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How do vSphere integrated containers differ from other containers?

Containers have gained a lot of momentum in the past year and now VMware has thrown its hat in with vSphere integrated containers.

Over the past year, it would be hard to argue there was a hotter new technology than containers. Docker was the first company to have a real push with containers but now more companies are starting to deploy their own container technology. VMware debuted vSphere integrated containers at VMworld 2015 in hopes of competing in the container craze.

What are vSphere integrated containers and how do they differ from Linux containers or VMs?

In the simplest sense, VMware vSphere Integrated Containers (VIC) establish an environment where Containers are deployed and managed within lightweight virtual machines. This new type of VM environment provides a greater level of hardware isolation, yet supports the flexibility and scalability that make containers so attractive for developers and enterprise applications.

VIC starts with the virtual container host (VCH). In effect, the VCH is a complete virtual environment established to support containers within. Each VCH receives hardware resources, which can be managed like other conventional VMs, and there can be multiple VCHs in the environment. The VCH also provides access to the Docker API for developers to use. A lightweight operating system (OS) -- called Project Photon -- within the VCH acts as the parent OS. Therefore, it's not necessary for businesses to install a separate OS before loading containers into the VCH, nor do administrators need to worry about patching or updating an OS.

When a container is created, it essentially runs within its own small VM created within the VCH. The new container uses a thin copy of the Project Photon OS kernel, which can run without duplicating common OS elements -- removing the resource duplication that occurs in traditional, full-sized VMs. Even Docker components run in the VCH rather than the individual containers, ensuring that each container instance is as small as possible. VMware calls this "just enough VM" to support a container.

VIC is managed through the existing vSphere Web Client using a new plug-in that enables administrators to create, monitor and manage VCHs. Administrators can see how containers use resources, the ports being used, which base image is used and so on. VIC maps Linux container constructs (such as compute, storage and network components) to vSphere, allowing conventional VMs and containers to effectively work side-by-side. Even the container actions are mapped to vSphere commands. For example, stopping a VIC container will power off that VM, while removing a VIC container will delete that corresponding container VM.

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