Docker Container Management Software

Docker is a container management tool. It allows you to package up applications with all their dependencies and ship them around as easily as you would a file. Containers are really lightweight, contain only what they need, and run on any host that supports the Docker runtime.

In this guide, we review the aspects of Docker Container Management Software, open source container management tools, container management tools in devops, and container management system examples.

Docker Container Management Software

Containers have revolutionized the way that applications are built and deployed. Containers offer several key benefits, but they can also be difficult to manage. That’s why container management software is so important: it makes deploying and managing containers easier than ever before! In this article, we’ll go over four popular tools for container management—Docker, Kubernetes, Swarm, and Portainer—and how they work together with application-level components like databases and middleware. We’ll explain how each tool fits into an organization’s overall DevOps strategy and help you determine which tool works best for your needs.


Docker is a tool for deploying applications inside software containers. It was first developed by dotCloud, a platform-as-a-service company that was acquired by Docker Inc in 2013. Today, Docker is an open-source project that automates the deployment of applications inside software containers.

Docker works on Linux, Windows and macOS systems to make it easier to create, deploy and run applications using containers.


Kubernetes is an open-source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. It groups containers that make up an application into logical units for easy management and discovery. Kubernetes clusters allow users to schedule workloads across their entire cluster, which can be spread out over multiple servers or even geographically distributed.

Kubernetes is also a platform as a service (PaaS). If you’ve ever used Heroku or other hosted PaaS services such as Google App Engine or Microsoft Azure Web Sites, you’ll find that they are very similar to Kubernetes in concept and operation.


Swarm is the native clustering solution for Docker. It turns a pool of Docker hosts into a single, virtual server. Swarm serves the standard Docker API, so any tool that already communicates with a Docker daemon can use Swarm to transparently scale to multiple hosts.

The first version of Swarm shipped as part of Docker 1.12 release in June 2015 and since then it has become a mature and stable option for running multi-container distributed applications on top of Docker Engine.


Portainer is a user-friendly management UI for Docker. It is lightweight, web-based administration panel for managing containers. Portainer web UI allows you to easily manage your Docker hosts or Swarm clusters, create and stop containers, start and stop services and more in a few clicks.

Portainer offers the following features:

  • Manage all your docker services through one single control panel,
  • Control container lifecycle management (create/start/stop/delete),
  • Centralize access to containers via RBAC (Role Based Access Control),
  • Automatically pulls base images from Quay Enterprise if available on the same network where Portainer Server runs,
  • Allows users to manage docker by commands or with web browser interface.

open source container management tools

Creating containers is quite different from deploying traditional servers, and to achieve the best chance of success you should use tools that are meant to work in the container world. 

A traditional environment deploys servers by, in part, specifying the servers’ storage layout and their network interface card (NIC), CPU, and other relevant configurations. And this is on top of figuring out the brand of the server you want to buy, ordering it, and waiting for it to arrive. 

Containers, on the other hand, are deployed as they’re needed, on demand, and can be created without specifying their storage and NIC requirements.

There are many for-pay container tools, but there are also quite a few powerful open-source options. Here are some worth checking into; these are five products that my team and I use for our clients. There are of course many other tools you can use, but we find that these tools form the core for our work and are the ones we keep coming back to.

1. Kubernetes

Kubernetes is a Linux-based open-source tool that manages containers for cluster computing. One of the most appealing parts of Kubernetes is how easy it makes life for DevOps pros who need to manage containerized applications. You create your app and specify a pipeline and the type of workload, and Kubernetes will automatically run in your environment. You’ll have the same level of reliability and agility with your container-based applications that you have with traditional applications.

As you deploy your applications, you’ll get notifications, which means that there’s no need to spend time manually monitoring or managing the containers. Once the application is deployed, you’re free to scale, migrate, or shut down your app.

A main pain point for companies has been the difficulty of protecting the integrity of the data in their Kubernetes-based deployments. This is why many are choosing to deploy to private cloud providers, to use on-premises instances, or to depend on managed services. The process of orchestrating security for these workloads in a cloud environment may be simple, but implementing this security in a private cloud, or even in a hypervisor-based private cloud, could prove more difficult.

Another issue reported by some organizations has involved scaling Kubernetes. But that problem, too, is solvable, in part by following well-established guidelines and best practices used by others.

It is clear that Kubernetes’ rapid growth is a key driver of these problems. Organizations shouldn’t let the headaches associated with Kubernetes be reasons for not adopting it.

Yes, you’ll need to solve the problems associated with scaling and security. But after you do, Kubernetes allows organizations to shift to the cloud and leverage the benefits associated with container-based applications without worrying about their growing pains. 

2. Docker

Docker is a containerization technology that works with the Kubernetes platform, with many adopting it to create an app that runs across multiple containers. 

