Skip to Content
App Development
6 minutes read

Virtualization Vs. Containerization: What’s the Difference?

By Jose Gomez
virtualization vs. containerization
By Jose Gomez
App Development
6 minutes read

Virtualization and containerization platforms enable organizations to pursue greater scalability and cost savings. As a result, more organizations are turning to containers and virtual machines to maximize their physical hardware resources. 

However, many businesses struggle to determine whether they should run containers or virtual machines on their underlying hardware. Determining the best approach depends on the IT needs of your organization. 

This post will examine the differences between containerization vs. virtualization. While these two approaches are somewhat similar, they are also very different. 

Virtual Machines Vs. Containers: Which Can Run Multiple Operating Systems?

Virtualization enables multiple operating systems to be run on a single physical server or physical computer. However, even though containers are a virtualization technology, they can’t run multiple operating systems. 

Since container technology falls under the umbrella of virtualization, many people assume virtual machines and containers are the same. However, they are not. There are some important differences between virtualization and containerization to unpack. 

What Is Virtualization?

Virtualization enables an organization to split a physical machine into multiple isolated virtual machines (VMs). Each virtual machine acts as its entity. 

A virtual machine has its dedicated computing resources, and it can run an operating system independent of the underlying hardware.

By utilizing multiple virtual machines, organizations can fully utilize their hardware resources. Virtualization is accomplished through the use of a hypervisor or virtual machine monitor. 

The hypervisor enables each virtual machine to have its own dedicated operating system environment isolated from every other virtual machine instance. So even though multiple virtual machines share the same hardware, they never interact with one another and are completely isolated. 

What Is Containerization? 

Containerization is a lightweight form of virtualization. Containerization encapsulates applications in their separate operating environments.

While this sounds like virtualization, each container shares the same host operating system. As a result, you don’t have to install and maintain multiple operating systems since multiple containers run on one operating system. 

An easy way to picture containerization is to think about a computer with multiple user profiles. Each profile represents a container. They are separate profiles but use the same operating system and computing resources. 

In theory, you could utilize virtualization and containerization together. For example, a single physical server could be split into several virtual servers that each use an operating system in which you deploy multiple containers. 

Comparing Virtualization and Containerization

Since containerization is a form of virtualization, these two approaches share many similarities. Therefore, it is helpful to compare their attributes in more detail. When comparing containerization and virtualization, the most important attributes to review include the following:

  • Isolation 
  • Operating system
  • Deployment 
  • Storage 
  • Load Balancing 


Virtual machines are completely isolated from one another and the host operating system, while containers are also isolated from one another; they are not isolated from the operating system.

Isolation only becomes a significant issue in the event of a security breach. For example, if the host OS kernel is breached, every container that shares that operating system is now at risk. 

In a virtual environment, every virtual machine is completely isolated, so if there is a breach of the host hardware or operating system, it won’t affect the security of the individual virtual machine. 

Operating System 

Virtualization can support more than one complete operating system and kernel, while containerization runs all containers in user mode on one operating system.  

All containers have to be designed to run on the same operating system. Therefore, if other operating systems are required, you will have to provision another host OS to match the needs of each different operating system. 

However, virtualization requires more computing resources since it can support several complete operating systems. As a result, containerization is more lightweight than virtualization but more limited in its capabilities. 


Virtual machines are deployed via a hypervisor, while containers use Docker or an orchestrator like Kubernetes

Containers can be deployed faster than virtual machines. As a result, containers are the perfect option for tasks with a short life cycle. Containers are often used in microservices architectures due to this capability. 


Virtualization uses a virtual hard disk for each virtual machine instance, while containers use local disks for local node storage.

Both containerization and virtualization use a server message block (SMB) when storage is shared across servers or nodes. 

The primary difference between storage approaches is that VMs get a dedicated virtual hard disk, where containers share the local hard disk space of the hardware. 

Load Balancing 

Load balancing for containers is managed by an orchestrator, whereas virtual machines rely on failover clusters of servers

Since virtual machines are fully isolated, they can be run on any physical server in a connected cluster should resource demand exceed availability. 

Containers rely on the orchestrator to manage container availability during load changes. 

How to Choose Between Containerization and Virtualization? 

Which approach is right for your business? That depends on its IT needs and infrastructure. Many organizations utilize containers within virtual machines, so you don’t necessarily need to choose between these options since they can complement each other.

However, there is a simple rule of thumb that you can follow to make the decision process simpler. If your IT needs require running multiple operating systems, then virtualization will better suit your needs than containerization. 

On the other hand, if you need to isolate applications that all run on the same OS, containerization is likely the better choice for your needs. If your developers are using microservices, containerization is the best choice. 

Final Thoughts 

It can be hard to figure out whether virtualization or containerization is the right choice for your business when there are so many similarities between them. We understand that it can be difficult to sift through the technical details.

If you need help figuring out which approach is best for your business, reach out to an experienced IT development partner like Koombea.

Girl With Glasses

Want to Build an App?

Request a free app consultation with one of our experts

Contact Us