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Containers vs virtual machines: what they are and what are the main differences

The long-term battle is: containers vs virtual machines! In this article, we will differentiate both concepts exploring pros and cons.

Containers facilitate rapid and agile development. A single container groups an application code and the associated configuration files and libraries required to run the application.

On the other hand, virtual machines (VMs) are generally seen as virtual computers or software-defined computers inside physical servers, existing only as code.

Containers VS Virtual Machines

Virtual Machines and containers both try to emulate the behavior of any piece of computational hardware.

Simplistically, the main difference is that containers imitate a higher-level structure, mainly focusing on the Operating System (OS) and software level itself.

One of the more revoluting advantages of using containers is that it comes with all dependencies already installed.

This makes the process of having an application up and running faster and easier, which benefits all tasks from development to production.

On the other hand, Virtual Machines emulate the hardware at a lower abstraction level, going as far as imitating each hardware component separately, such as disk storage, RAM, and CPU capacity.

Pros and Cons

Containers vs virtual machines: both have similar resource isolation and allocation benefits but function differently. The first, containers, virtualize the operating system instead of hardware.


The main advantage of using containers is that they are lightweight and portable once they do not depend on any hardware element.

This characteristic makes containers very fast to modify and iterate. In addition, containers have a robust environment.

They offer a hosted public repository of templates that contains many popular software applications.

On the other hand, the public repositories of pre-built containers can be a disadvantage.

There is a security risk in using one of these public images as they may contain exploits or may be vulnerable to being hijacked by nefarious actors.

Virtual Machines

VMs can operate independently of other software or hardware, meaning that virtual machines have full isolation security.

It means that it reduces the risk of having multiple VMs be hacked, at the same time, just because they are on the same host.

Unlike containers, VMs depend on some level of hardware. This characteristic makes them time-consuming to build and regenerate.

Any alteration to a virtual machine can take significant time to regenerate and validate they behave as expected.

Which one is better for your application?

To choose the best resource virtualization technology, you should always analyze and consider the project needs.

As we have stated, containers solve application problems by improving DevOps. It also packages up code and all dependencies so the application runs quickly and reliably from one computing environment to another.

On the other hand, VMs solve infrastructure problems by emulating the hardware at a lower abstraction level.

So, if your project has hardware requirements, you should use a VM.

On the contrary, if the project only has software requirements, you can complete the task using containers.

Popular container and VMs providers

There are several container providers, but few platforms have risen to be the leading providers.

Docker, an open-source containerization platform, enables the user to build images. It also has an online platform that hosts the community’s docker images - Dockerhub.

As for software that aids in managing containers, there is Docker.

It is one of the easiest ways to start messing around with containers.

Other software, like Kubernetes, has a more complex way to manage these containers.

There is also other community-based images platform such as Rocket (RKT), Linux Containers (LXC), and others.

Finally, it is essential to highlight AWS ECR (elastic container registry) and AWS Fargate. AWS ECR is more focused on the cloud. It enables the user to save their container images and use them in any container software in the cloud.

AWS Fargate "is a technology that you can use with Amazon ECS to run containers without having to manage servers or clusters of Amazon EC2 instances. With Fargate, you no longer have to provision, configure, or scale clusters of virtual machines to run containers".

On the other hand, for VMs, the key providers have already been established once the technology is older, compared to containers.

Virtualbox, a general-purpose virtualization tool for x86 and x86-64 hardware, and VMware, an instrument that creates a virtual machine on your computer, have been the most used by the community in the last years.

Choosing the right option for your project can be complicated. With Zalox, you will always find the most appropriate solution. Contact us and find out what your application needs to grow!

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