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What Are the Differences Between the Hypervisor and Containers?

The Case for Containers

The concepts behind Docker and other Linux containers are solid:

  • Very small VMs that allow for much higher server density by removing redundant or unnecessary operating system elements from the VMs themselves.
  • Nicely packaged VM stacks, which can easily be transferred, replicated, and controlled, ensuring high levels of portability.
  • VM software stacks that are small, removing the problem and tedium of building a large stack of version-specific operating systems and tools that need lots of care and feeding to replicate and maintain.
  • Extremely fast startup times that can facilitate a more flexible infrastructure, allowing greater latitude to respond to the needs of the moment – literally.

The challenge, however, is that the security attack surface of a “shared kernel” strategy has its weakest link in that “shared kernel” itself. If one malicious hacker manages to violate that shared kernel, all instances that employ that shared kernel are potentially compromised.

Certainly, a similar argument can be made of traditional hypervisors – if you can violate the hypervisor, you might be able to violate the VMs it powers – but the industry has had many years of experience hardening hypervisor installations. While it is not a task for slackers, it is not rocket science either. Hundreds of successful virtualization and cloud providers in the world attest to the manageability of the task; from giants like Amazon, Rackspace, Verizon, and Huawei, down to smaller local and boutique-style service providers, the names of which are far less well known.

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