge.
- Difficulty in choosing the right platform. 14% of development teams had difficulty in choosing the right platform.
- Reliability. 12% of development teams cited reliability as a problem.
- Finding vendor support. 5% of development teams said that finding vendor support is a challenge for them with containerization.
Final thoughts on containerization
Containerization offers development teams a variety of benefits, including its portability and its capability to bring about significant efficiency improvements. Yet, for any development team that wants to enjoy the full benefits that containerization has to offer, there are some challenges they’ll need to overcome.