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What are containers, and why do I care?

By Roger Mitan

You may have heard of the term “containers” as it pertains to the technology world. If you follow tech industry news feeds you, will certainly see something new along these lines at least once a month, if not much more often, usually accompanied with a picture showing stacks of the standard shipping containers. What are these containers really, and why do businesses care? Is this just another passing technology trend?

Containers are self-contained, isolated environments from their host operating system that include all of the components and software packages necessary to run the application or applications for which the container was created. A container allows you to take your application and easily move it from one location to another, such as from your local machine or infrastructure, to a public or private cloud environment. It also allows you to easily share your applications with others. As long as someone has the container environment, like rkt or Docker, running, they can spin up your application quickly.

In the cloud world, CaaS or containers as a service has also become quite popular. With a few clicks of the mouse a container environment is built, and you can quickly deploy your containerized application. All of the underlying clustering and orchestration is already built-in so you can concentrate on your product and let the service deploy it to whatever scale is required. It can even be scaled up and down automatically based on parameters you set.

If this sounds familiar, and you are wondering, “Isn’t this the same thing as virtualization,” the answer is yes and no. There are some virtualization-like aspects to the container, such as a simple network stack; however, the container is very lightweight and is designed to run just the application or applications it was designed for. Where a virtual machine is a full-blown operating system with all of the overhead which comes with it, a container only has what is needed for the application and relies on the underlying operating system to provide the rest of the infrastructure.

Why do businesses care? Time is money, and the faster and simpler you can deploy your application, the more time you have available to concentrate on your business. The portability to the cloud environments is phenomenal and, of course, your developers are probably chomping at the bit to use containers, if they aren’t already.

Is this just another passing technology trend? No, containers have actually been around for years such as LXC for linux and jails for BSD. The explosion of products, like Docker, over the past couple of years have really brought this technology out to the forefront and added to the massive momentum of this technology. Companies, such as Red Hat, Microsoft, Google and Amazon, to name a few, have invested millions of dollars in this technology, and Microsoft has even built container technology into its new Windows Server 2016 operating system.

Container technology is definitely here to stay and provides huge time and cost savings in application development and deployment. With the integrations built in to the new operating systems and cloud providers for this technology, it only makes sense to use this technology to stay competitive in the market place.

Roger Mitan is the director of engineering with BlueBridge Networks, a downtown Cleveland-headquartered data-center and cloud computing business. He can be reached at (216) 621-2583 and

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