What Are Embedded Containers vs. Virtual Machines?

What Are Embedded Containers?

Embedded containers provide complete, secure, and stable self-contained environments for executing applications.

An embedded container is a software technology that allows the deployment and execution of applications within a self-contained environment. It provides a lightweight and isolated runtime environment, enabling applications to be easily packaged and distributed across different platforms. An embedded container essentially acts as a virtualization layer, separating the application from the underlying operating system and providing all the necessary dependencies required for its execution.

Among their benefits, embedded containers:

Ensure application portability: By encapsulating an application and its dependencies into a container, it becomes easier to deploy that application across different architectures or environments without worrying about compatibility issues. This portability is particularly useful in scenarios where the application needs to be able to run on a variety of operating systems or hardware configurations, making it an efficient solution for cross-platform development.

Provide resource isolation: Embedded containers allow applications to run in a sandboxed environment, where they have their own set of allocated resources, including CPU, memory, and storage. This isolation ensures that applications do not interfere with each other, enhancing security and stability. Additionally, embedded containers offer control over resource allocation, allowing developers to allocate specific amounts of resources to each container based on application requirements.

Facilitate scalability and manageability: With containers, applications can be easily replicated and distributed across multiple nodes, enabling horizontal scaling. This means that as the demand for an application increases, additional containers can be added to efficiently handle the additional workloads. Containerized embedded workloads leverage centralized management and monitoring capabilities, allowing administrators to easily orchestrate and control the deployment, scaling, and monitoring of containerized applications.

Promote a modular and decoupled architecture: Applications can be divided into smaller, independent services, each running within its own container. This microservices architecture allows for better code maintainability and flexibility, as changes made to one service do not affect others. This means teams can work on different services simultaneously, fostering a more collaborative and efficient development process.

What Are Virtual Machines?

A virtual machine (VM) is a software virtualization of a physical computer system, which allows multiple operating systems and applications to run simultaneously on a single physical machine. It provides a complete and isolated environment, including virtualized hardware components such as CPUs, memory, storage, and network interfaces. Each VM operates independently of the underlying hardware, enabling efficient resource allocation and maximizing hardware utilization.

Advantages of VMs include:

Support of platform independence: By abstracting the underlying hardware, VMs allow applications to be executed on different operating systems and hardware configurations. This is useful because software can be tested or deployed across various platforms without the need for dedicated physical machines for each environment. It also enables legacy operating environments to run next to the most modern implementation, on the same hardware.

Strong isolation and security: Each VM runs in its own encapsulated environment, preventing applications and operating systems from interfering with each other. This isolation enhances security by limiting the impact on the entire system of potential vulnerabilities or malicious activities within one VM. VMs can also be easily reverted to a previous state or snapshotted, making them ideal for testing and development environments where frequent changes and experimentation are required.

Scalability and flexibility: With an abstracted hardware layer, VMs can be easily cloned or provisioned on demand, enabling rapid scaling of resources. This scalability allows organizations to adapt to changing workload demands without the need for significant hardware investments. Furthermore, VMs can be migrated between physical machines without service interruption, providing flexibility in resource management and promoting efficient load balancing.

Efficient consolidation and resource utilization: By running multiple VMs on a single physical embedded system, organizations can optimize their hardware infrastructure, reducing the number of physical devices required and saving costs associated with power consumption, cooling, and maintenance. Given the resource constraints of embedded devices, VMs can be allocated more virtualized resources than are physically available, enabling high resource utilization rates.

Containers vs. Virtual Machines

Embedded containers and virtual machines are both technologies that enable the efficient execution of applications, but there are distinct differences in how each performs in an embedded environment:

Level of abstraction: An embedded container operates at the application level. It encapsulates the application and its dependencies into a contained environment, so that it can run on various platforms without compatibility problems. In contrast, a virtual machine abstracts the entire hardware layer, emulating a complete computer system with virtualized hardware components. It enables the execution of multiple operating systems and applications simultaneously on a single physical machine.

Resource utilization and overhead: Embedded containers are highly efficient in terms of resource utilization. They share the underlying host operating system’s kernel, reducing the overhead of running multiple instances of the operating system. They are lightweight and have low startup times, enabling rapid scaling and deployment. Virtual machines, on the other hand, have higher resource overhead due to the need to emulate complete hardware components. Each VM requires its own operating system instance, leading to higher memory and processing requirements.

