Emil Lerch

Husband, Father, Technologist, Cloud Architect

Consider a single container per virtual machine in production

Containers are a great unit of deployment. They’re a great way to isolate code, reduce attack areas, and, well, contain a service. When it comes to deployment in production, operational attributes of containers must be considered.

Container technology can enable significant density (described in terms of containers per vm) while retaining isolation between services. However, is this something we want to take advantage of operationally? Two significant issues with pushing for >1 container per vm come to mind.

First, for security-sensitive workloads, container technology provides a lesser security model than virtual machines on a hypervisor. A shared kernel forces us to trust user mode container orchestration tools (e.g. Docker, the daemon of which still runs as root) and kernel level constructs (e.g. cgroups and namespaces). Regardless of your feelings of the maturity level of this code, the fact of the matter is that there is simply a larger attack surface.

For this reason, only containers that implicitly trust each other can feel free to share a virtual machine in production. However, should they? The second consideration here is performance. For years we’ve been moving as an industry to more granular, single purpose virtual machines. A mail server, a web server with a single app or service, a database server, etc. Does the logic here really change with the introduction of containers? I believe the same reasons that push us toward single purpose virtual machines still hold true for containers. It becomes exponentially more difficult to deploy and manage virtual machines that contain mixed workloads. In addition, you can no longer tailor the characteristics (network, disk, ram, cpu) of the virtual machine to the workload, but need to pick general configurations.

comments powered by Disqus