Over time and with advancements in technology, applications have become increasingly complex. In the past, we depended on virtual machines, which necessitated their own operating systems, resulting in unwieldy applications. However, container technology has simplified the management of applications, even when dealing with a multitude of them simultaneously. Containers isolate each application from the others, enabling them to run independently on any platform.

Containers package applications along with their dependencies and libraries into a unified package, making them easier to handle and modify without affecting the functionality of other applications or the system. Despite this convenience, managing a large number of containers simultaneously demands a robust platform, and this is where Docker steps in.

Wayback in 2013, Docker emerged as an open-source project and revolutionised the entire application development process. It has gained increasing popularity among developers, leading to more diverse roles in the market. To enhance job prospects, individuals can pursue Docker certifications. However, in certain cases, developers may find Docker less suitable for their specific work scenarios, prompting them to seek alternatives to Docker.

An Overview of Docker

Docker simplifies the creation, deployment, and execution of applications, offering speed and convenience. It eliminates the need to rely on the underlying infrastructure to run your applications by employing containerisation—a method of bundling applications with their necessary dependencies. These containerised applications can be effortlessly moved across platforms and deployed without requiring meticulous system specification checks, provided that the Docker platform is in place to manage them.

Docker stands out as a preferable choice compared to virtual machines due to its utilisation of a shared OS kernel for all applications, which significantly enhances the efficiency of running multiple applications. This approach results in lightweight applications that exhibit superior performance.

But how does Docker efficiently manage these containers? Docker excels at optimising system resources to run containers without overtaxing them. If you’re interested in exploring the synergy between Docker and DevOps, you can delve into online DevOps courses to understand how Docker fits into the DevOps framework and even integrate it into your DevOps processes.

Alternatives to Docker

Despite its numerous features and advantages, some developers express dissatisfaction with Docker, leading them to seek alternative solutions for efficiently managing concurrent containers. Several compelling reasons divert developers from using Docker:

  1. Steep Learning Curve: Docker requires a level of technical expertise that can be challenging to acquire. Some administrative tasks, such as monitoring application performance, are best handled by administrators. To gain deeper insights into your application’s performance, you may need to integrate third-party tools.
  2. Complex Data Storage: Docker lacks straightforward data storage capabilities, often necessitating the storage of data outside the container. This practice can raise concerns about data security, so careful consideration is required when moving data to a secure location.
  3. Orchestration Complexity: Orchestrating containers demands technical proficiency in configuring and managing orchestration tools like Docker Swarm and Kubernetes. These tools require a deep understanding to be effectively utilized.
  4. Enhanced Security Requirements: Docker often mandates additional security layers compared to traditional technology stacks, which can be challenging for developers who may be unfamiliar with the necessary tools and processes.

As developers encounter these challenges and complexities, the option to employ additional third-party tools for managing these aspects can lead to increased costs associated with using Docker. If you find yourself struggling to identify a suitable alternative to Docker, consider exploring the following list of options.

1. Kubernetes


Kubernetes doesn’t directly replace Docker on a one-to-one basis; rather, it serves as a robust container orchestration solution, often complementing Docker or other container runtimes. It’s important to note that Kubernetes possesses its own container runtime known as Kubelet, which interfaces with containers to ensure their proper operation. This introduces an additional layer of abstraction and a shift in complexity, which may not be ideal for smaller projects but proves invaluable for large-scale deployments.

One notable advantage to consider is autoscaling. Kubernetes can automatically adjust the number of running containers based on factors like CPU utilisation or other specified metrics. This capability far surpasses Docker’s capabilities and is particularly advantageous for applications that experience varying workloads. Kubernetes also excels in self-healing, automatically replacing or rescheduling containers that fail health checks. This goes beyond merely restarting a failed container; it’s about guaranteeing the high availability of your services.

Kubernetes isn’t limited to stateless applications; it offers robust support for stateful applications through features like StatefulSets. This enables more complex deployments, such as databases, to maintain their state even when transitioning between nodes. Another valuable feature is configurable rollout and rollback, which provides precise control over version deployment and allows for quick reversion in case of issues. While Kubernetes may have a steep learning curve, its extensive set of features designed for scalability, availability, and flexibility positions it as a formidable choice for those seeking to overcome Docker’s limitations.

2. Containerd


Don’t underestimate the capabilities of containerd, as it boasts its unique set of advantages. Firstly, it’s purpose-built to seamlessly integrate with Kubernetes, making it a perfect companion for any Kubernetes-centric setup. Moreover, containerd fully embraces the Container Runtime Interface (CRI), ensuring a strong synergy with Kubernetes. If Kubernetes plays a significant role in your operations, containerd may prove to be an ideal choice.

Secondly, containerd differs from your typical stand-alone runtime in that it’s designed to be a modular component within a broader system. This modular approach allows you to incorporate it into a comprehensive platform and invoke its specific functionalities as required. It’s not a one-size-fits-all tool but rather a versatile building block that plays well with others. Concerning standardisation, containerd has attained ‘graduated’ status within the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), affirming its stability and garnering trust from the community.

