A Non-Technical Perspective on "Containers"

Containers are creating quite a stir in the managed hosting space, where servers and virtual machines have prevailed for 20 years. While containers are the foundation for high-profile companies like Google, Salesforce, and Red Hat, Pantheon has been the first to apply containers to the website infrastructure use case. Read why Pantheon decided to use containers in the first place.

Naturally, traditional hosting providers aren’t exactly running toward this new technology with open arms. In fact, several managed hosting vendors have cast doubt on containers by calling them “risky.”

What’s a non-technical person to make of this? Is a technology really less risky just because it is old? With 15+ years working in technology, I’ve been on both ends of the tactic to label a new technology “risky.” While it’s true that early adopters are less risk-averse than others, there are several reasons why I don’t think this so-called risk is relevant to containers.

Here are 4 reasons why I know that virtual machines are entering the downside of the technology lifecycle curve:


1. Containers aren’t unproven. High-profile companies are already using them.  

Containers have been around in various flavors of Unix for decades, and a core component of the Linux kernel since 2007.

High profile examples of successful use and adoption of containers includes:

  • Google's "borg" (their internal platform)
  • Google App Engine (consumer platform)
  • salesforce.com’s platform (Heroku)
  • Red Hat Open Shift


2. Websites that run on containers perform better than when they ran on virtual machines.  

At Pantheon, our infrastructure has been container-based for almost 3 years. We initially dabbled in VMs, but realized they could never be a broad platform solution. We saw that containers could provide unique capabilities, and therefore value. We can scale incredibly fast. Our platform offers performance, scalability, consistency, and flexibility never seen before on website platforms.


3. Containers lower the total cost of ownership.

Containers lower our cost to build, deploy and maintain our infrastructure. In turn, customers benefit from a lower total cost of site ownership. They also get better website performance—instant provisioning, scalability, high availability, and consistency. This translates into higher ROI overall.


4. The only risk is the one hosting vendors are facing.      

There is actually quite a bit of risk to using VM’s to develop and deliver websites. It costs a pretty penny to create a similar capability, and VMs don't fundamentally solve any of the problems of a server-oriented architecture.

That’s why we love it when our competition calls our solution “risky.” It’s a telltale sign they’re very concerned about what they cannot offer, and have no choice other than to try to create FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) with their prospects.

The truth is, containers are well beyond the category of "bleeding edge", “risky” or “unproven”  technology. This technology is the future, and the future is now. Pantheon is just one of many applications and platforms that are proving the value of containers today. That number will continue to grow significantly, while the VM market slows.

Virtual machines have had their fun. It’s time for them to make way for containers.

Our head of operations Nick Steilau is presenting tonight alongside GoogleDocker &SignalFuse about Containers at Yahoo for the Silicon Valley Large Scale Production Engineering meetup, with over 300 people attending. There is no "launch a bunch of VMs" talk. Welcome to the future. 

Topics Education