Container vs Virtual Machine

Container vs Virtual Machine

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Updated on Jun 12, 2023 17:51 IST

This article covers the difference between container and Virtual machine.It also covers different applications of Container and virtual machine.


The primary difference between containers and virtual machines is that a virtual machine virtualizes an entire machine down to the hardware layers, while containers provide a way to virtualize an operating system, allowing multiple containers to run on a single host operating system. In This article, we intend to explore the difference between Container and a virtual machine.

Table of Contents

Difference between Container and Virtual Machine

Category Container Virtual Machine
Definition A lightweight, portable software package containing an application and its dependencies.  Full physical computer emulation, including hardware and operating system
Isolation Use OS-level virtualization to isolate applications from each other and from the host system. Create separate operating system environments using hardware-level virtualization
Resource usage Minimize resource usage and improve performance by sharing kernel and host operating system resources.  It requires its own operating system and resources, resulting in high resource utilization and poor performance.
Startup time Start quickly, usually in seconds.  Usually starts in minutes
Deployment Easy to deploy and manage using container orchestration tools like Docker Swarm and Kubernetes  Requires more effort to deploy and manage using virtualization management tools like VMware and VirtualBox
Portability Highly portable and can run on any system with a compatible container runtime Less portable and can only run on systems with compatible virtualization software

Also check: A Comprehensive Comparison of Containerization and Virtualization

Must explore: Free DevOps Courses Online

What is a Container?

Containers share the underlying operating system kernel with the host, which makes them more lightweight and faster to start up than virtual machines. Because they don’t need to include an entire guest operating system, they are typically smaller in size and can run more efficiently on a given system. However, containers are less isolated than virtual machines, meaning that they may be more vulnerable to certain types of security threats. Docker is the most famous container platform

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Applications of Container

1. Deployment

Containers provide a standardized, transferable mechanism for assembling and deploying software to a diverse array of environments. Leveraging containers enables the automation of development and testing workflows, thereby expediting software production and enhancing efficiency. 

2. Resolve compatibility issues

Older applications that are incompatible with current operating systems and hardware can be run using containers. 

3. Scaling

Containers are also useful for deploying and scaling web applications to handle large volumes of traffic and workloads. Through containers, IT professionals can manage and provision cloud infrastructure for more resource-efficient and flexible usage. Containers can be easily deployed and managed in cloud environments such as AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud Platform.

4. Testing

Containers promote the acceleration of software delivery through the facilitation of faster and more efficient testing and deployment. 

5. Microservices

Containers are ideal for deploying microservices, which are small, independent, and modular components that make up a larger application. Each microservice can be packaged as a container, making it easy to deploy, scale, and manage.

6. Data science and machine learning

Containers provide solutions for environments in the domains of data science and machine learning. By encapsulating your application and dependencies into self-contained vessels, you can effortlessly share and distribute them across disparate systems, thereby guaranteeing uniform outputs.

Check: Docker Online Courses & Certifications

Explore: Kubernetes Online Courses & Certifications

What is a Virtual Machine?

Virtual machines require an entire guest operating system to be installed on top of a hypervisor, which emulates the underlying hardware. This means that virtual machines can be slower to start up and consume more system resources than containers. They are also typically larger and take longer to back up than containers. However, virtual machines offer a high degree of isolation between different applications and operating systems running on the same physical host.

Applications of Virtual Machine

1. Software testing

Beneficial for software testing and development as it enables developers to create isolated testing environments for software development and QA, making testing and troubleshooting more manageable.

2. Compatibility

Legacy application hosting can also be made possible through virtualization technology, as it allows for the hosting of older applications that may not be compatible with newer hardware or operating systems. 

3. Cloud computing

Moreover, virtual machines can be utilized to create virtual data centers and cloud computing environments, which enable efficient resource management and scalability.

3.  Disaster recovery

Virtual machines are also useful for disaster recovery and business continuity purposes as they facilitate the creation of backup and disaster recovery solutions, ensuring that critical systems and data are always available. 

4. Security

virtual machines provide a high degree of isolation and security between different applications and services running on the same physical host.

Overall, virtual machines are an incredibly versatile tool with various applications, ranging from consolidating servers to testing and development and even providing cloud computing services.


Virtual machines offer strong isolation but are typically slower and require more resources than containers, while containers are more lightweight and efficient, but provide less isolation. Which one to choose depends on the specific requirements and limitations of your project.

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When should I use virtual machines?

Virtual machines are useful when full isolation, running different operating systems, or legacy application support is required. They are commonly used for running multiple instances of different operating systems on a single physical machine, hosting legacy applications, or creating isolated development and testing environments.

When should I use containers?

Containers are suitable for scenarios where lightweight, scalable, and portable application deployment is desired. They are commonly used in microservices architectures, DevOps workflows, and cloud-native applications. Containers provide flexibility, fast deployment, and efficient resource utilization.

Can I run containers inside virtual machines?

Yes, it is possible to run containers inside virtual machines. This approach combines the benefits of both technologies, providing additional isolation and security by running containers within a virtualized environment.

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