The Transformative Power of Containers

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Have you ever seen a container ship? It’s huge and piled high with identical steel boxes, carrying a vast array of goods such as food, furniture and toys. That same concept is now being put to work in IT. Containers are poised to transform the way we build and use applications. But an application container is no steel box. It’s a layer of abstraction that works a lot like virtualization, but is far more lightweight and has very little overhead.

Sounds neat, but what good is it? For starters, a single machine can run many more containers than VMs. And it’s easy to launch or take down a container in a matter of seconds. These characteristics are ideally suited to cloud computing. Think of quickly launching an application in a container on a server in your data center, then moving that application and its container to a cloud service – and then back.  That’s the kind of portability that application developers and IT pros have long been seeking. .

To make it work, standardization is critical. That’s where an open-source technology called Docker comes in. Many vendors, including Microsoft, have jumped aboard. Microsoft is enabling the use of Docker on Windows Server, Hyper-V virtual machines and its Azure cloud service. You’ll be able to create a container on, for example, Windows Server, and then move it to a Hyper-V VM and then to Azure – and back.

At the same time as the Docker announcement, Microsoft rolled out Nano Server, a “minimal footprint” installation option of Windows Server that is optimized for the cloud, including containers. The idea behind Nano Server is to provide just what you need – no more, no less  – so your server image is smaller. That cuts deployment times and reduces the network bandwidth needed.  Uptime and security are also increased.

“Microsoft’s container initiative also spans both Linux and Windows – highly important because many companies run a mix of both environments. Your application and its container can run wherever it’s most functional and economical.

Docker has come a long way in the two years since its birth, creating an ecosystem of hundreds of non-Docker employees contributing code and a large number of industry supporters. There are more than 45,000 public images (an image is the basis of a container) that can be found on the Docker Hub Registry.

Containerization promises rapid application development and deployment of lightweight applications that are platform independent. If you liked virtual machines, you’ll love containers.

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