Led by Docker, software containers have been one of the most transformational development technologies to emerge over the past decade. While their technical merits are now widely acknowledged, the business benefits of containerization often still go unrecognized.
Containers have moved beyond developer workstations to become the foundational unit of modern computing architectures. Adopting a containerization platform for your business applications can increase productivity, boost deployment flexibility, and reduce maintenance overheads. In this article, we’ll highlight seven ways in which containers lift organizations to new heights.
1. Adaptable to Change
Containers decouple software components from their dependencies and environments. Instead of running everything on one physical host, you split applications into their constituent services and run them as individual containers. You might have separate containers for your API, database, web app, and background task system.
Componentizing software in this way makes your systems more adaptable to change. You can easily replace components by starting new containers. Shifting requirements and vague specifications become less onerous when you’re working with small containerized units. You can work on your containers in isolation throughout the development process, then loosely couple them together when the system goes live.
2. Works Where You Are
Containers enhance deployment flexibility by abstracting your applications from the environments they run in. You can start instances of your containers anywhere a container runtime is available, either on your own hardware or a major public cloud.
Containers give you the opportunity to source infrastructure from multiple providers and narrow the gap between development and production. If a container image works in one environment, it’ll usually be deployable across them all with minimal modification. This also makes your business more resilient to interruption: if a provider suffers an outage, or your team’s suddenly forced to work from home, you can rapidly restart your services by deploying existing container images.
3. Transition Pathway for Legacy Systems
Containerization isn’t limited to new systems. It’s often an effective way to begin transitioning legacy applications to new development methodologies and deployment environments. While this is still an inherently manual process, containerization helps to get it started.
Packaging a system as a container is a first step towards making it more modular. You lift the system out of its present environment and gain immediate portability. You can shut down the original service, deploy your container image in its place, and begin iterative refactoring efforts to split the system’s dependencies into their own containers. This reduces the upfront investment associated with legacy migrations, putting an end to continual deferrals and the resulting tech debt.
4. Isolation and Security
Containers provide a degree of built-in isolation for your application’s components. A properly hardened container image running on a fully secured host can provide extra protection compared to a bare metal deployment. Attackers who access a specific container should be confined within it, unable to access other containers or the host environment.
Isolation also prevents applications from interfering with each other. You can run multiple instances of software such as web and database servers that are usually designed to be started once per host. Each container provides its own sandboxed environment, separate from anything else that may be running alongside.
Containers make software-driven businesses more efficient. They eliminate the differences between environments so you can focus on what’s specific to your application. As containers bundle everything needed by an application, they turn whole deployments into compact units that can be created and reused in myriad scenarios.
Containerization also simplifies DevOps tasks such as monitoring and logging. You can adopt standardized technologies to collect logs and metrics from your container fleet, reducing the setup and maintenance burden when you launch a new application. Containers cut down repetition, provide solutions for common deployment problems, and integrate well with outside tools.
Organizations that use containers gain increased operational resiliency. A failure in one container won’t affect any of the others. This protects business continuity by containing the spread of outages. Containers are readily scaled too, letting you guarantee a consistent quality of service during periods of high demand.
Architecting applications out of containerized services helps reduce coupling and keep systems running when individual components fail. This extends to bigger problems too: if your cloud platform suffers a prolonged outage, you can redeploy essential services by starting container instances on a rival host.
Containerized applications also tend to be easier to debug. Developers can conveniently access container logs and replicate production environments on their own machine. This reduces the time to resolve an issue, maximizing your service’s health and reliability.
7. Where It All Began: Developer Productivity
We’d be remiss not to mention the effects containers have on developer productivity. Portable development environments, easy automated deployments, and “as-code” definition of your application’s dependencies all help developers spend more time concentrating on the bespoke parts of your system. Containers remove common friction points from the development process, increasing overall throughput.
Containerization can be an asset when attracting and retaining developer talent. Embracing technologies that developers want to work with makes it more likely they’ll feel satisfied and respected in their role. In the 2021 Stack Overflow developer survey, 76% of respondents said they “love” working with Docker, placing it behind only Git in terms of overall popularity. This suggests there’s a case for encouraging and supporting the use of containers, even if you’re not ready to adopt them as infrastructure components.
Containerization gives organizations an efficient way to build, deploy, and maintain applications that are portable across environments. Containers are consistent units that persist through the lifecycle of the software components they encapsulate. Adopting a containerized development methodology saves time and cuts costs by making better use of your developer talent and infrastructure resources.
Containers are applicable to all kinds of business, from small software studios of a few individuals to enterprises that have thousands of engineers. It’s this universality that’s made the container movement so successful, as the benefits extend far beyond developer experience. Containers are a business asset that directly impact throughput and quality, resulting in a more effective organization.