Level of isolation: Containers provide process-level isolation, allowing applications to run independently within their own sandboxed environments. However, since they share the same host operating system and runtime, there is a potential for security vulnerabilities if they are not properly configured. Virtual machines offer stronger isolation, because they abstract the entire hardware layer. Each VM runs its own operating system, so if a vulnerability affects one OS, it will not extend or apply to the others.

Portability: Containers excel in application portability. They encapsulate all the dependencies and configurations required to run an application, and they can be easily managed or orchestrated across different environments and platforms, ensuring consistent behavior. Virtual machines, while offering platform independence at the operating system level, require additional steps to ensure compatibility between different virtualization technologies and configurations. The migration of VMs across different hypervisors or virtualization platforms can be more complex.

The choice between the two depends on the specific requirements of the application, the desired level of isolation, and the need for platform independence.

How Can Wind River Help?


VxWorks® is the first RTOS in the world to support application deployment through containers. 

VxWorks delivers a proven, trusted environment that enables adoption of new software practices with a solid yet flexible foundation of known and reliable technologies on which the latest innovations can be built. The platform provides various options for your critical infrastructure development needs, from highly dynamic environments without certification requirements to highly regulated static applications in avionics, industrial, and more. It is designed for systems requiring a mix of safety-certified and noncertified applications, as occurs in automotive.

The latest VxWorks release includes support for OCI containers. Now you can use traditional IT-like technologies to develop and deploy intelligent edge software better and faster, without compromising determinism and performance.

Find out why independent researcher VDC has named VxWorks the #1 RTOS for the edge.

Wind River Helix Virtualization Platform

Wind River® Helix™ Virtualization Platform is a safety certifiable, multi-core, multi-tenant platform for mixed levels of criticality. It consolidates multi-OS and mixed-criticality applications onto a single edge compute software platform, simplifying, securing, and future-proofing designs in the aerospace, defense, industrial, automotive, and medical markets.

Helix Platform delivers a proven, trusted environment that enables adoption of new software practices with a solid yet flexible foundation of known and reliable technologies on which the latest innovations can be built. The platform provides various options for your critical infrastructure development needs, from highly dynamic environments without certification requirements to highly regulated static applications such as avionics and industrial. It is also designed for systems requiring the mixing of safety-certified applications with noncertified ones, such as automotive.

Helix Platform gives you flexibility of choice for your requirements today and adaptability for your requirements in the future.

Key benefits:

• Delivers proven market excellence

• Speeds and eases certification

• Reduces total cost of ownership

• Provides flexibility

• Lowers cost of application development and deployment

• Eases scalability and portability

• Increases safety, security, and robustness

• Provides high performance and determinism

• Accelerates innovation of new solutions

• Provides support for a broad range of architectures and CPUs

Wind River Linux

The most widely distributed commercial embedded Linux distribution, Wind River Linux is based on the upstream Yocto Project, which enables solution providers to build a Linux OS that is optimized for a specific device, without the complexity normally involved in building a custom OS. Wind River Linux is open source. It can be downloaded for free, or it can be accompanied by a commercial subscription that enables ongoing additional benefits. These include training and long-term technical support, continuous threat monitoring and security updating, and compliance and documentation support for global export of solutions.

A KVM hypervisor is available with Wind River Linux, providing virtualization capabilities and allowing the management of virtual machines. Wind River Linux also includes container technology that supports development and orchestration frameworks such as Docker and Kubernetes. It is Docker compatible under Open Container Initiative (OCI) specifications, but it is also lighter weight and has a smaller footprint than Docker, meeting an often vital need for embedded systems. Delivering a Yocto Project–compatible cross-architecture container management framework, Wind River Linux helps ease and accelerate the use of containers for embedded developers.

Drawing from proven embedded expertise, the container technology in Wind River Linux, dubbed OverC, integrates components from the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) and the Yocto Project to help define a comprehensive framework for building and deploying containers for embedded systems. Initially developed at Wind River and available on GitHub, this technology supports virtually any processor architecture and orchestration environment.

Wind River

Wind River is a global leader in delivering software for mission-critical intelligent systems. The software-defined AI-first world is transforming market segments ranging from aerospace to industrial, defense to medical, and telecom to automotive. In this world increasingly driven by software innovation, Wind River® has been a technology pioneer, from having the first real-time operating system on Mars to playing a key role in the world’s first successful 5G data session and in building one of the largest Open RAN networks in the world.

Wind River is accelerating digital transformation across industries by delivering the software and expertise that enable the development, deployment, operations, and servicing of mission-critical intelligent systems from the edge to the cloud.

Wind River technology is found in billions of products and is backed by world-class services and support and a broad partner ecosystem.

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