Now, let’s delve into the technical details. The minimum system requirements are surprisingly modest. Most operations are managed through runc or OS-specific libraries, and Linux users can comfortably rely on a kernel version as low as 4.x. However, do exercise caution with overlay filesystems and snapshot features, as they may necessitate specific kernel versions. Additionally, if you’re exploring Linux checkpoint and restore features, make sure to incorporate criu into your stack.

In summary, containerd isn’t so much a replacement for Docker as it is a specialised tool tailored for those who have precise requirements in mind. While it may not be the go-to choice for every use case, it certainly deserves recognition in this discussion.

3. Podman


Podman distinguishes itself through its rootless container capability, permitting container execution without the need for root permissions. This constitutes a substantial security advantage. In the event of a container breakout, the intruder won’t gain root access to your system. Furthermore, Podman operates without the reliance on a daemon, a departure from Docker. This empowers you to run Podman as a non-privileged user, enhancing isolation and eliminating a potential single point of failure.

Another area where Podman excels is its compatibility with Docker. You can seamlessly employ Docker Compose and even Docker CLI commands, facilitating a smooth transition. However, the real intrigue lies in Podman’s pods feature. Unlike Docker, which organizes containers via services, Podman can assemble containers into pods. These pods share the same network IP, port allocation, and storage, effectively emulating a Kubernetes-like environment. This proves especially beneficial for testing before deploying your containers into a Kubernetes cluster.

odman empowers you to directly manage cgroup constraints, providing superior control over resource allocation and limits. This feature is invaluable for those concentrating on system optimisation. Additionally, Podman supports automated container updates and integrates seamlessly with systemd, enabling you to govern containers and pods as systemd services. This simplifies the maintenance and operation of long-running services.

4. OpenVZ


OpenVZ stands as a formidable candidate in the realm of resource efficiency. Diverging from other container solutions, OpenVZ places a significant emphasis on shared resources, resulting in a remarkable container-to-host density. This becomes especially valuable when you need to operate multiple isolated containers without the overhead of individual operating system kernels for each. The capacity to run an increased number of containers on a single host can yield substantial cost savings, particularly in extensive deployments.

In terms of migration and data backup, OpenVZ delivers live migration capabilities. This means you can seamlessly transfer a running container from one physical server to another with minimal to no downtime. Such a feature proves exceptional for high-availability configurations and is typically associated with more complex, VM-based systems. Additionally, OpenVZ supports PLOOP (Persistent Loop device), facilitating expedited snapshot functions and simplified backup processes, streamlining data integrity maintenance.

Moreover, OpenVZ is renowned for its adaptable resource management. It employs a two-level disk quota system to oversee both the container and individual users within that container. This level of granular control may not be as prevalent in alternative containerization solutions. It’s important to note, however, that OpenVZ predominantly aligns with Linux, and it does not extend support to other operating system types within its containers. While this limitation may pose challenges for some, in a Linux-centric environment, OpenVZ offers an enticing combination of efficiency, robust resource management, and heightened availability.

5. Firecracker


Firecracker stands apart from the ordinary landscape of container run–times, resembling more of a performance-oriented and security-focused powerhouse. One of its remarkable attributes is the introduction of microVMs—these are minuscule, swiftly booting virtual machines that strike a harmonious balance between container flexibility and hardware-level security.

The microVMs form the foundation for Firecracker’s unique application: server–less computing, akin to AWS Lambda and AWS Fargate. The microVM architecture prunes away superfluous components, affording you a streamlined and more efficient means of executing your containerized applications.

To put things into perspective, you can expect startup times as brisk as 125 milliseconds and a memory overhead that scarcely breaches 5 megabytes per microVM. Consequently, you can operate a multitude of these microVMs on a single machine with ease.

Security takes center stage within the realm of Firecracker. It initiates by leveraging Linux Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) for virtualization. However, it doesn’t stop at that. Firecracker undertakes an extra layer of vigilance by eliminating non-essential functionalities from each microVM, thus minimizing the potential attack surface. Even in the event of a breach into one microVM, overcoming the “jailer”—an independent program that adds an additional stratum of user-space security—proves to be an arduous challenge.

Now, if you’re contemplating experimenting with Firecracker, you’ll find that it’s not a solitary entity; it comes alongside an array of complementary technologies. It seamlessly integrates with container runtimes like Containerd through “firecracker-containerd” and collaborates with platforms such as Kata Containers and Weave FireKube.

Additionally, for those inclined towards precise control. Firecracker offers a RESTful API that enables fine-tuning of performance parameters, including the management of network and storage resources through rate limiting. While it may not fit the mold of your everyday Docker alternative, if your primary focus lies in the domain of serverless computing or you prioritise robust isolation, Firecracker could very well be the solution you’re in search of.


The 5 Best Docker Alternatives