Software is anything but simple. Even seemingly basic applications might have a rat’s nest of dependencies, with scores of packages, libraries, and other software components required for them to run. When you try to run multiple applications in the same operating system environment, you might well find that some of these components don’t get along. And when you try to keep those software stacks up-to-date, or change them to keep up with business needs, you bring in all kinds of maintenance headaches.

For many years now, the leading way to isolate and organize applications and their dependencies has been to place each application in its own virtual machine. Virtual machines make it possible to run multiple applications on the same physical hardware while keeping conflicts among software components and competition for hardware resources to a minimum. But virtual machines are bulky—typically gigabytes in size. They don’t really solve problems like portability, software updates, or continuous integration and continuous delivery.

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