Before the concept of containerization became a thing, software enterprises had to develop code in one computing environment. However, the process of transferring the apps they developed to a new environment was constantly plagued with bugs and errors.
Containerization technology appeared on the scene and changed all that. It allowed developers to bundle the application code with all related libraries, configuration files, and dependencies.
As a result, you can effectively build, manage, and deploy applications across various environments without any issues.
With the help of container orchestration and management tools like Docker and OpenShift, companies can easily and seamlessly scale their apps. You can also create a more agile, swift, and secure code development process.
OpenShift and Docker are two of the most popular container orchestration tools in the market today. Each one has its own advantages that make it a great choice depending on your particular needs and priorities.
So how do you decide whether to go with OpenShift or Docker?
In this article, I’m going to compare both container platforms and examine their core differences and selling points.
OpenShift is an enterprise-level Kubernetes container orchestration platform provided by the open-source software company, Red Hat. It enables you to build, test, and deploy code on the cloud.
The platform offers everything a full-scale organization may require to containerize applications. This includes support for multiple programming languages such as Python, Java, Go, Perl, Node.js, PHP, and Ruby.
OpenShift is compatible with container workloads that are built on different infrastructures. It provides built-in monitoring, constant security, third-party integration, centralized policy management, and a consistent experience across all infrastructures.
This containerization tool simplifies applications’ build and testing workflow so that developers won’t have to constantly switch back and forth between virtual and physical servers.
You can deploy applications in an Integrated Development Environment (IDE), and use Kubernetes to accurately manage them. With OpenShift’s self-service provisioning, your development teams can collaborate better to make ideas a reality.
Also, you can standardize environments across your app development cycle and automate recurring operational tasks with OpenShift. This will help reduce maintenance costs and increase the efficiency and productivity of existing workflows.
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Although containerization has been around for more than a decade, it didn’t become a trend until Docker emerged in 2013. The technology became a massive success and paved the way for the new-age containers of today.
Docker has made a name for itself as an open source platform for creating, managing, deploying, and running applications. The program allows you to package and deploy applications easily on any given platform by separating the application from the environment.
This means that you can develop multiple applications that run the same way across all your infrastructures from design to testing, staging, and production. So irrespective of where your pipeline workflow is housed—whether locally or in the cloud—you’re good to go.
The container orchestration tool can help streamline your application development workflow to ensure the speedy delivery of your projects. Docker’s portable and lightweight program makes scaling applications and managing workloads a breeze.
Docker supports continuous integration and continuous delivery workflows so developers can contribute and integrate code into a repository and run it swiftly.
The platform also comes with automated solutions that can handle mundane tasks on your behalf throughout the production cycle. This helps cut down on the resources required to build and deliver applications.
Docker is powered by the Go programming language and it leverages various Linux kernel features to deliver its services.
This is one of the most important points to consider when choosing a container orchestration tool. So how does either platform perform on this front?
When it comes to installation, OpenShift has limited options. It can only be installed on the following distributions:
- Red Hat CoreOS and alternatively Red Hat Enterprise Linux for computer nodes on OpenShift 4 version.
- RHEL or CentOS for the open source version (OKD).
- Red Hat Atomic or Red Hat Enterprise Linux for OpenShift 3.
Depending on which version of OpenShift you choose, installation can be an easy or complicated affair. OpenShift 3 can be a bit complex, slow, and difficult to troubleshoot.
On the other hand, OpenShift 4 has a more flexible, simple, and easy-to-use installer. You can also perform bare-metal installations, although you’ll have to do a lot of manual configuration.
Additionally, it requires a strong internet connection to start and complete installation.
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There are two installation options offered by Docker.
The first is Docker Desktop, an application for Mac and Windows systems. All you have to do is download and install the appropriate version of the software on your device.
Then follow the onboarding guide to set up and start your containerization journey within minutes. Easy peasy.
Alternatively, you can use Docker Hub to find and distribute container images with members of your team or the larger Docker community. It’s a cloud-based collaboration service for app development and registry.
