Containers Vs VMs: Glance at ‘Security’ Pros and Cons

By Veritis

Containers Vs VMs

Containers have gained popularity for their ability to offer agility, scalability and portability to applications.

Because of this reason, they are often termed as an alternative to traditional Virtual Machines (VM)!

Containers have proven to significantly improve the application development speed, ensure effective resource utilization and production efficiency.

There are many advantages that Containers show over VMs such as:

  • Convenient app packaging and less release overhead
  • Short lifetimes that minimize the risks of outdated packages
  • Less shift from original state as the workloads run on short timeframes and can be rebuilt and re-pushed easily

Container workloads make a lot of difference over VMs in many ways. However, one most common discussion that arises when comparing both i.e. the ‘Security’ aspect.

Containers Vs Virtual Machines

Security in VM Perspective

Segmentation boundary is the strong security aspect of a VM environment.

The boundary segment in a traditional virtualization environment lies between different ‘virtual hosts’, and between ‘VMs and hypervisor’. Thus, traditional VMs are preferred at areas that require strong segmentation boundaries, for example a multi-tenant cloud.

This level of segmentation boundary serves as a great advantage if there are any immediate changes to be made to the underlying network configuration, which the teams can address through micro-segmentation at the network layer.

It also means a lot in migrating a physical device migration to a virtual environment.

However, on the negative side, there are some potential downsides of this security aspect in traditional VMs. Generation of undesired images on a larger scale and outdated images in a serialized form on a disk are some serious challenges that might arise with traditional VMs.

This is where orchestration plays a crucial role!

Virtualizing or migrating physical devices to the hypervisor level will have a more security cover. But doing so in an improper manner can make these systems problematic, causing them to popup at unnecessary instances.

Security in Containers Perspective

Security in Containers

Containers are often thought about as something that ensures security boundaries like VMs. They may not guarantee in doing so. To the fact, containerization should be viewed as an advanced application packaging and delivery mechanism. Because of these misconceptions, containers are often considered ‘less secure’ for deployment.

Security in the traditional VM or an OS virtualization context lies under the control of hypervisor below the level of guest OS.  Whereas, containers run on the same OS instance as the container engine. The unique aspect is different containers running on the same instance interact neither among themselves nor with the container engine.

Containers make use of OS features to create logical environments, which are controllable and require limited resource utilization.

While instances stay longer in a traditional VM environment, container instances can be torn down and rebuilt whenever for subsequent redeployments. This level of porous segmentation boundary in containers comes as a security advantage. This adds value to the broader microservices-based deployment model.

Traditional applications are not properly isolated from each other within a VM, which can give scope for a malicious program to penetrate into and control others. Whereas, containers run isolated from each other, with each of them possessing their own level of security remaining unharmed.

Outdated packages remain to be one of the most common vulnerabilities to applications running in VM.

Whereas in a container environment, microservices and CI/CD pipelines make releases more frequent and shorten workloads’ lifespan, thus minimizing the vulnerability through outdated packages. Moreover, container engine’s host OS is strong and gets updated automatically.

Overall, Containers enjoy the ‘security advantage’ because of their association with the CI/CD pipelines that allow regular releases and keep them updated all the time with regular patch updates.

In contrast, workloads on VMs will need administrators to manipulate them frequently to keep applications and OS updated, which can cause a drift in the original state of applications lifecycle.

Now, it’s time to choose what your environment demands!

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