Virtualization or Containerization? Choosing the Right Strategy
Virtualization and containerization are top two approaches when it comes to enabling scalability, limiting overhead costs, and standardizing software development, deployment, and management across multiple platforms. These abilities are invaluable for both PaaS (platform as a service) products and configuration of reproducible and portable cross-platform development environments.
Careful selection of one strategy over another helps an IT team become more agile and responsive to ever-changing business needs. But how should they decide which better fits their requirements?
If the main requirements are development environment isolation and being able to quickly create different VM (virtual machine) images, it is recommended to use lightweight containers using Docker, an open source development platform. This containerization includes the application and its dependencies.
In such cases, it is better to look for tools that reuse the host operating system kernel with containers. These run as isolated processes on the host operating system and are not tied to any specific infrastructure—essentially, they can run on any computer.
Docker’s containers are faster; use less CPU, RAM, and space; and don’t add an overhead of maintaining a guest operating system in parallel to an application and its libraries. The containers are configured via files called Dockerfiles that communicate with each other on a private network.
If your top requirement is virtual machines with full operating system access and control over each guest operating system library, you could leverage a solution like Vagrant, an open source software product for building and maintaining virtual development environments independent of the host operating system.
Each environment runs on its own VM and is configured by a config file called a Vagrantfile, which contains parameters to enable VM configuration. For instance, you can set up automatic synchronization of folders, redirect port traffic, and run custom commands upon VM provisioning.
Vagrant VMs are also beneficial in cross-development scenarios where development teams are geographically spread out and may not necessarily have access to the same operating systems and versions. Users are able to create a baseline VM image with an application and its dependencies. No matter which operating system is being used, the VM image will be mounted as a separate operating system, providing every team with uniform development environments.
One thing to be watchful for in this approach is that each VM includes not just an application, its codebase, and installed libraries, but the entire guest operating system as well, which could be large and require regular maintenance, patches, updates, and security fixes.
Virtualization and containerization each has its pros and cons that need to be individually weighed against a given team’s composition, the nature of the application under development, and the technology stack utilized. Thinking through the decision will bring the benefits of a scalable and sustainable development solution that works for your specific needs.