Containerization in 2024: The Complete Guide to Portable, Modern Applications

Container vs VM Architecture

Containers have emerged as the leading approach for packaging and running portable, resilient applications across diverse IT environments. As we enter 2023, container adoption is accelerating across enterprises looking to migrate to the cloud, build new microservices, and improve CI/CD velocity.

In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll cover everything you need to know about extracting value from containerization, including:

  • What containers are and how they work
  • Key components of a container platform
  • Comparing containers vs virtual machines
  • Top benefits and use cases
  • Implementation best practices
  • Security considerations
  • Major vendors and open source tools
  • Trends and predictions for 2024
  • Real-world case studies

Let‘s get started!

What is Containerization?

Containerization refers to packaging an application together with all its dependencies and configurations into a standardized unit that can run uniformly and reliably across diverse computing environments.

Container vs VM Architecture

Container virtualization vs traditional VM virtualization. Image source: Netapp

Containers provide operating system level virtualization by abstracting the application layer from the host infrastructure. This differs from traditional virtual machines which virtualize at the hardware layer.

Key properties that make containers highly portable and efficient:

  • Standardized: Based on common runtimes like Docker and industry standards like OCI.

  • Lightweight: Share host OS kernel, consuming fewer resources than VMs.

  • Self-Contained: Bundle app and all dependencies into one package.

  • Portable: Run without changes on diverse infra – cloud, VMs, bare metal.

  • Scalable: Spin up replicated containers instantly for scale-out.

  • Fast: Launch in seconds without full OS boot up.

  • Isolated: Safely partition resources between containers.

By providing a lightweight, portable capsule for applications, containers unlock immense agility, efficiency, and resilience compared to monolithic platforms.

How Do Containers Work?

Containers sit on top of a host operating system and share its kernel, as shown below:

Container Operating Model

Containers provide isolated user space on top of a shared host OS. Image source: AWS

Developers build container images that bundle all dependencies and configs required to run the application using tools like Docker.

Container engines like Docker, containerd, or cri-o provide the runtime environment to build, run and manage containers. Engines use OS-level virtualization features like namespaces and control groups to isolate resources between containers.

Multiple containers can run side-by-side on a host abstracted from the underlying infrastructure. The portability of container images allows them to run reliably on any standard Linux machine or cloud instance.

Key Components of a Container Platform

Containers require a complete technology stack to run securely at scale in production:

Container Engine

The software that builds container images and provides the runtime environment to run containers (e.g. Docker, containerd)


Automates container lifecycles including deployment, scaling, networking (e.g. Kubernetes, Docker Swarm)


Central repository to store, tag, and distribute container images (e.g. Docker Hub)


Enables communication between containers and the host OS (plugins like Flannel, Calico)


Observability into health metrics, logs, and events (e.g. Prometheus, Datadog)


Scanning images for vulnerabilities, hardening the orchestrator, limiting container access (e.g. Aqua, Twistlock)

Leading enterprise platforms like Red Hat OpenShift, VMware Tanzu, and Docker Enterprise simplify running production-grade containers by combining many of these components.

Containers vs Virtual Machines: Key Differences

Containers and VMs are fundamentally different approaches to virtualization:

Containers Virtual Machines
Abstraction: Virtualize at the OS layer Abstraction: Virtualize hardware
Architecture: App bundle with own libraries and settings Architecture: Emulate a full machine with separate OS
Lightweight: Share host kernel, minimal resource overhead Heavyweight: Need resources for guest OS
Fast: Launch in seconds Slow: Boot time proportional to OS startup time
Portable: Run on any OS supporting containers Portable: Tied to hypervisor compatibility
Scalability: Easily scale horizontally by adding containers Scalability: Limited by VM resource overhead

Containers are faster, more lightweight and portable. But VMs provide stronger isolation which can be beneficial for security sensitive workloads.

Many organizations run a mix of VMs and containers optimized for particular use cases. Containers are ideal for cloud native applications built using microservices architectures.

Top Benefits of Containerization

Let‘s analyze some of the major benefits driving container adoption:


  • Streamline CI/CD pipelines – build, test and deploy faster
  • Dynamically scale containers to meet demand
  • Achieve portability across diverse infra and prevent vendor lock-in

According to Puppet‘s 2019 State of DevOps Report, high performing organizations are 24x more likely to have adopted container technologies than their lower performing peers.


  • Reduce hardware resource utilization by minimizing duplication
  • Consolidate apps using fewer containers per server
  • Manage infrastructure consistently across on-premise, cloud, and edge

McKinsey estimates containers offer 50%+ utilization compared to 20-40% for VMs, leading to major cost savings especially when running microservices.


  • Minimize discrepancies across environments using standardized containers
  • Instantly recover failed containers with no rebooting
  • Operate through infrastructure outages by running containers anywhere

Google runs 2+ billion containers per week relying on portability, isolation, and immutability to deliver resilient services.

Developer Velocity

  • Onboard new developers faster with standardized environments
  • Eliminate lengthy rebuilds or redeployments when updating apps
  • Independent deployments and scalability for microservices teams

By adopting Docker containers, Adobe was able to reduce onboarding time for developers from 4 weeks to 24 hours.

Top Use Cases for Containers

Key scenarios where containers deliver the most value:

Microservices Architecture

Break monoliths into decentralized services running in containers for independent scaling and deployments.

Multi-Cloud Portability

Avoid vendor lock-in by running the same container images seamlessly across cloud providers.

