What are containers? They serve as operating systems for applications to work with, limiting the amount of systems based on the types of apps involved. They’re lightweight and don’t demand as much storage space as virtual machines.

Containers deploy and run distributed apps without installing the operating system completely. Those apps will be able to work together as required. Some of the most popular containers include Docker and Kubernetes.

As abstract systems, virtual machines provide applications virtually. Servers are fully used for their storage, as they consume a huge amount of space, with the complete capacity of a real machine being used.

So far, so complicated. But if you’re wondering whether to choose a container or virtual machine, we’ll help you pick the right solution for your needs below.

Containers vs Virtual Machines: A Quick Look at Their Similarities and Differences

In this section of our containers vs virtual machines guide, we’ll compare the main similarities and differences:

  1. Virtual machines use hypervisors — programs designed to run and manage virtual machines. Containers do NOT use hypervisors.
  2. With containers, scaling is simple — there’s just one operating system to maintain and one server for application storage.

Virtual machines, though, make scaling a little more difficult as the amount of operating systems depends on the applications. Their usage will also determine how many servers are required.

  1. It’s easy to develop and deploy software with containers. But developing and deploying software is more complex with virtual machines.
  2. An operating system is shared within containers, but that’s not the case with virtual machines.
  3. With containers, most applications run on one operating system and security is uncontrolled. But security IS controlled on virtual machines, and if an OS is targeted by an attacker, the whole virtual machine applications won’t be threatened.
  4. Developing apps can be run effectively with containers, while supporting apps work well with virtual machines.
  5. Containers have less documentation as they’re new, while documentation is on hand for virtual machines.
  6. Containers offer higher-quality performance and more reliability than virtual machines.
  7. When stored in virtual containers, apps can be ported easily. However, apps cannot be ported from folder to folder so easily with virtual machines.
  8. In containers, resources are provisioned easily. That’s not the case with virtual machines.
  9. You can run containers almost anywhere, but virtual machines have more restrictions on where they can run.
  10. Developers can test code before putting it into production with containers. But virtual machines don’t allow code to be tested first.
  11. Containers are widely and easily available, but that’s not the case with virtual machines.
  12. Containers are system virtualization, whereas virtual machines work as more of a hardware virtualization.
  13. As containers are NOT completely separated from remaining applications, they offer less security, while virtual machines are always separated fully.
  14. Virtual machines offer security functions, and may be updated to include the latest functionalities. Containers don’t include security functions.
  15. All of the applications in containers are grouped into one system and one server. While all applications in a virtual machine are organized into one system, multiple servers are used.
  16. Data loss can be an issue with containers, while virtual machines offer stronger disaster recovery.
  17. Containers provide weaker memory management than virtual machines.
  18. Containers are smaller than virtual machines, and compatibility is stronger. The size of virtual machines means they’re generally incompatible with other machines.
  19. With containers, deployment is continuous and different applications are tested. Testing is infrequent with virtual machines, though, and continuous deployment is not viable.
  20. Containers create quality developing environments, and they’re reusable. But developing environments is tougher with virtual machines, and they can’t be reused so easily.

Breaking Down the Primary Differences Between Containers and Virtual Machines

We’ve taken a quick look at how containers and virtual machines are different, but we’ll explore them in more detail below.

  1. No hardware or software applications are required for containers, so they take up less storage space. But virtual machines need the operating system, and all hardware related to it, in the system virtually. That’s why they take up more storage space and demand greater RAM.
  2. Virtual machines have a complicated software development lifecycle, due to the resources utilized in the containers and the virtual copies usage. But the software development lifecycle is easier with containers, as each application is directly utilized.
  3. It can be difficult to move virtual machines from system to system because of its virtual copies and connections between lots of applications. Containers can be relocated in private and public clouds more simply, depending on usage.
  4. Virtual machines allow folders to be relocated between folders or systems on a shared network easily. The same is true of moving files between folders. Copying and sharing files is more difficult with containers, as they don’t serve as data folders.
  5. In virtual machines, workloads can be centralized and spread out between lots of resources with ease. Containers cannot centralize workloads.
  6. Hypervisors are responsible for keeping data and resources inside virtual machines managed and separated. That’s impossible with containers, as they have an operating system to maintain their workloads.
  7. Applications and operating systems may be updated easily with virtual machines, but it’s more difficult when using containers.
  8. Whole servers are dedicated to single applications with virtual machines, which leads to resource and space wastage. With containers, one server can be utilized for several applications through the sharing of resources and space.
  9. The amount of applications run in a virtual machine determines the number of operating systems. But there’s just one operating system for all applications and one server with containers.
  10. A different host is required for containers when applications need a different operating system, and that can’t be handled on a single server. Different hosts are NOT necessary with virtual machines, as each application needs a different operating system and server.


We hope this guide helps you decide between containers and virtual machines more easily. Each one offers advantages and disadvantages, so take some time to weigh your options carefully before you decide.

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