Simply create a Docker Hub account and start experimenting with Docker containers.
Docker’s installation and setup process are more straightforward and flexible than OpenShift, so it takes the win on this front.
Which containerization tool offers more choices in terms of the platforms you can use to build, test, and deploy your applications?
With Docker, you can package applications as lightweight container images that can consistently run on any environment. It supports major public cloud platforms such as Azure ACI, Google GKS, AWS ECS, Synk, and more, as well as on-premises Kubernetes.
Docker also supports all kinds of desktop and cloud-native environments for building, testing, and deployment.
In addition, Docker can be hosted on bare metals with a few custom configurations. The catch is that you can only run the program on specific Windows servers, IBM mainframes, and Linux when hosting on bare metal.
OpenShift offers native routes that have already been configured for directing public traffic inside containers. This includes Fedora, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, CentOS, and Red Hat Atomic Host.
Unfortunately, this limits deployment possibilities for lots of businesses, especially those that aren’t already utilizing these platforms.
However, OpenShift supports a variety of deployment environments including cloud, desktop, Android, and on-premise Windows/Linux.
Docker supports pretty much the same environments as OpenShift, but the option to host on bare metals and use any routes of your choice for deployment gives it an edge.
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OpenShift is designed to handle different kinds of apps and technologies based on your specific needs and capabilities. It provides support for several cloud infrastructures.
If you want the freedom to customize your own infrastructure to suit your specific needs at any time, you can opt for the self-managed OpenShift container platform.
Companies that don’t have the resources to operate and manage their clusters round the clock might benefit from investing in the fully-managed OpenShift platform. This way, OpenShift will handle the burden of maintaining your clusters for you.
So you can allocate your time to more important operational tasks and focus on developing and scaling applications that improve your bottom line.
Developers who are interested in a portable container orchestration tool for building and testing apps can check out the OpenShift Developer Sandbox plan. It gives you access to a minimalistic, pre-configured infrastructure.
OpenShift offers free trial periods ranging from 30 to 60 days for these services. There’s a $263/year per cluster fee and a three-year pricing option for Azure Red Hat OpenShift and OpenShift on IBM Cloud.
Access to the Worker nodes feature is priced at $0.076/hour or $667/year per node with a minimum requirement of two nodes.
You can always consult OpenShift’s pricing page for up-to-date information and a detailed breakdown of service costs.
There are four different plans offered by Docker that you can choose from—Free, Pro, Team, and Large.
The free plan costs absolutely nothing to use and gives you access to Docker Desktop, unlimited public repositories, and two-factor authentication. However, it comes with restrictions on the number of container image requests you can generate.
The Pro plan costs $5/month when billed annually and $7/month when billed monthly. It offers everything in the free plan as well as advanced tools, parallel builds, vulnerability scans, CI/CD, and unlimited private and public repositories.
For companies with developer teams, Docker’s Team plan is affordably priced at $7/user per month for annual subscriptions and $9/user per month for monthly subscriptions.
The Team plan contains all the features of Pro and other juicy benefits like unlimited teams, audit logs, unlimited vulnerability scans, and access control. Also, it gives you 15 parallel builds, unlimited scoped access tokens, and a host of collaboration and management tools.
Finally, Docker offers a Large plan for big organizations that require more advanced solutions and expansive features. You’ll need to get in touch with the company’s sales department to get a custom price based on your organization’s needs under this plan.
Feel free to consult Docker’s pricing page for updated information about their subscriptions.
Docker wins this round because its subscriptions only amount to about one-third of the price of OpenShift plans.
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If you want to extend the capabilities of your container orchestration tool or integrate it with other apps or services that you use, Docker has you covered.
The platform is compatible with your favorite tech tools including CircleCI, Bitbucket, MongoDB, Visual Studio Code, Nginx, Redis, JFrog, Gitlab, VMware Tanzu, and more.
You can also integrate a vast range of third-party plugins and tools at any point in your software development cycle. Simply find the plugin, app, or service that you want to integrate and follow the tool’s documentation to install and finalize the setup.
