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Get a handle on containers

Container virtualization in the latest buzzword in cloud computing — and it could enhance VM performance. But is this new IT architecture right for your business?


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If you’re following advancements in cloud technology, you’ve probably heard mention of container virtualization, a new method of supporting and managing virtual machines (VMs). Wondering what it’s all about? Here’s our take on this technology and its potential impact on enterprise communications networks.

What is container virtualization?

TechTarget explains that container virtualization is an IT architecture in which a number of ‘guest’ VMs run on one operating system kernel. Each guest VM is considered a container. This is different from the more common VM architecture, in which each virtual machine has its own full OS, kernel included.

What are the pros and cons?

The advantage of the container set-up: enhanced VM performance. The underlying hardware dedicates the full force of its computational resources to just one OS kernel. The disadvantage: imposed uniformity. All guest VMs have to use the same OS as the host.

Who should use containers?

Containers are useful for hosting providers that want to make their VM environments more efficient. Operating system uniformity simplifies VM maintenance. Generally, containers aren’t ideal for organizations that want to run various operating systems to support a variety of users and applications.

That said, containers do have certain advantages that corporations might still appreciate. For instance, Linux.com notes that containers make for a more scalable IT system compared to standard VM environments, in which organizations use hypervisors to manage virtual machines. “Hypervisor virtualization usually has limits in terms of how many CPUs and how much memory a guest can address, whereas the container-based solutions should be able to address as many CPUs and as much RAM as the host kernel.”

InfoWorld contributor and cloud-computing expert David Linthicum says application portability is especially easy for organizations that use containers, making the technology just right for enterprises that want the flexibility to move software from platform to platform to improve performance.

Are containers secure?

Some people say containers are inherently secure. According to TechTarget, each guest VM is isolated, so there’s “no risk that one container can gain access to another’s files.”

Other experts say containers introduce information-security risks. ITWorld.com posited the following scenario: you use containers to serve up multiple instances of Linux. The containers keep some of the OS resources separate, instance to instance. But the containers do share some resources. “If a user or application has super-user privileges within the container, the underlying operating system could, in theory, be hacked.”

So are containers secure? The answer is: it depends who you ask. Given that ambiguity, organizations  concerned about data protection might not want to use containers until the security matter is settled.

What’s the link between containers and the network?

Containers could require network managers to be more diligent about monitoring their organizations’ communications systems. TechTarget explains that container virtualization makes it easy for, say, application developers to spool up VMs as needed. That ease-of-use means it’s entirely possible for developers to turn on a bunch of new VMs without informing the network administrators. That could lead to an explosion in the number of endpoints, which could affect network performance.

Photo courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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