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Getting started with Linux containers

Linux-based containers allow you to run applications in the data center without modifying OSes. If you're not sure how to get started, options such as Docker and CoreOS can help.

The traditional model of installing applications on top of their own version of an OS does not meet every IT departments' requirements. Linux containers can replace VMs and dedicated servers for some shops.

A major drawback of an OS-based model is that it is slow, and to deploy a new application, IT administrators might need to install a new server, which incurs operational costs and requires time.

When every application has its own copy of the OS, operations are often inefficient. For example, to guarantee security, every application needs its own dedicated server, which results in lots of under-utilized hardware in the data center.

A container is an isolated environment where the OS uses namespaces to create barriers. Linux containers have all the necessary components to run an application and make it easy to run a container on top of an operating system.

From a hardware standpoint, containers utilize resources more efficiently. If there is still hardware capacity available, containers can use that and admins won't need to install a new server.

How do you start with containers?

Setting up a Linux container is relatively easy; it is the de facto standard for running containers because it provides functionality for an isolated working environment.

The Linux kernel provides essential features, such as Cgroups and Namespaces. Cgroups ensure that each container makes the required resources available and Namespaces implement the strict isolation between Linux container architectures that is required for a secure environment. The kernel also includes the container engine, the main component used to get the container running.

The Linux kernel provides essential features, such as Cgroups and Namespaces.

In the Linux community, Docker is a well-known container engine. It comes in Community and Enterprise editions. The Community Edition enables IT explore container features with open application programming interfaces, an interactive command-line interface; support for multi-container apps; and universal packaging.

Organizations that operate on a larger scale can use Docker Enterprise Edition. It offers support, integrated security frameworks, agile workflows and multi-cloud compatibility.

To set up the container engine, simply install the binaries from the Linux distribution repository and use the run command to activate it.

Options beyond Docker

However, using the Linux operating system to run containers isn't the most secure option. Linux includes services such as a domain name system, web and time servers, as well as graphical user interfaces that require access regulation. These access regulations may offer attackers more ways into the OS.

These concerns have sparked the creation of optimized container platforms, such as CoreOS. CoreOS is designed to provide minimal functionality and to completely focus on running containers.

For that reason, CoreOS is another option for running containers depending on IT's needs. With features such as on-premises installation, automatic updates and distributed system tools, CoreOS can help you get a Linux container architecture up and running.

This was last published in August 2018

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