This containerization platform supports a wide array of IBM Cloud and third-party integration from storage to infrastructure services, monitoring, log analysis, deployment, diagnostic tools, and more.
You can also install many other integrations on your OpenShift cluster through the Red Hat Marketplace and OpenShift catalog. Alternatively, you can use Helm charts, Operators, or DIY open source software installations.
Ensure that the apps or services you want to integrate are compatible with your Kubernetes version and OpenShift cluster. Otherwise, the installation may fail.
Both platforms offer extensive third-party integrations, so I have to declare this one a tie.
OpenShift uses a runtime container with web interfaces, coordination, and application programming interfaces to manage and run independent containers. It also leverages kernel isolation features to separate tenant processes within runtime containers.
The containerization platform uses Multiple Category Security (MCS) and SELinux to achieve this separation. To lower memory, input/output, and CPU usages, OpenShift uses groups with a focus on LXC for lowering the long-term effort required.
Unlike OpenShift, Docker only uses runtime containers for deploying applications. However, it also utilizes kernel isolation functions for the separation of tenant processes in runtime containers.
Docker makes use of LXC for this purpose. Like its counterpart, it also employs groups to reduce the amount of input/output, CPU, and memory being consumed by your development processes.
The technology used to create isolated workspaces on Docker is called namespaces. Every time you deploy a container, Docker will create namespaces for that container that offer a layer of isolation.
Every facet of a container runs in its own namespace and its access is restricted to the namespace.
OpenShift and Docker both have their own unique ways of orchestrating and managing containers, so there are no winners or losers here, only a matter of preference.
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You want a program that you can dive right into using instead of spending precious time figuring out how it works. Docker understands the need for container platforms that are easy to use, which is why its desktop and online service have intuitive user interfaces.
It’s worth noting that if you never had any experience with containerization, getting started with Docker can be a tad intimidating. New developers might find the learning curve to be a bit steep.
But once you invest a little time in using the tool, you’ll quickly get the hang of it. Docker has standard command scripts and file systems that make development, testing, production, and shipping very simple.
Since Docker is a widely used platform, you can always count on finding tons of useful resources to help you resolve any issues you encounter along the way.
With its fancy, modern interface, developers will find OpenShift to be an uncomplicated software that’s easy to navigate.
It has some learning curve that you’ll have to get past to understand how the tool works and what you can do with it. But it’s nothing too difficult to grasp.
The web console features an intuitive single-touch login page and a simple interface that allows you to easily add, remove, or modify resources. Visualizing your projects, servers, and cluster roles is also a simple affair.
OpenShift provides one of the best experiences with container tools that you can find. Also, the website houses plenty of tutorials and guides to help you get the most out of OpenShift.
Compared to Docker, OpenShift has an interface that’s easier to navigate and master. Also, its learning curve isn’t quite as steep.
One great thing about containerization tools is that they help speed up development and simplify processes by automating certain tasks.
OpenShift is not left out of the mix. It provides templates to help take the complexity out of various deployment activities. However, OpenShift templates are not as user-friendly or flexible as those offered by its rival, Docker.
In some cases, you may have to resort to using external wrappers to make it more pliable and helpful when working with complex deployment scenarios.
If you’re looking for a way to build, test, or deploy projects instantly without having to whip up everything from scratch, give Docker a try.
The platform has tons of docker image templates that you can use to get your work done quickly. Dockerhub is home to tons of Docker images from developers and verified companies.
You can easily use them to spin up anything you want and save yourself or your team plenty of time and effort.
Both platforms offer a rich array of templates and automation tools to help make your development processes less strenuous and complicated. This round is a draw.
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You can use Docker to build CI/CD pipelines even though it doesn’t have a dedicated, in-built CI/CD tool. To do this, you’ll have to integrate Docker with third-party CI solutions like Jenkins and CircleCI.
After integrating a CI server, you can then set up a manual CI/CD pipeline using commands.
Not only is continuous integration and delivery built into OpenShift, but it’s also a standard part of its workflow. Although it doesn’t offer a full CI/CD solution, you can use the platform to build functional CI/CD pipelines.
