Docker vs Virtual Machine
Updated on 28th Sep, 20 300 Views

Both Docker and virtual machines play an important role today in helping drive a lot of businesses to success. A lot of companies have been seen to invest billions of dollars into finding the right containerization tool and virtual machine to make use for their benefit. And, this makes it important to understand what goes on in the comparison between VM vs Docker

On this Docker vs Virtual Machine blog, we will be taking a look at the following aspects:

Also, make sure to check out the Docker vs Virtual Machine video on our YouTube channel:


What is Docker?

The majority of companies today have a diverse portfolio of cloud-based infrastructures, applications, and even local networks that can cause delays and ruptures in the smooth flowing data pipelines in the organization.

Docker can easily solve all of these problems as it is a container platform that has the ability to bring about a secure and autonomous supply chain into the daily-used applications and microservices. This can be done across a variety of operating systems, be it Windows, Linux, or any other mainframe machines.

As a product of virtualization technology, Docker makes it very easy to create, manage, and deploy applications by making use of containers. What are the containers? Containers are the pieces of software that are extremely lightweight, stand-alone, and have all of the libraries and other built-in files needed to execute an application.

No matter which machine the application runs on, it runs as if it is a constant isolated platform irrespective of any dependencies to the local operating system. One important thing about containers is that they are completely isolated, thereby providing maximum security features and championing overall data security even with the presence of multiple containers running side-by-side on the host machine.

The software development life cycle for applications is the same throughout all of the containers, so the applications can run in the same way irrespective of the containers. This provides a lot of advantages in terms of software development and efficient functionality.

Following are some of the noteworthy benefits of using containers:

  • Small code to achieve big results in terms of workloads
  • Reduction in the complexity of security updates
  • Huge reduction in the size of OS snapshots
  • Overall drastic reduction in IT resources

Also read: Docker Tutorial for Beginners

Next up on this VM vs Docker blog, let us check out what Virtual Machines are.


What are Virtual Machines?

Have you installed Ubuntu, or any other flavor of Linux, while you’re making use of Windows? Or perhaps, have you tried even Windows on a Mac? If so, you have already used virtual machines!

Virtual machines came out to be a popular solution to a problem that existed for a long time. Consider this, if you are running a piece of software that you do not completely trust or running anything on an unprotected network, there are chances of threats and possibilities of malignant activities on your machine, which could disrupt the organization and let entities get unauthorized access to data that could very well be confidential.

With virtual machines, this issue is solved as the software that runs inside a virtual machine is isolated completely from the rest of the system, and this software or flaws in the network cannot interfere or tamper with the host machine. This is hugely advantageous as a sandbox as well! Be it in the testing of a virus-infected application or even in the general testing of any operating system, virtual machines make the process easier.

In simple terms, a virtual machine is a snapshot of an operating system that runs as an application over your host operating system. It can be considered as a different operating system inside the host OS as it is a stand-alone entity in terms of functioning and operations.

There are four important files that make up a virtual machine:

  • NVRAM settings file
  • Log files
  • The virtual disk snapshot file
  • Configuration files

Certification in Cloud & Devops

Server virtualization:

Server virtualization is a term that is gaining momentum rapidly since the last decade. But what is it? It is a setting wherein a single physical server is divided into many individual (unique) servers so that they can operate independently. Also, for each of these machines, virtual hardware is allocated along the lines of CPU, memory, storage disks, and network I/O channels.

Even though it seems completely advantageous to use virtual machines, sometimes it is known for its inability to provide a stable environment or consistent performance due to the presence of a large number of entities, dependencies, and even libraries.


Docker vs VM

The following section aims to provide you with the difference between  Docker and VM:


Docker vs VM: Architecture

Each of the virtual machines that run inside a host operating system has its own guest operating systems, which are irrespective of the host.

With Docker, each container has access to a single physical server that hosts the operating system and eventually shares this OS with the other containers. This ensures that the containers are extremely lightweight and efficient in terms of boot time as well.

Virtual machines will require multiple (different) kernels to run applications across servers. But, with Docker, a single OS kernel is effectively used to run multiple applications across all of the containers.

Next up you have to understand about resource usage whenever the difference between VM and Docker is considered.


