What is Docker and does your business need it?
Mon 11 Jan 2021 | Jon Lucas
Docker enables an easier path to the cloud, with minimal disruption and maximum productivity, writes Jon Lucas, co-director of Hyve Managed Hosting
According to a recent report by analysts at Allied Market Research, the global container market is set to hit $8.2 billion by 2025. That’s a staggering 32% CAGR from 2018, largely accelerated by the pandemic and the number of businesses looking to move their operations into the cloud.
These days, it’s difficult to hear the world ‘containerisation’ without the word ‘Docker’ following closely behind. Docker is one of the primary vehicles for creating, deploying and running containerised applications, and since its launch in 2013 it has surged in popularity. At the time of writing, it is the second most popular containerisation tool on the market, with lots of momentum propelling it forward.
To understand what Docker is and why it’s so important, we first need to understand containerisation as a concept. At its core, a container is a secured virtual lightweight runtime environment that can be designed to host applications with very specific needs. What makes containers special is that they not only host the application, but also all of its dependencies, including code libraries and configuration files.
Containerisation is popular for a few key reasons. For one, they’re more efficient than traditional VMs (virtual machines), which were the go-to standard before containers. VMs can emulate the environment and behaviour of an entire system, including operating systems, storage and I/O, in a completely isolated way. This made it the ideal choice for businesses who wanted to keep running expensive, proprietary legacy applications in a secure fashion, and also made entire organisations far more agile.
However, VMs do have their shortcomings. For instance, they are typically very large and only so many apps can be consolidated into one system. They also take more time to provision and have good, yet limited, portability. There comes a point where businesses need more speed, flexibility and agility, and that’s where containers come in.
Containers are effectively small VMs, but are built first and foremost for applications themselves. A container isolates a single application together with all of its dependencies, and packs it into a neat, compatible container package for easy deployment. Containerised apps use less memory than VMs, can start and stop far more quickly, and fit more easily onto host hardware, resulting in huge potential gains in terms of efficiency and cost-saving.
What is Docker?
Docker is a system designed to streamline the process of creating, deploying and running applications as part of a containerisation strategy. According to numbers published by Datanyze in its Containerization Market Share Report, Docker currently has a 25% share of the containerisation market, second only to LXC, which has 37%. So how has Docker gained so much traction within the industry over the past few years? Why is it so popular?
Docker set the industry standard for enabling applications to become portable and usable across multiple systems regardless of their configuration settings. One of the biggest advantages of Docker in particular, which was open source right from the beginning, is its cost-efficiency. The return on investment for developers using Docker is probably one of the most impressive out there, facilitating long-term savings by massively reducing the amount of infrastructure and resources needed for development. Server costs are lower, and because the system is so efficient, fewer human engineers are needed to work on any given project.
Docker also lends itself well to productivity, ensuring that multiple container development and release cycles are handled in a single, unified platform. This standardised approach ensures smooth and seamless productivity, with team members consistently on the same page. Using Docker, engineers will have everything they need at their disposal to identify and fix bugs or optimisation issues quickly, allowing them to focus more on future development and other projects.
One of the most developer-friendly aspects of Docker is its modular infrastructure. If one of those modules is updated to a new version and suddenly causes problems, it’s very easy for developers to simply roll back the upgrade for that single component and make any changes necessary. Users can also create ‘images’ of components that can be replicated and used for testing purposes, so nothing is ever truly broken or unsalvageable.
For businesses interested in containerisation, deployment times and compatibility are probably the number one factors to consider. These are areas in which Docker truly does shine. Deployments in Docker typically take a matter of seconds, dramatically reducing boot time. And in terms of compatibility, Docker applications run at the same speed and quality across all servers. That means even if several different users run the same Docker app using completely different systems and settings, they will largely get the same experience.
In an age where businesses are constantly looking for easier paths to the cloud, with minimal disruption and maximum productivity, qualities like those found in Docker are becoming invaluable.