What is Containerization and How Does it Work?
By now, most business leaders know about the many benefits virtualization can bring to their IT infrastructure. However, most only consider virtualization a solution for large-scale server operations. Even though it is possible to extend virtualization to the desktop — via virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) — that is not a step many small to mid-sized businesses take.
Today, however, businesses of all sizes have a new option that can extend some of the benefits of virtualization across their infrastructure footprint without the need for costly hardware investments. It is called containerization, and it is an approach to software deployment that is taking over the business IT space.
To elaborate, this article will get into the nuts and bolts of containerization. First, we will discuss some of the business IT challenges that make containerization so appealing. Then, we will cover what it is, its benefits, and why business decision-makers should care. Let’s dive in.
What is Containerization?
Ever since personal computers made it onto business desktops everywhere, they have all worked similarly. For the most part, servers offered access to shared files and services across a business network. Business software, on the other hand, existed at the individual desktop level. That means every computer used by a given business needed to have every individual piece of needed software installed, configured, and maintained throughout its lifecycle.
That, of course, created a variety of problems. One was that the user experience on each business desktop could vary widely due to hardware and configuration differences. Another was that the need to maintain multiple standardized desktop software configurations created security challenges with no clear solutions. For example, a vulnerable piece of software within any standardized desktop installation could put all the data passing through an affected machine at risk.
On the server side, individual software packages coexisting on shared servers also created a cybersecurity minefield. Just like in the desktop environment, a flaw in a single app could jeopardize the security of every bit of data on the server. Worse still, unintended interactions between software packages could create unanticipated — and difficult to detect — vulnerabilities system-wide. It is an arrangement that led directly to the complex cybersecurity threat landscape we see today.
Containerization is a type of virtualization technology meant to alleviate those problems and more. As its name implies, containerization allows for the packaging of software, including its dependencies and configurations. That makes the software self-sufficient and able to run on any platform the container’s configuration supports.
Through containerization, business IT departments can maintain each piece of software as a single, self-contained unit. That gives them unprecedented control over infrastructure-wide software configuration. It also helps to guarantee that the end-user experience is always the same regardless of the hardware running the container.
How Does Containerization Work?
To understand how containerization works, it is first necessary to know a bit about how traditional software runs on modern operating systems. Most times, software needs to complete an installation process to operate on either a desktop or server OS. That is because the software must inform the operating system of its presence, and what shared libraries it is planning to utilize from the OS. Otherwise, it would be impossible to know if a given piece of software would find all its dependencies met on one system versus another.
Containerized software turns that process on its head. Instead of relying on the shared libraries of a host OS, it instead brings its own copies along to rely on. That makes it almost totally self-contained and portable. The only part of a host OS containerized software requires is its kernel. For that reason, any hardware that supports the container’s kernel type can run a container with no other customization required.
What are the Benefits of Containerization?
Containerized software comes with some major benefits beyond what we’ve covered so far. For one thing, it offers significant benefits for cybersecurity. Containerized software comes pre-packaged with all the code it needs to run. When executed on a host machine, it has virtually no interaction with the underlying host OS or any other containers running on it.
In practice, this allows every piece of software to exist in something of a quarantine. Except in rare cases, an attacker can’t exploit a flaw in a container and use it to move laterally into other areas of the host system. That makes containers an excellent way for businesses to minimize the potential damage resulting from a successful cyberattack.
Additionally, containerized software provides portability. When used in a server context, it allows for the transfer of workloads between multiple host systems. For example, a business might deploy a server application on bare-metal hardware in a local server room and then move the container — workload and all — into a more capable public cloud when it outgrows its hardware. Doing so only requires compatible host software on both systems and isn’t much more complex than moving flat files from one storage spot to another.
Why Should Businesses use Containerization?
The benefits of containerization alone provide sufficient reason for business decision-makers to sit up and take notice. As a group, however, businesses have another powerful incentive to explore containerization. It is their continued reliance on on-premises hardware. As recently as 2019, 98% of businesses reported that they still used on-premises server hardware.
Containerization makes a perfect technology addition for businesses with on-premises hardware. First, it can help to maximize the usage of existing hardware. Containerized applications are quite efficient and can eliminate server capacity that is wasted in the traditional host OS and installed software model. That is not all.
It also provides a perfect middle step for businesses with future plans to transition into cloud computing. Containerized apps are simple to move from on-premises hardware to a cloud service when the time comes. It can run in a compatible cloud service exactly as it does on-premises, without the need for reconfiguration. That eliminates the costly downtime and technical glitches that make traditional cloud migrations so costly and daunting.
Is Containerization the Future of the Cloud?
At the end of the day, containerization is something that most businesses will encounter shortly, whether intentionally or otherwise. It is becoming the go-to configuration for most of the major public cloud providers like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and IBM. It is also becoming common in the private cloud space as well. As that happens, more businesses will become reliant on containerization even if they take no affirmative steps towards it on their own.
The truth is, however, there is ample reason for decision-makers to consider moving toward containerization sooner rather than later. It improves efficiency, saves money, and simplifies cybersecurity. Since containerization accomplishes all of that while positioning IT infrastructure to make the transition to the future of cloud computing, it is well worth exploring.
As experts in cloud computing and business IT infrastructure, Outsource IT sits right at the intersection where containerization meets business operations. We’d be happy to help your business navigate the transition to containerization or other advanced cloud technologies. Contact us today to find out how we can help prepare your business for the containerized computing future.