Complete Guide to Docker vs. VM (With Differences and Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 19, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Modern business often involves cloud infrastructure, with most companies migrating to operate online and choosing either partially or completely remote hosting. Using virtual machines (VM) and hardware like Docker is an important skill for technology professionals. Understanding how VM and Docker contribute to cloud integration can help you choose the best way to streamline operations while minimizing costs and maximizing security. In this article, we explain Docker vs. VM by defining each, listing the differences, and exploring the benefits of both systems.

What is Docker vs. VM in cloud computing?

Learning Docker vs. VM in cloud computing settings involves understanding the basics of the cloud and how it applies to business through information technology. Traditional offices relied on paper records, which eventually migrated to digital storage, then company networks where each user connects to the internal infrastructure. The company hosted this information on-site, including the hardware.

Cloud services involve remote hosting, where a third-party server location maintains your data in physical form. With universal resource locators (URLs), users can make a remote connection to the host. Cloud computing has enabled businesses to scale by using remote hosting to manage their digital presence. Within this type of computing, there are different approaches, namely virtual machines and Docker.

Read more: How to Become a Cloud Architect in 4 Steps (With Skills)

What is Docker?

Docker is a type of platform as a service (PaaS) business offering OS-level virtualization that contains software in an organized manner. It delivers this software through both paid and free hosting options. The program relies on containers to isolate libraries, programs, or configurations. Each container shares an OS kernel, a program that sits at the core of an operating system and has root control over the entire computer. This code itself is also partitioned from the remainder of the system.

Read more: What Are Containers? (With Benefits, Uses, and Comparisons)

What is a virtual machine?

A virtual machine (VM) is a type of computing service that functionally appears identical to any laptop, desktop, or server. As with those computers, it has a central processor, storage disks, and internet connection capability. While the purposes remain the same, there is no hardware or tangible representation with a virtual computer. Instead, it is a software-based computer that exists within an externally-hosted server, only as a set of code. A common example is Microsoft Azure, a platform where you can curate cloud operations.

Differences between Docker and virtual management

The differences between Docker and VM exist at a fundamental level, with each technology taking its own route to remote computing. These distinctions fall into the following categories:

Security

Security features are essential both for the technical purposes of your online presence and for legal reasons. If you handle consumer information, especially anything related to healthcare, personal identification, or finance, you have a duty of care under Canadian law. Ensuring that your remote computing infrastructure meets the demands of your company is essential to reducing risk for the business and protecting consumer data.

Virtual machines are the safer solution because there is a no-share OS structure, meaning every partition has separation within the host kernel. With virtual machinery, there is no direct resource access, and the hypervisor adds a level of protection through usage restrictions. Conversely, containers have vulnerabilities by sharing a kernel. There is a weaker separation between different components, which leaves it subject to breach. Since Docker has no namespace, a potential 'bad actor' can cause damage to anything within a cluster with access to a single kernel.

Read more: How to Become a Security Consultant in 8 Steps (Plus Skills)

Portability

A significant advantage of the Docker system is that the containers offer optimal portability. As there is no separation between the OS, a user can insert it into a different system without any start-up delays. It's an agile solution that enables remote functionality and simple yet physical transportation of information. This portability enables software developers to test programs in a range of operating systems. The developer compartmentalizes the program into Docker and uses that to test it against different OS flavours to ensure functionality.

A virtual machine lacks portability because of its design. The nature of its top-heavy separation requires more time and effort to port the machine. VM systems are significantly larger than their Docker counterparts, causing delays in functions. As a result, a virtual machine suits stationary situations. For example, if you run an app that controls the memberships to your fitness business, you can safely use a VM system as there's no reason to host it on site. Conversely, a program developer is likely to require the agility that Docker offers.

Performance

The value of a remote hosting system lies largely in its use. For example, a financial institution has drastically different requirements than a small-business inventory control system. Both virtual machines and Docker containers offer performance benefits. Determining which one can support your company's goals is the key to choosing the best performer.

Docker is a lightweight, portable, and agile system. It requires few resources while supporting compartmentalization through its containers. Provided there are no security concerns due to the business' nature, it can provide ample benefits. VM systems, conversely, are far more advanced and suit a larger scale of operations. Many companies choose to begin with Docker and advance to the permanency of virtual machines as they scale their operations.

Operating system

An operating system is the fundamental infrastructure and functionality of any computing. The support structure for a VM drastically differs from Docker containers. A virtual machine builds guest OS structures over the host operator, making it a top-heavy design. Conversely, Docker containers rely on a single host OS, balancing the weight on the bottom and streamlining the connections to the software behind partitions.

If the situation requires multiple applications to run concurrently, the Docker OS is a suitable solution. For example, if your office simultaneously runs its financial software, communication channels, and other internal systems, the container approach can streamline your connections. Conversely, if the situation relies on different OS flavours, a code you can identify with Linux, a virtual machine can support those system demands. For example, if your system supports multiple user accounts, VM separation can suit the structure.

Read more: Guide to Distributed Systems (With Definition and Examples)

Benefits of Docker

Docker offers process isolation services at the operating system level. Even considering these partitions, the program enables containers to share operating systems. The connections between its components are lightweight and enable the system to boot up efficiently. Each container requires mega or kilobytes rather than gigabytes. There is a wide range of Docker containers that come pre-built, in a similar way to a template.

When a system moves locations, the system destroys containers and recreates them upon arrival. It allows for clean operations and reduces the risk of double-storing your data. Docker uses fewer resources, has a lighter carbon footprint, and enables programmers to produce containers in a matter of seconds. Ideal for short-term operations, testing, and early-phase business, Docker is a reliable, user-friendly way to use cloud computing.

Read more: 14 Fields of Computer Science to Explore as a Career Choice

Benefits of VM

Virtual machine technology's most noteworthy benefits are its advanced security features. It has hardware-level process isolation, ensuring that there is a true separation between accounts. All virtual machines have a distinct operating system, which slows down its boot-up time from seconds to minutes but also prevents the risk of kernel-sharing data breaches. The system's infrastructure is more demanding, requiring several gigabytes of permanent computing space, but most systems have significantly more data than this demand.

While it can pose a challenge to identify a template for a virtual machine, that uniqueness enables programmers to create systems that match the exact requirements of a client. It takes time to plan and install an entire virtual machine, yet the result is a permanent installation that enables the business to function remotely without losing security. Many VM programs consider the designs and processes used by Docker structures and emulate that in the permanent infrastructure. For established companies with significant resources and high demands for security, VM software offers ample advantages.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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