What Are Containers and Containerization in DevOps? 

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What Are Containers and Containerization in DevOps? 

With the constant changes in software development and deployment, containers and containerization have emerged as the most sought-after topics in DevOps. 

Containers bring to the table a lightweight, portable, and performant way of packaging, deploying, and managing applications.  Using these said ways, DevOps teams can benefit in many aspects. 

This article revolves around the container concept and delves deeper into its relation to DevOps, the benefits it brings, best practices in deploying containers in DevOps processes, and container platforms, and concludes with their relevance in modern software development.

What is Containerization? 

Containerization is an approach to packaging and deploying software applications together with their dependencies, libraries, and configurations in a standardised, isolated environment.

Containers include an application and all its constituent components within themselves, fortifying consistency and reproducibility of execution across different computing environments, from development to production.

Unlike the traditional virtual machines or VMs that virtualize an entire operating system, containers virtualize the operating system’s kernel. Hence, multiple containers that can run on one host OS are not associated with the overhead of the separate OS instance for each container. It means fast implementation, scalable, and resource-conscious.

What Does Containerization Mean for DevOps?

With containerization, for DevOps teams, there is a shift in thinking of applications from being developed to being deployed and further managed. It encourages collaboration and agility by consolidating the software delivery pipeline and reducing organisational structures between development, operations, and QA teams.

Containerization adheres to the core DevOps concepts: automation, CI, CD, and IaC. Application containerization enables DevOps teams to automate the build, test, and deployment, which in turn results in faster release cycles and shortened time-to-market.

In addition to that, containerization makes it possible to use microservices architecture where applications are built as services are loosely coupled and can be developed, deployed, and scaled independently. 

How Can Containers Benefit DevOps Teams?

Portability

Containers wrap applications and their dependencies, allowing for consistent deployment in different environments, i.e. development to production, regardless of underlying infrastructure.

Scalability

Containers are easily scalable to cope with varying workloads through scaling up and down, which provides a good balance of elasticity and resource optimisation.

Isolation

Containers give process and filesystem isolation, which guarantees that applications running in different containers do not affect each other, increasing security and stability.

Consistency

Containers guarantee uniformity between development, testing, and production environments, eliminating ‘it works on my machine’ circumstances and increasing overall dependability.

Fast Deployment

Developing and provisioning containers can be performed much faster compared to traditional virtual machines, allowing them to attain the speed of continuous delivery and continuous deployment.

Resource Efficiency

Different from VMs that incur an overhead from running multiple instances of an OS, containers run on a single host OS kernel, which results in low consumption of resources and highly dense workloads.

Version Control

Container images can be versioned and stored in repositories, which allows DevOps teams to trace changes, roll back to previous versions, and work together more harmoniously.

Best Practices for Containers and DevOps

To maximise the benefits of containerization in DevOps workflows, it’s essential to follow these practices. 

  • Use consistent and immutable container images created using Dockerfiles or similar configuration files to guarantee repeatability and consistency.
  • Automate the build, test, and deployment of containerized applications using CI/CD pipelines, enabling continuous integration and delivery of such applications. 
  • Use Kubernetes or Docker Swarm, container orchestration platforms, to manage and scale container applications. Monitor container performance, resource usage, and health metrics to spot issues and fix them in a timely manner.
  • Ensure least privileged access, image scanning for vulnerabilities, network segmentation, and encryption as security best practices to protect containerized applications and infrastructure.
  • Fine-tune container resource limits, like CPU and memory allocations, for the best performance and utilisation. Set up auto-scaling to vary resources according to demand.
  • Establish resilient backup and disaster recovery policies for containerized data to ensure business continuity with the occurrence of failures and outages.
  • Give DevOps teams training and documentation on containerization concepts, good practices, and tools that will help in the effective use of these.

Container Platform Approaches

There are different approaches to container platforms, each with its unique characteristics and uses.

Docker 

Docker is the most popular containerization platform which is known for its ease of use, portability, and vast ecosystem of tools and services. It offers a complete solution for creating, managing, and orchestrating containers across numerous environments.

Kubernetes

Kubernetes is an open-source container orchestration platform developed by Google which is used to automate the deployment, scalability, and management of containerized applications. 

It provides sophisticated functions for workload scheduling, service discovery, load balancing, and many other things. It is perfect for production deployments on a large scale.

OpenShift

OpenShift is a container platform based on Kubernetes, developed by Red Hat, that provides additional functionality for enterprise-grade security, governance, and compliance. 

It delivers integrated developer tools, CI/CD pipelines, and application lifecycle management, allowing organisations to build and deploy cloud-native apps with confidence.

Amazon ECS/EKS, Azure AKS, Google GKE

The cloud providers have managed Kubernetes services (EKS, AKS, GKE) and container orchestration platforms (ECS) that ease the deployment and management of containerized applications on their respective cloud infrastructures. 

These services offer scalability, reliability, and integration with other cloud-native services, which makes them an attractive option for organisations going cloud-first.

Conclusion 

Containerization has become a game changer in DevOps workflows, transforming the way applications are built, shipped, and run. DevOps teams can enable organisations to achieve greater speed, delivery scale, and reliability through packaging applications and their dependencies in lightweight, portable containers.

Containers have many advantages. Among them are portability, scalability, isolation, resource efficiency, consistency, speed of deployment, and others. All these features make them the mandatory instrument of modern DevOps operation. 

Utilising the best practices and adopting container platform methods like Docker, Kubernetes, and cloud-managed services, companies can fully exploit the benefits of containerization to be faster to deliver innovation value and to drive growth in the competitive business environment.

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