The first thing to note is that you need to set up a Kubernetes cluster. The good news is that there is a tool, called kops, to help you install the cluster, on top of which you can run Docker. 

This is one of those operations that you will want to run in a server that you own rather than one provided by your cloud provider. It can be a tricky operation, and while Kubernetes will make it easier, some worry about locking in to a vendor’s server, which may change.

Google recommends you purchase a new server for this task. You also need to install a Linux operating system distribution and the Docker client.

How many containers does it take to run an app? The good news is that the process is relatively fast. If you are working on a big app and need hundreds of containers, then you will be pleased with the speed at which you can create them.

However, if you are just testing something, you don’t need many containers. As such, my recommendation is to have just a few containers and really manage the ones you are using to make sure you are using the right ones.

The goal is to get Docker to support many-to-many networking so that you can run many containers simultaneously without slowing down, but this issue hasn’t been fully resolved.

3. Apache Mesos

Apache Mesos was released in 2012 as an open-source platform for automating deployment, scaling, and management of large clusters of container-based applications. The system relies on a cluster manager called Marathon, as well as a networking framework called Shipworm and a lightweight daemon, also called Marathon, that handles the control and coordination between those components. It is a customizable platform that can be used in applications ranging from workflows to business intelligence. 

In practice, Mesos uses a federated process that mirrors Docker’s command-line interface. All processes run as separate processes. Container-level details are managed centrally via the Mesos resource manager. And the cluster is composed of one or more lightweight nodes, which are designed to be infinitely scalable.

People who create distributed applications often use Docker to define the underlying runtime of the container. For example, a lot of large enterprises use Docker for packaging applications for delivery in a custom-branded, secure, private cloud deployment.

In this approach, the applications don’t need to access all the infrastructure at once, and the containers need to access only a single piece of infrastructure at a time. That configuration has a number of benefits:

However, in practice, Docker isn’t the only technology that can be used to run a distributed program. For a program to be considered “distributed,” the application must call on services that are also available as services across a distributed network. 

Mesos has an extremely active community and is currently maintained by the Apache Mesos Project, an open-source organization that oversees it. The Mesos community often hosts meetups and educational events around the world, and users can participate in a weekly chat.

4. OKD

OpenShift is a cloud container platform from Red Hat that both creates containers and manages them. With the power of Kubernetes, you can deploy and manage distributed applications using Docker containers, on-premises systems, or the public cloud.

The open-source alternative to OpenShift is OKD. With it, you get most of the same features and functionality that OpenShift provides. Key features include the ability to:

The bottom line is that OKD is an effective alternative to OpenShift, with a strong and thriving open-source community.

5. Operator Hub

Operator Hub is a first-class Node.js API wrapper for the Kubernetes API. It gives you an API for creating, managing, and monitoring your entire Kubernetes cluster.

To get started, just create an Operator Hub project on GitHub and point your GitHub repository to the root of your Kubernetes project. You can then register your Kubernetes pods by going to kubectl and then to the cluster_NAME prefix of your Operator Hub project. While it’s technically possible to run Operator Hub without registering your pods, there is a cost associated with maintaining the registration system, and this can significantly slow down your development. For example, if you’re using Supervisor, the registration system, it’s not very practical to have to run Operator Hub first, then Supervisor, then Supervisor again in order to update your pods.To run Kubernetes clusters without registering your pods, simply run:$ kubectl join default Where default is the name of the master or cluster that you want to join.For more information about Operator Hub and what you can do with it, check out the Operator Hub GitHub repository.

A changing landscape

The rapid evolution of containers has continued with the arrival of Kubernetes and OpenShift. The combination of Docker and Kubernetes, and now Mesos, can provide an efficient way to run the latest microservices in production environments. This allows companies to develop, test, and deploy their services quickly while monitoring performance and ensuring the security of the application.

container management tools in devops

What is container management and why is it important?

Container management refers to a set of practices that govern and maintain containerization software. Container management tools automate the creation, deployment, destruction and scaling of application or systems containers.

Containerization is an approach to software development that isolates processes that share an OS kernel — unlike virtual machines (VMs), which require their own — and binds application libraries and dependencies into one deployable unit. This makes containers lightweight to run, as they require only the application configuration information and code from the host OS. This design also increases interoperability compared to VM hosting. Each container instance can scale independently with demand.

Modern Linux container technology was popularized by the Docker project, which started in 2013. Interest soon expanded beyond containerization itself, to the intricacies of how to effectively and efficiently deploy and manage containers.

In 2015, Google introduced the container orchestration platform Kubernetes, which was based on its internal data center management software called Borg. At its most basic level, open source Kubernetes automates the process of running, scheduling, scaling and managing a group of Linux containers. With more stable releases throughout 2017 and 2018, Kubernetes rapidly attracted industry adoption, and today it is the de facto container management technology.

