Why Containers Are the Future

It's an age-old question in the world of software development: how do you move software from one environment to another and get it to run reliably? In modern times, containers are the best answer. Here's a look at the containers concept and how you can apply it in an effective manner.

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What Are Containers? 

Software often needs to be moved across environments, whether it's from a developer's local drive to a testing environment or from a staging environment onto a live server where it's ready for use. Wherever your software moves, the ideal outcome is that it runs seamlessly no matter where it is: virtual machine, private cloud, or public cloud.  

Different software programs are one thing that can cause issues to arise. For instance, you might be testing your software with Python 2.7 and then try to run it with Python 3. It may even be as simple as having one version of an SSL library installed on one machine, and a different one on another.  

In addition to different software, the network topology, storage, and security policies differ from one machine to the next, and all these seemingly minor details impact how your software runs. Containers are a unique solution to this problem. By keeping the entire runtime environment within a "container," which features the application and all its configuration files and dependencies in a single package, the app can work flawlessly across different operating systems and various local infrastructure.  

Container Types and Technologies 

When most people hear the term "containers," Docker technology comes to mind. However, it's important to realize that there are many more players in the containers game these days. While Docker was promoted heavily over the past few years, and most cloud vendors offer it, you have many other options to consider as well.  

There are also multiple types of containers that developers can use. They generally fall into two broad categories, each one having some specific use cases. 

System Containers 

The oldest container type, system containers can be likened to virtual machines in many ways. System containers are generally stateful (versus stateless) and revolve around an OS that can handle many processes. They're good for monolithic applications since they let you host configurations, tools, and architectures that were designed around a virtual machine. Examples include BSD jails, LXC/LXD, OpenVZ, and Linux-VServer.  

Application Containers 

A newer container type, application containers typically run only a single process. This stateless solution revolves around microservices, allowing you to scale it horizontally without issue. These are most suitable for immutable infrastructure. Several exist on the market, including Docker, CRI-O, and containerd.  

How to Adopt Containers 

The move into a containerized environment may sound daunting, but there are many ways to approach the implementation. 

  • Migrate: Use containers to bring your pre-existing applications into the cloud. While simply moving existing apps into a container environment won't give you the same modular flexibility of container-first apps, it is an important step.
  • Refactor: If you're interested in the full modular benefits containers can offer, try refactoring. This requires you to refactor your existing applications so they're optimized for containers. 
  • New development: You can always start fresh and develop applications native to the container concept. This also unlocks the full modular benefits of using containers. 
  • Support microservices: If your company is using a microservices architecture, containers can help you isolate, deploy, and scale each microservice. 
  • CI/CD: Continuing integration and deployment (CI/CD) initiatives go hand-in-hand with the streamlined technology behind container images. 

Why Containers Are the Future 

There are many aspects that set containers apart from their traditional alternatives, like virtual machines. Unlike VMs, containers don't encompass an operating system, reducing overhead and making them significantly more lightweight, translating to portability. For large deployments, multiple containers can even be deployed to create a cluster, which can be managed using an orchestrator like Kubernetes.  

On the surface, it's obvious that the container concept helps you build, test, deploy, and continue re-deploying an application with ease, regardless of the environment. That's convenient, and a true game-changer, but there are even more benefits to discover if you dig deeper.  

  • Reduced overhead: With less resource consumption than traditional environments due to the lack of OS images, containers result in less overhead. 
  • Highly portable: An application that's been containerized can be deployed in any environment, regardless of OS or hardware. 
  • Consistent operation: Any developer knows that software can run differently depending on where it is deployed. A containerized application will run consistently and predictably. 
  • More efficient: With a containerized application, you can scale, patch, and deploy things rapidly. This helps speed up development and testing cycles.  
  • An example of these elements is running the Sitecore content management server in containers. When run on a virtual machine or a platform-as-a-service setup, you are running elements consistency in Windows configurations. However, some elements, such as Solr and Redis, can run in a Linux configuration. By choosing the most efficient and optimized environment for the appropriate component, we can reduce overhead, both systemic and management. Also, a proper configuration of Sitecore for Docker or Kubernetes can quickly spin up a new, consistent environment with simple scripts that can be maintained in source control.  

Are you looking to create a centralized environment with containers capable of supporting software in any environment? Contact us for more information on how you can deploy containers and reap the rewards. 

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