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Virtual machine-nested containers. Say what?

Thu, 15/10/2015 - 08:17
Cloud Services

The world of virtualisation is growing rapidly – even if it is doing so haphazardly – and long-standing providers of traditional "BMR" virtual machines are getting on board with the trend towards containerisation. Indeed, containers have been up-and-coming for the past few years and fortunately, the big names have noticed the writing on the wall.

VMware Photon Platform

V3, UK tech news source, reported from the VMworld 2015 event in San Francisco, how VMware plans to officially provide support for cloud-native applications. Earlier this year, VMware announced vSphere Integrated Containers as well as their Photon Platform and will soon be releasing some features to preview and for testing.

Integrated Containers aim to provide companies that have already invested in VMware-based infrastructure capabilities to manage containers together with their existing virtual machines. Alternatively, the Photon Platform is meant for companies that are developing new infrastructure for highly scalable cloud-native applications. It will run using the Photon OS which is a Linux container host with just a 25MB footprint and a one second boot time!

Both Integrated Containers and Photon will allow containers to be run inside the virtual machine in order to leverage the inherent security of dedicated hardware.

Microsoft Windows Server Containers

A year ago it was reported how Microsoft would collaborate in developing the Docker Engine. Since then, Windows Server 2016, still in the technical preview phase, promises to include what they call "Windows Server Containers". Although Docker was originally a Linux-based technology, the Microsoft flavour has diverged from this and apparently it is meant to provide options for distributed applications across multiple operating systems.

Microsoft will also introduce Nano Server, their own container host which is a scaled-down version of Windows Server 2016. Preliminary estimates puts the disk footprint at 95% less than the standard OS and boot times having been cut down by 80%.

Hyper-V is not being left behind though. They will still be running traditional virtual machines and will also be able to run containers. These containers will be interchangeable between Hyper-V (requiring the hypervisor) and the new Windows Server Containers.

What about security?

Issues with security are not being ignored either. Both VMware and Microsoft are addressing the ability to break out of the container "sandbox" in various ways – the primary concern with instances sharing the same hardware configuration. Among others, VMware will limit one container per virtual machine and Microsoft's Nano Server will be a bare-essentials OS deployment (known as Windows Server Core) which provides improved security due to its simplicity and uses roles to limit user access.

Does this mean containers are winning?

What it means is that technology is technology and people are just finding better ways of getting the job done. With significant improvements in disk footprints, boot time, and cloud deployment options, containers are providing a healthy alternative to a bulky and seemingly outdated solution for distributed and networked applications. For now, at least.

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