Docker vs VM: Resource Usage

It is quite clear that virtual machines are way more resource-intensive than Docker containers on all fronts. This is because of the way Docker is built and how virtual machines need to load entire operating systems to even start working.

With virtual machines, resources such as memory, network, I/O channels, and CPU are not allocated permanently and are static in nature. In the case of containers, resources are provided based on the traffic or the load to help maintain high efficiency and dynamism overall.

If the concern lies in terms of the duplication of containers, then note that it is very simple as there is no requirement to install individual operating systems in each container or spend time and effort to individually tune and tweak the containers to get the best performance possible.


Docker vs VM: Data Security

Virtual machines have a huge edge over the Docker container system with respect to data security as VMs do not share operating systems that make them very strong in terms of being isolated to threats. Containers, on the other hand, have a shared host kernel that makes them a bit susceptible to vulnerabilities.

If there is an attacker who has gained access to one container in a Docker cluster, then he/she has access to the complete cluster. This is because of the architecture of Docker that makes the resources to be shared across without any namespaces. Virtual machines will never provide direct access to resources as there is a hypervisor that controls the usage of the resources.


Docker vs VM: Scalability

Scaling a Docker container architecture is exponentially simpler than virtual machines as Docker is purpose-built for rapid expansion across domains. With virtual machines, operating systems are isolated and cannot be easily ported onto different platforms unless hours and hours are spent dealing with the compatibility issues that arise while doing so.

Adding on to the last point, the provision of root access to applications with all of the Docker containers is not recommended as the containers share a common kernel. However, since they are extremely lightweight, they provide numerous advantages that overlook this downside.

Also Read: Docker Interview Questions


Difference between Docker and VM

Comparison FactorDockerVirtual Machine
OS ArchitectureSupports the usage of one OS in the host and shares it among containers to run over a single kernelCan have any OS installed based on the application irrespective of the host OS
SecurityMore susceptible to attack as the entire container technology shares the host kernelThe presence of stand-alone kernels makes applications to require more privileges and security access to run
PerformanceVery light-weight and not resource-intensive in terms of CPU, memory, or I/OResource-intensive and need to preload an entire OS architecture to function
ScalabilityProvides numerous technical advantages due to the technology and its architecture for scalabilityCannot be scaled easily as duplicate operating systems need to be installed in every machine in the system
Operational EngineUses the execution engine of containers to execute its tasks and functions wellUses a hypervisor to govern the running and execution of tasks
InterferenceDocker architecture is more prone to adversities as there is no isolation in the systemVMs have the least possible interference due to the isolated nature of their architecture when functioning
Boot-up TimeContainers boot up very quickly as they are not resource-heavy, and they function on the distributed architectureVirtual machines take a few minutes to boot as they have to load the image of an entire operating system to function    
DeploymentEasy to deploy due to the presence of only a single containerized image across all platformsHave separate instances of working that causes lengthy deployment both in time and procedure
Ease of LearningComplex to learn due to the presence of lots of Docker-managed mechanisms and toolsEasy to learn and simple to get started with


Can there be a solid winner in this comparison between Docker and virtual machines? What do you think? Considering all of the above-mentioned points, I am sure you have the clarity that is needed to understand the differences that lie in between these two concepts.

To further add to this, it is quite well known that virtual machines are still the #1 choice for any production environment. On the other hand, Docker is purpose-built to provide containers that are small, isolated, highly compatible, working well with high performance-intensive tasks, and responding to changes quickly.

It would not be fair to pick a winner as Docker and virtual machines are meant for different purposes. In fact, they are two tools that are complementary to each other in terms of usage and the easing of the workload. Virtual machines are built for static applications that do not change rapidly over time, while Docker is built to provide more flexibility for applications that require frequent changes and updates.

Has Docker revolutionized the world of virtual computing? Or is it on a steady path to completely replacing how the world looks at virtual machines? Do head to the comments section, and let us know about your thoughts on the same!

If you are looking to become an expert in Docker and earn a course certificate in the same, check out the latest Docker course certification offering from Intellipaat’s Docker Certification Training. You can thoroughly master all of the concepts in Data Science and implement them as well.

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