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Next-gen virtualisation?

24 Nov 2014

Is container technology the next generation of virtualisation, asks Arron Patterson, EMC chief technology officer.

Most New Zealand businesses use VMware virtualisation technology to support their IT needs. VMware’s comprehensive and mature virtualisation has driven huge improvements in server use and flexibility with standardised high availability delivering cost savings.

Essentially, the approach is based on running applications on an individual, virtualised operating system on a hypervisor – allowing multiple workloads to run on a single host.

Recently container technology - most popularly Docker - has been gaining traction. But is it the next generation of virtualisation?

Containers are lightweight virtual machines created at the OS level and sharing a single OS. They can provide efficiency gains vs. traditional hypervisor-based server virtualisation.

Containers have long existed, particularly in the Linux community, but they have always had their own implementations. Docker released a standard container and has created a defacto standard for how applications can be deployed across many platforms encapsulated with their supporting components.

Docker containers enable developers to build, package, ship and run applications built on almost any modern language to almost any platform. Indeed many third platform applications have been developed using the technology.

Docker Containers have traditionally run only on a Linux OS kernel which limits the support of many of the core applications running in many businesses today. Additionally their requirement to encapsulate supported components provides isolation and improves portability but reduces the modularity and ability to dynamically change while running. The benefits of Docker and Linux Containers are compelling and while Docker is currently immature, the momentum around these technologies will rapidly build.

For precisely the reasons stated above, industry-standard platform-as-a-server (PaaS) technology company Cloud Foundry has developed its own container technology in Warden. However its approach enables the dynamic binding of services to containers and via policy enables management and control of many containers as a group. Cloud Foundry now supports Docker containers – so development and deployment of third platform applications across any cloud can include Docker.

Recently VMware announced a partnership with Docker, Google Kubernetes and Pivotal Cloud Foundry’s Warden. The aim is to adapt container-based technologies to seamlessly run within VMware’s hypervisor-based environments, enabling customers to reap the benefits of both types of virtualisation. Benefits of improved container integration with vSphere include the performance benefits from containerisation as well as the ability to take advantage of the broad ecosystem and access to virtualised resources that exists for vSphere.

Ultimately the technologies are complementary and containers will not significantly replace hypervisors in private data centres. Existing vSphere workloads are unlikely to convert. But new application development using containerisation may become the standard because developers can use bare-metal servers and enjoy their speed and efficiency. IT managers with production workloads will look to the VMware environment for security and manageability.

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