The Containerization of Enterprise Applications

Data crucial to the seamless execution and running of an application must be diligently managed and orchestrated. Containers precisely and explicitly address these challenges, which has led to an abrupt shift toward the containerization of enterprise organizations.

Containers are bringing an unprecedented level of structure to traditional software-hardware stacks. While traditional applications are contained within their persistent states, modern applications have a variety of other states distributed across various technologies. These include metadata related to security policies, secret keys, binaries (and their dependencies), application configurations, and more.

Containers Address Persistent States

There is no single source to acquire an application’s true state, nor to determine the state that comprises an application in its entirety or where said state is stored. As a result, enterprises that care about protecting the applications living in containers end up using custom tools to find and protect all relevant peripheral states.

Virtualization platforms can serve as repositories for some of the peripheral states, but they lack application awareness and do not present a holistic view of applications and their associated state. Addressing these challenges requires the use of containers, which is container platforms have seen tremendous growth in the past few years.

Containers convert the unruly jumble of hardware and software into well-defined application services deployed into a pool of stateless resources via distributed container schedulers, such as Kubernetes.

Containers Articulate Application Boundaries

Before the advent of containers, the typical application was a mishmash of processes, libraries and loose binaries taped together with non-standard scripting. Containerization, by contrast, delivers unprecedented levels of structure to traditional software-hardware stacks and strictly defines applications by packaging dependencies into container images (self-contained units).

An application consists of decomposed microservices with well-defined application programming interfaces (APIs). Its internal structure and other parts of its operational state, such as resource requirements, configuration and policies for its services, can be codified into YAML specs.

Container orchestrators are also evolving their interfaces to enable traditional applications to leverage containerization. Kubernetes has coordinated release dates (CRDs) and operators that can accommodate application-specific backup operations. Adapters can also be built into Kubernetes to enable traditional apps to run on the platform.

Containerization Complements Virtualization

Most large enterprises have a lot of services, applications and IT resources running just fine in data centers, but their digital transformation objectives may require migrating to the cloud. Instead of doing a “lift and shift” from one virtualized environment to another in the public cloud, they could re-architect their apps and service delivery to take advantage of the benefits of containerization as they migrate to the cloud.

Virtualization gives rise to self-contained environments where the underlying operating system (OS) and all the associated overhead is replicated every time. Containerization removes the need for the OS layer. It shares the Linux kernel with host machines and any containerized apps running on them.

Reducing the size of containers and enabling enterprises to concurrently run many more apps than they could on virtualized machines are added benefits.

Leveraging Virtual Machines in a New Way

Although containers are not intended to replace virtualization, enterprises can use them to leverage virtual machines (VMs) in a new way. Virtualization in data center environments has long been used to consolidate IT resources and deliver cost savings. Placing an application into a VM with its own operating system, which can run independently on top of the server’s operating system, can help maximize hardware resources.

Virtualized servers can host numerous apps at once, increasing app-to-machine ratio and making the capabilities of cloud environments possible. However, containerization can go one better. Virtualization was intended to address the problem of consolidating IT resources and servers, but containerization helps to solve application management issues.

Containers weren’t designed as a replacement for virtual machines. They are meant to complement its functions.

Increasing Application Portability

Containerization virtualizes operating systems to distribute apps across a single host. Each app is given access to a single kernel (the core module of the OS), enabling containerized apps on a single machine to run on the same Linux kernel.

Containerization increases the portability of apps and allows them to run anywhere and on any machine. Since apps are virtualized at the OS level — creating encapsulated and isolated kernel-based systems — dependencies are eliminated. Containerized apps can be dropped anywhere and run without requiring a VM.

Resource Savings

Aside from improving portability, containerization reduces the number of resources needed to run enterprise apps. Numerous containers can run concurrently without taking a lot of space, unlike virtualization where an enormous amount of storage may be required to run the same number of apps.

Therefore, more applications can be put on a single server if they all share the same kernel. Containerized apps also launch much faster since they run on an OS that’s already booted.

Improve Performance with Containerization

In the bid to maximize server resources, streamline infrastructures, and ensure that apps run securely and smoothly, businesses are looking for better alternatives to traditional server-side architecture. By leveraging containerization (a more efficient alternative to virtualization), they can finally achieve their objective of moving apps away from conventional IT set-ups. In this way, they are increasing efficiency, improving performance and reducing operating costs.