IT teams use containers for cloud-native, distributed — often microservices-based — applications, and to package legacy applications for increased portability and efficient deployment. Containers have surged in popularity as IT organizations embrace DevOps, which emphasizes rapid application deployment. Organizations can containerize application code from development through test and deployment.

Benefits of container management

The chief benefit of container management is simplified management for clusters of container hosts. IT admins and developers can start, stop and restart containers, as well as release updates or check health status, among other actions. Container management includes orchestration and schedulers, security tools, storage, and virtual network management systems and monitoring.

Organizations can set policies that ensure containers share a host — or cannot share a host — based on application design and resource requirements. For example, IT admins should colocate containers that communicate heavily to avoid latency. Or, containers with large resource requirements might require an anti-affinity rule to avoid physical storage overload. Container instances can spin up to meet demand — then shut down — frequently. Containers also must communicate for distributed applications to work, without opening an attack surface to hackers.

A container management ecosystem automates orchestration, log management, monitoring, networking, load balancing, testing and secrets management, along with other processes. Automation enables IT organizations to manage large containerized environments that are too vast for a human operator to keep up with.

Challenges of container management

One drawback to container management is its complexity, particularly as it relates to open source container orchestration platforms such as Kubernetes and Apache Mesos. The installation and setup for container orchestration tools can be arduous and error prone.

IT operations staff need container management skills and training. It is crucial, for example, to understand the relationships between clusters of host servers as well as how the container network corresponds to applications and dependencies.

Issues of persistence and storage present significant container management challenges. Containers are ephemeral — designed to exist only when needed. Stateful application activities are difficult because any data produced within a container ceases to exist when the container spins down.

Container security is another concern. Container orchestrators have several components, including an API server and monitoring and management tools. These pieces make it a major attack vector for hackers. Container management system vulnerabilities mirror standard types of OS vulnerabilities, such as those related to access and authorization, images and intercontainer network traffic. Organizations should minimize risk with security best practices — for example, identify trusted image sources and close network connections unless they’re needed.

Container management strategy

Forward-thinking enterprise IT organizations and startups alike use containers and container management tools to quickly deploy and update applications.

IT organizations must first implement the correct infrastructure setup for containers, with a solid grasp of the scope and scale of the containerization project in terms of business projections for growth and developers’ requirements. IT admins must also know how the existing infrastructure’s pieces connect and communicate to preserve those relationships in a containerized environment. Containers can run on bare-metal servers, VMs or in the cloud — or in a hybrid setup — based on IT requirements. 

In addition, the container management tool or platform should meet the project’s needs for multi-tenancy; user and application isolation; authentication; resource requirements and constraints; logging, monitoring and alerts; backup management; license management; and other management tasks.

IT organizations should understand their hosting commitment and future container plans, such as if the company will adopt multiple cloud platforms or a microservices architecture.

Major container management software vendors and tools

Kubernetes forms the basis of diverse distributions from various IT tool vendors. Some commercial vendors support open source container management components, including Kubernetes, or embed those components into their own products. Kubernetes deprecated Docker container image support as of version 1.20 in December 2020 in favor of the Open Container Initiative (OCI) format; the two are largely identical, although OCI relies on a command-line interface. The Kubernetes platform also continues to develop Windows support.

The container software market evolves constantly. Organizations must consider many factors to choose the right container management software for their particular needs — and be flexible in those plans. Some options to explore include the following:

Container schedulers, orchestration and deployment tools

Many projects, from service mesh to cluster managers to configuration file editors, are designed to improve one aspect of the main container management technologies. Kubernetes support and partnerships crop up and evolve frequently. For example, service mesh technologies, such as Istio, work alongside Kubernetes to simplify networking. And some container management software, such as IBM Red Hat OpenShift, offers an integrated service mesh layer based on Istio or other technology.

Apache Mesos, an open source project designed for large-scale container deployments, manages compute clusters, including container clusters and federation. Mesos differs from Kubernetes in how it handles federation: Mesos treats it as a peer group of cooperating deployments, whereas in Kubernetes the master unites the operators to support the common goal.

Mesosphere DC/OS from D2iQ (formerly known as Mesosphere), is a commercial product based on Mesos that orchestrates containers with hybrid cloud portability. The Apache Mesos project remains available upstream, but D2iQ is now primarily focused on Kubernetes support.

Docker’s swarm mode is another open source cluster management utility for containers. Mirantis acquired Docker Inc.’s Docker Enterprise business in 2019, including a commercial version of Docker Swarm, and has continued to support and expand it.

The lines between container management software categories — orchestration, security, networking and so on — blur as container orchestration platforms add native support for additional management capabilities. Container management technology has been folded into or connected with larger management suites for server hosts and VMs.

