Redmond Magazine | October 28, 2014

Containers: Beyond Virtualization

As system virtualization gives way to evolving and more elastic cloud-based platforms and services, the applications that run on these new infrastructures could someday push the outer limits of today’s virtual machines (VMs) and even the underlying OSes — notably Linux and Windows. There’s growing consensus that software containers will provide the portability, speed and scale needed for these applications and infrastructure components.

Containers are frequently described as lightweight runtime environments with many of the core components of a VM and isolated services of an OS designed to package and execute these micro-services. While containers have long existed as extensions to Linux distributions (there are no native Windows commercial containers yet), each has come with its own flavor. …

“I think over time, any operating system or virtualization vendor will have to introduce a container-like technology in their stack,” says Sinclair Schuller, CEO of Apprenda Inc., a supplier of private PaaS software that works for both Windows and Linux server environments

…”Ultimately, for a big class of applications, containers are a fine remedy when it comes to isolation compared to hypervisors,” Schuller says. “I can envision a bunch of bare metal servers, with Windows and Linux sitting on them as hosts, and then containers on those as guests and then there’s no hypervisor at all.

For Microsoft, the potential rise of containers brings with it a sense of hypervisor déjà vu. “Microsoft was late to the hypervisor market not because they didn’t have the technology but because they had endless arguments on how to sort out the licensing,” says Bottomley. “Containers could go the same way, where they could be delayed by business problems, not by technology problems.”

Apprenda’s Schuller sees it differently. “VMware is likely more threatened by containers than Microsoft,” he says. “I don’t think Microsoft is threatened at all, because to them, whether it’s a hypervisor or a container, it’s all about driving the Windows operating system. VMware doesn’t have an OS, all it has is a hypervisor and management tools.”

No one thinks containers will replace VMs or OSes anytime soon. Rackspace CTO Engates doesn’t see containers displacing VMs. “In some cases they might replace them, but not in all cases,” he says. “I think there’s a big opportunity for containers to run inside virtualization. I think there’s a very complementary aspect where we don’t need to throw away what you’ve already got, you just make it better with the use of containers.”