The process is actually less painful and easy to achieve in OpenShift because it has an integrated Jenkins container that can serve as a CI server. This means that you can use your OpenShift clusters to construct container images and carry out continuous integration tasks on them.
You can also deploy them as containers on different infrastructures with continuous delivery pipelines.
OpenShift’s built-in integration with Jenkins makes it a better, more efficient tool for building continuous integration and delivery pipelines.
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Docker containers are designed to be very secure by default, especially if your processes are deployed as non-privileged users within the container.
It provides different features and options you can use to harden Docker hosts and reduce the danger of container breakout.
In-built security features like kernel namespaces, control groups, Docker daemon attack surface, and restricted Linux kernel capabilities help minimize the risk of attacks.
You can even use your preferred access control tools to create your own policies to prevent intruders from doing serious damage to your containers or host.
If you want an additional layer of security, you can enable hardening systems like GRSEC, App Armor, and SELinux on your Docker containers.
Like Docker, OpenShift has strong security measures that help keep your containers and projects safe. You have to learn the platform’s security policies to sustain a minimum safety level and deploy more applications.
OpenShift’s integrated server provides better authorization and authentication processes. You can manage and determine who gets access to specific aspects of your container or processes via the rules-based access control (RBAC) feature.
The platform’s security policies also restrict running official or unofficial container images which require root access to the container.
Docker and OpenShift provide great security features. The exact processes may vary, but they are both very reliable when it comes to keeping your data and projects safe.
OpenShift constructs functional units through cartridges or hooks written with shell scripts that are called upon when implementing a system call.
Contrastingly, Docker produces functional units with the help of Docker images and a couple of manual configurations. You can build your own images or use an image someone else created and published in a container registry.
OpenShift and Docker use different methods to create functional units and run containers, but there’s no real disparity between them. It’s a draw on this front.
- OpenShift and Docker are easy to install and set up.
- Both platforms offer a free plan for users.
- Both run on local and cloud-based environments.
- Both platforms have major brands on their client roster.
- Both provide strong security policies.
- Docker’s isolation, reproducibility, and testability processes give you greater operational control, while OpenShift’s guided approach is a little restrictive.
- OpenShift has comprehensive documentation, while Docker’s documentation fails to sync properly sometimes.
- Docker only uses runtime containers, while OpenShift uses them alongside web APIs, coordinator interfaces, and REST API.
- OpenShift tends to lag sometimes, while Docker consistently provides quick build-up and integration.
- Docker has more forks and stars on its GitHub repository, making it the more popular platform amongst developers.
- OpenShift’s plans are more expensive than Docker subscriptions.
- Docker has more developers and companies using it than OpenShift.
- Offers built-in CI/CD solution.
- Works with a variety of programming languages
- Extensive third-party integration support
- Provides a complete tool suite for containerizing applications
- OpenShift’s customer support is quite deficient.
- Troubleshooting can be very challenging because finding out the issue isn’t always straightforward or easy.
- The monitoring system could use an upgrade.
- Docker offers tons of helpful guides and documentation to fall back on or help you contribute to the open source software.
- The build and deployment possibilities are practically endless.
- It’s easy to manage, scale, and upgrade production environments or applications.
- It’s relatively affordable.
- Docker isn’t fault-tolerant. If a node in your cluster dies, the containers on the node will not be restarted.
- The command line can get stuck sometimes.
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Docker and OpenShift are both well-known container management and orchestration platforms. They both have their unique features and advantages that make them suitable choices depending on your requirements.
However, Docker is the stronger option for building, managing, and deploying containerized apps. It’s a much easier tool to use, with faster and more consistent build processes.
Docker also has dedicated and enthusiastic professional and community support that makes it easy to find solutions to all kinds of issues. The platform is also cheaper to use and its free plan doesn’t come with any time limitations which means you can use it for life without paying a dime.
Scott L. Macarthur is a marketing consultant and an online author. He is mostly engaged in providing his expertise to startups and SMBs. He is also an author on TheNextWeb.