Integrated Kubernetes platforms

Integrated container management packages appeal to many organizations because they simplify deployment and management challenges. Examples include IBM Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform, the VMware Tanzu suite and HPE Ezmeral Container Platform. (Here’s a comparison of OpenShift vs. Tanzu vs. Ezmeral). Commercial container management products are available in various configurations and versions with distinct feature sets. 

Another option is Cloud Foundry, an open source platform that uses containers as part of a larger collection of integrated tools. One difference between Cloud Foundry and OpenShift is that Cloud Foundry is more positioned for development, while OpenShift highlights capabilities for the rest of the application lifecycle.

Cloud providers’ managed Kubernetes services

Major public cloud providers offer hosted Kubernetes services that handle cluster management. These services include Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service, Google Kubernetes Engine and Microsoft’s Azure Kubernetes Service.

While these as-a-service choices reduce the administrative overhead of deploying and maintaining Kubernetes, they can hamper workload portability in multi-cloud environments. Enterprises should carefully consider these factors before they commit to a cloud-based managed Kubernetes service. Organizations must also assess whether the cloud services are compatible with on-premises deployments and management tools.

Container security tools

Secrets management tools keep track of passwords and tokens in secure environments. Docker secrets management tech exists in Kubernetes as well as Mesosphere, CISOfy’s Lynis and HashiCorp’s Vault.

For fraud protection, Docker Notary and similar tools certify container images as they move between test, development and production environments.

Static image and runtime container security scanning tools inspect container images before they deploy and track behavior on the network after installation. This software is available from several vendors, including Aqua Security, Deepfence, NeuVector and Twistlock.

Some general network security platforms, such as Trend Micro Deep Security, also support containers.

Container networking tools

Container-specific virtual networking tools are available from Contiv, Weaveworks and open source projects, such as Project Calico, which focuses on Kubernetes container network management.

Virtual network management platforms that address infrastructure also support container technology. Examples include Ansible Container, VMware NSX, Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure and OpenShift Virtualization.

Service mesh technology aids communication between application services within container clusters. It is a unified abstraction layer for container networking. However, without proper management and skills, a service mesh can increase complexity within a containerized environment. Service mesh technologies include open source projects such as Linkerd, Envoy, Istio and Kong Mesh, as well as offerings from cloud and container management tool vendors.

Container monitoring tools

The more containers in use, the more difficult they become to monitor efficiently. Organizations should make automation capabilities a primary requirement as they evaluate container monitoring tools. Vital container monitoring capabilities include the following:

Specialized monitoring tools track performance, bugs and security in containerized workloads. Options for container-specific monitoring tools include Sysdig, Google’s cAdvisor and the Prometheus tool for Kubernetes.

Some DevOps monitoring platforms track containers in addition to other hosting architectures. These products come from companies such as New Relic, Datadog, AppDynamics, Dynatrace, Sumo Logic and SignalFx.

Container storage tools

Many container management tools address the challenge of storage and persistence — albeit not to perfection — with approaches from attached volumes to plugins and APIs. Container persistent storage tools that offer true container portability for stateful applications come from Portworx (now owned by Pure Storage), Blockbridge Networks, IBM Red Hat Container Storage based on Gluster and IBM Red Hat OpenShift Container Storage based on Ceph.

Kubernetes implementation considerations

As described above, containers are arranged into pods in Kubernetes, which run on clusters of nodes; pods, nodes and clusters are controlled by a master. One pod can include one or multiple containers. IT admins should carefully consider the relationships between pods, nodes and clusters when they set up Kubernetes.

Organizations should plan their container deployment based on how many pieces of the application can scale under load — this depends on the application, not the deployment method. Additionally, capacity planning is vital for balanced pod-to-node mapping, and IT admins should ensure high availability with redundancy with master node components.

container management system examples

The purpose of container management is so that systems can work more efficiently. At some point the number of containers becomes too vast for an IT team to handle, and a container management system becomes imperative. Effective container management helps keep environments more secure and also makes it more flexible and easier to develop new apps.

Container management also offers automation enabling developers to keep up with rapid changes.

Container management is necessary for the rapid deployment and updating of applications. It makes security, orchestration, and networking easier.

The benefits of container management include:

While container management offers many benefits, it also comes with some challenges.

1. Lower overall costs due to a smaller compute footprint.

2. Moving to a stateless and ephemeral architecture dramatically reduces the need for persistent storage and means spending less money on storage.

3. Containers help improve the productivity and efficiency of staff by automating provisioning and deprovisioning. It also simplifies storage management by removing dependencies on server-specific applications.

4. Using immutable container images reduces the amount of storage capacity consumed.

5. Sharing redundant information among containers leads to lower storage costs.

6. As the features and benefits of containers continue to improve, competition drives the cost down, so that container management is getting better and cheaper every day.

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