Are Docker Containers Always a Good Solution?
Today businesses have a plethora of DevOps options to build their infrastructure. Besides traditional servers, companies can use technologies like virtual machines, containers, and serverless computing to develop cost-efficient applications faster. Docker container is a popular technology that has seen wide DevOps adoption in the last decade. When businesses started to move their applications to the cloud, companies needed an easy way to port applications. Docker was the perfect tool to containerize and reliably move the applications without incurring significant cost overhead.
As technologies like Docker quickly evolve, organizations are attracted to innovation and want to use the latest available tools. But companies need to invest considerable resources like time, money, and experience to embrace a new solution. So, it is critical to determine if a tool like Docker is the right fit for your business.
The Rise of Docker – A Popular Container Technology
A container is a small, lightweight execution environment. Containers isolate the application environments but share the operating system kernel of the host. Unix and Linux systems have been using the concept of containers for some time, but Docker came into the picture in 2013 as an open-source project and built an ecosystem that made containers easy to use. Developers started to adopt Docker in droves.
The popularity of Docker is not accidental. It resolved a lot of DevOps challenges the software industry was facing. Companies like Adobe, Netflix, AT&T, PayPal, Stripe, Target, and more are using Docker to improve their application development.
Here are a few ways Docker helps development teams today:
Dev Environment Consistency
Application configuration management is a challenge. As software goes from concept to production, environment requirements change. Also, during development cycles, various components of an application might use different versions of languages, software development kits (SDKs), and environment variables. Docker helps developers quickly start self-contained development environments from Docker images. Large dev teams can share these images through Docker Hub, a container image library. As a result, they can replicate dev and production environments easily. It simplifies the DevOps process.
Rapid Development and Deployment
Development, staging, and production (DSP) models are popular for software deployment. Dev and operations teams work together to push applications from development to staging to production. It provides the necessary checks and balances to avoid catastrophic failure. Without container technology, each application push created environmental conflicts. It was time-consuming to resolve these issues. Docker simplifies environment management, and dev teams can push applications through various environments with more confidence. So, Docker makes development and deployment more accessible and faster.
In a microservice architecture, large applications are designed using loosely-coupled, independently-deployable components. Microservices teams are given autonomy to use the technology they prefer. Maintaining such an application that uses different languages and SDKs for various parts is challenging. But Docker containers make it easy to support such an architecture because the components can be self-contained.
A well-designed Docker-based application is vendor-agnostic. Dev teams can move containerized applications between Windows, Mac, or Linux. They can move applications between cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud. It can help teams avoid vendor lock-in. Moreover, Docker enables dev teams to support a multi-cloud strategy easily. Dev teams can build redundancy through multi-cloud implementations of production environments. As a result, organizations can reduce their risks by not depending on a single cloud provider.
Rapid development with Docker increases productivity. Developers spend less time fixing environmental issues and can concentrate more on building new features. And due to the self-contained environment, dev teams can move applications quickly if a cloud provider hikes up prices. So, Docker is good for the bottom line and a powerful cloud cost optimization trick.
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Use Cases Where Docker Might Not Be Advantageous
Docker is a great technology, making life easier for developers. But it is not a solution applicable to all situations. Here are some use cases where Docker might be a hindrance:
Applications With Need for Speed
Even though Docker is lightweight and needs fewer resources than virtual machines, it still adds a layer on top of your host servers. You might see a performance penalty if you move your applications from bare-metal servers to docker containers. Your bottlenecks can come from CPU, memory, or I/O speed. So, you should carefully evaluate the needs of your application before moving to Docker containers. For example, if you try to run graphics-intensive gaming applications on Docker containers, you will run into performance issues.
Applications With High-Security Requirements
Development teams can start developing from preconfigured Docker images. But insecure images can make your systems vulnerable to attacks. Furthermore, if the Docker daemon has root privileges and your Docker containers are compromised, cybercriminals can access the host machine. So, Docker-based applications can increase your risks and vulnerabilities. Applications for healthcare and fintech have strict compliance requirements like HIPAA and PCI-DSS. Developers working in those industries should carefully evaluate what components of their applications they can safely dockerize.
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When you use Docker, you will have additional steps to deploy your application. You will have to design DevOps processes for the Docker images. You will need version control systems, build systems, archiving tools, and deployment tools for the images. For complex applications, the overhead makes sense because it saves time and money in the long run. But if you are dealing with a simple application like a static landing page, the overhead might not be worth it.
Applications That Need to Save Auditable Data
Docker container data is not persistent. If you are in an organization that requires server activity logs to persist for future audits, you have to ensure that you are managing Docker data properly. For example, you might need log data for a SOC2 compliance audit. You can use volumes and bind mounts to ensure the data persists. But it adds additional complexity to your DevOps processes. So, you might be better off not using Docker for application components that require persistent data, or you could use third-party monitoring solutions like Coralogix to ingest and analyze event data.
Docker is an excellent tool for applications that need command-line interfaces (CLI). As a result, it works well for backend development. But it can be challenging to use Docker for software with a rich Graphical User Interface (GUI). You can run X Servers in Docker to use the graphical capabilities of Unix systems or use VNC servers inside your containers and connect with a VNC client. The process is cumbersome and slow. So, if you are developing a GUI-based application like a game or a desktop app for Mac or Windows, it’s a good idea to avoid Docker containers for user interface development.
Conclusion: Finding the Right Fit in DevOps Technologies
Docker is a great DevOps tool in the right circumstance. The decision to use Docker should be based on your application and business needs. It requires a holistic, in-depth analysis of your ecosystem.
If you need help figuring out if Docker is the right fit for your organization, please contact us today. At GlobalDots, we provide DevOps as a Service. We can help you with CI/CD implementation, container management, Kubernetes orchestration and migration, infrastructure as code, cloud infrastructure design, logging, and maintenance. Our DevOps consultants can help you analyze your systems and find opportunities for improvements. We will find innovative, vendor-agnostic, and streamlined solutions tailored to your organization.