Containers why we are here

12 Mar 2017 · Six minute read · on Gianluca's blog

News! Tech related notes are NOW published to ShippingBytes. See you there! I always felt this was not the right place for me to write consistently about tech and tools. So if you want to read more about that see you at the other side

“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be… This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman must take on a science fictional way of thinking” Asimov, 1981

Isolation and Virtualization

I can see clearly two kind of invention: the ones that allow people to do something they couldn’t do before and the ones that let them do something better. Fire, for example, gave people the chance to cook food, push away wild beasts and warm themselves up during cold nights. Many years later, electricity let people warm their houses just by pushing a button. After wheels discovery people began to travel and to trades goods, but was only with car’s invention that they might do it faster and efficiently. Similarly, the web creates a huge network, able to connect people all over the world, web application gave people tools to use and customise such a complex system. Under this perspective, container is one of the main revolution of the last years, a unique tool that helps with app management and development. Let’s discover something more about the real story of containers.

We have not a lot of documentation about why Bill Joy 18th March 1982 added chroot into the BSD probably to emulate him solutions and program is an isolated root. That’s was amazing but not enough few years later in 1991 Bill Cheswick extended chroot with security features provided by FreeBSD and implemented the “jails” and in 2000 he introduced what we know as the proper jails command now our chroots can not be anything, anywhere out of themself. When you start a process in a chroot the PID is one and there is only that process but from outside you can see all processes that are running in a chroot. Our applications can not stay in a jail! They need to communicate with outside, exchange information and so on. To solve this problem in 2002 in the kernel version 2.4.19 a group of developers like Eric W. Biederman, Pavel Emelyanov introduced the namespace feature to manage system resources like network, process and file system.

This is just a bit of history about how the ecosystem spin up, in the end of this chapter we will try to understand how why Docker arrives on the scene, but the main goal of this book is on another layer and on another complexity, we are here to understand how manage all this things in cloud and how to design a distributed system but you know the past is important to build a solid future.

All this great features are now popular under the name of container, nothing really news and this is one of the reason about why all this things are amazing! They are under the hood from a while! Solid and tested feature put together and made usable.

Nothing to say about the importance for a system to being isolated: isolation helps us to usefully manage resources, security and monitoring, in the best way, false problems creation in specific applications, often not even related to our app.

The most common solution is virtualization: you can use an hypervisor to create virtual server in a single machine. There are different kind of virtualization:

img from fntlnz’s blog. Thanks

The main differences between them is how they abstract the layers, application, processing, network, storage and also about how the superior level interact with underlying level. For example into the Full virtualization the hardware is virtualized, into the para virtualization not.

Container is an operation-system-level virtualization. The main difference between Container and Virtual Machine is the layer: the first works on the operating system, the second on the hardware layer.

When we speak about container we are focused on the application virtualization and on a specific feature provided by the kernel called Linux Containers (LXC): what we do when we build containers is create new isolated Linux systems into the same host, it means that we can not change the operation system for example because our virtualization layer doesn’t allow us to run Linux containers out of Linux.

The reasons

Revolutions are not related to a single and specific event but come from multiple movements and changes: Container is just a piece of the story.

Cloud Computing allowed us to think about our infrastructure as an instable number of servers that can scale up and down, in a reasonable short amount of time, with less money and without the investment requested to manage a big infrastructure made of more than one datacenter across the world.

As a consequence, applications that had been in a cellar, now are on Amazon Web Service, with a load balancer and maybe different availability zone. This allowed little teams and medium companies, without datacenter and infrastructures, to think about concept like distribution, high availability, redundancy. Evolution never stop .

Once our applications are running in few virtual machines, our business will grow up so we start to scale up and down this servers to serve all our users. We experimented few benefits but also a lot of issues related, for example, to the time requested for managing this dynamism; moreover big applications are usually more expensive to scale.

Our application can only grow but the deploy can be really expensive. We discovered that the behavior of an application is not the same across all of our services and entrypoint, because few of them receive more traffic that others. So, we started to split our big applications in order to make them easy to scale and monitor. The problem was that, in order to maintain our standard, we need to find a way to keep them isolated, safe and able to communicate each others.

The Microservices Architecture arrived and companies like Netflix, Amazon, Google and others counts hundreds and hundreds of little and specific of services that together work to serve big and profitable products. Netlix is one of first companies that started sharing the way they build with more that 400 microservices, they managed feature like registration, streaming, rankins and all what the application provides. At the moment, Containers are the best solution for managing a dense and dynamic environment with a good control, security and for moving your application between servers.

Reviewers: Arianna Scarcella, Jenny Burcio

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