Legacy Modernization

Incrementally migrate legacy apps to the cloud by first containerizing them to achieve portability.

Machine Learning

Package ML model training and inferencing into portable containers.

Edge Computing

Run lightweight containers on limited edge hardware like IoT gateways and remote sensors.

CI/CD Pipelines

Utilize containers to provide consistent, immutable environments for automated testing and builds.

According to 2022 survey data from the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, over 72% of organizations are running containers in production. Adoption spans startups building cloud native apps as well as enterprises modernizing legacy systems.

Top Containerization Trends for 2024

Growth in Enterprise Adoption

While early container adoption was led by tech companies, enterprises across industries are now migrating to containers, driving massive growth.

Forrester predicts over 50% of firms plan to adopt containers in the next 12 months.

Integration with Managed Cloud Services

Leading cloud providers offer fully-managed container platforms tightly integrated with services like auto-scaling, load balancing, and observability.

Gartner reports container adoption will accelerate as firms rely more on cloud providers to reduce management overhead.

Enhanced Security Posture

Red Hat predicts security will be a major focus including approaches like confidential computing and signing/verifying trusted container images.

Convergence of VMs and Containers

As per VMware, vendors are working to blend VM and container technologies to optimize resource sharing and deliver the ideal isolation levels.

Simplified Storage and Networking

Vendors are releasing solutions to simplify storage/data management and networking for containers according to Aqua Security.

Best Practices for Adopting Containers

Here are key best practices to ensure a successful rollout of containerization across your organization:

Start small with a pilot project and learn iteratively before scaling container footprint.

Build a Container Center of Excellence (CCoE) to centralize expertise and provide training.

Standardize on base images, build processes, registry management, and deployment patterns.

Automate image scanning for vulnerabilities during the CI process to find issues early.

Monitor closely via purpose-built tools for container health, logs, metrics, and events.

Integrate with CI/CD by packaging applications into containers during automated builds/testing.

Modernize gradually through incremental steps rather than a big bang rewrite. Prioritize easiest migrations first.

Address cultural resistance through education, incentives for usage, and hackathons to build container skills.

Choose compatible tools that integrate smoothly across the container lifecycle – build, deploy, manage, monitor.

Comparing Top Container Tools

Tool Description Benefits
Docker The market-leading container engine. Also offers Docker Desktop, Docker Hub, and Docker Compose. Industry standard, huge ecosystem, full container capabilities
Podman Open source container engine alternative focused on security. Rootless containers, integrates with OCI tools, lightweight
Kubernetes De facto open source orchestrator for automating container deployments and management. Originally developed by Google. Powerful autoscaling, self-healing, service discovery features. Extensible via Operators.
Red Hat OpenShift Enterprise Kubernetes platform focused on security and simplified management. Tightly integrates Kubernetes with other services. Enhanced access controls, scanning, and autoscaling capabilities.
Prometheus Open source tool for container monitoring and time series analysis. Customizable dashboards, powerful query language, auto discovery of targets
Grafana Open source tool for visualizing monitoring data from various sources. Beautiful graphs and charts, extensive plugin support, feature-rich
Docker Desktop Development environment for building containers on Mac/Windows machines. Ships with Docker Engine. Tightly integrates Docker with IDEs, filesystem, networking. Accelerates local development.
Docker Compose Simplifies running multi-container applications locally using a YAML file to configure app stacks. Quick testing of containerized apps during development. Simulates basic orchestration.

Carefully evaluate both open source and enterprise solutions to determine what best addresses your requirements for functionality, support, and ease of use.

Container Adoption: Success Stories Across Industries

Here are just some of the many companies seeing value from containerization:


Uses containers extensively across its AWS infrastructure to achieve scale and resilience for video streaming.


Leverages Docker to process over $2 billion in payments daily across microservices built on containers.


Reduced deployment time from weeks to minutes by migrating its website and apps to containers on Red Hat‘s platform.


Modernized many core software packages by containerizing them to achieve portability across hybrid cloud infrastructure.


Employed Docker containers to improve developer productivity and iteration speed for its SaaS applications.


Utilizes Docker Enterprise to run core services in production across multiple public clouds and its own data centers.


Migrated to a service-oriented architecture on Docker containers, cutting build time from 1 hour to just 7 minutes.

TD Ameritrade

Leveraged Docker and Kubernetes to reduce release cycles from months to hours while improving resiliency.


Embarked on a containerization initiative in 2021 to decompose its desktop apps into Web services running on Kubernetes.

The benefits aren‘t limited to tech companies either – brands across financial services, healthcare, retail, transportation, and more are adopting containers too.

Key Takeaways

Hopefully this guide provided a comprehensive look at unlocking the value of containerization. Here are key takeaways:

  • Containers provide lightweight, portable virtualization by packaging apps with all dependencies.

  • Orchestration, networking, security, and monitoring are key complementary technologies.

  • Containers are faster and more efficient than VMs, ideal for microservices.

  • Top benefits include agility, resilience, developer velocity and cloud portability.

  • Leading use cases include modernizing monoliths, CI/CD, and multi-cloud deployments.

  • Adoption is accelerating among enterprises looking to innovate faster.

  • Monitor, automate, and start small when rolling out containers.

  • An ecosystem of complementary open source and enterprise tools exist across the container lifecycle.

By following container best practices, leveraging the right tools, and driving cultural change, organizations can adopt containers to achieve tangible improvements in application delivery and business results.