‘Containers’ and ‘Serverless’ are two of the most trending technologies used by DevOps teams for quick and efficient deployment of applications. Though Containers and Serverless share some of the same features, they are different technologies and cannot be interchanged. Each Devops team can choose one of the two based on their needs.

So, now, the biggest question is, ‘how to choose between serverless and containers for the next cloud project?’ To make this decision, one first needs to understand how each works and what would perfectly suit one’s requirements.

Read on to understand the differences and make the choice.


Containers allow applications to be packaged independently from the underlying infrastructure and deployed consistently, irrespective of the operating environment. What containers do is share access to the host machine’s operating system and do not need to run an entire operating system like in the case of a full virtual machine (VM). Containers can be deployed anywhere, ranging from bare metal servers to cloud VMs, specialized container instances, or even via managed services.


Serverless computing is a computing paradigm in which the computing resources are managed remotely, and developers write codes to carry out specific events. This code is then packaged as a serverless function and can be invoked by the serverless runtime to serve as many incoming requests.

In a regular Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) model, the cloud provider will bill the client as per the number of hours the VM runs, regardless of whether they are utilized all the time or there are any downtimes. In the case of serverless architecture, the billing is done according to the duration and number of times the function was performed only.

Serverless computing and containers – how different are they?

Though conceptually and technically containers and serverless are very different technologies, they do have some common aspects like:

  • Deploying application code consistently.
  • Reducing overhead and simplifying the virtual machines.
  • Abstract applications from the underlying host environment.
  • Automating and scaling workloads.

However, in a few other respects, they are quite different:

Supported host environment: Containers run on Linux servers and a few Windows versions, whereas serverless runs only on specific hosting platforms that are public clouds.

Running locally: Containers can easily run on a local system or developers’ workstation, whereas serverless can largely function only on a cloud platform and has complexities when tried on local servers.

Cost: Most of the container engines are open source and you can run them in a local environment completely free of cost whereas serverless is completely run on a cloud platform and is charged when used every time.

Languages: An application can be run in a container if the language it is written in is merely supported by the underlying host server. On the other hand, serverless is more strict in adherence of the application language to the server language.

Statefulness: Despite being stateless, containers do support stateful applications by setting up persistent storage. Most serverless runtimes do not support statefulness. Few of them are equipped to support stateful applications.

Availability: Containers are equipped to run over a long period, whereas serverless runs only for the specified task and shuts down as soon as it is completed.

Containers and Microservices

Can you choose one or use both?

After looking at the similarities and differences we need to understand that considering one over the other will depend on specific use cases, the skillset of the team, and requirements. In many cases, containers and serverless can work together by leveraging each other’s benefits.

A glance at the benefits of containers

  • Containers are the ideal choice if you need full control over the environment in which it performs. The flexibility makes it easier to move legacy applications to a container model.
  • Several containers put together form a cluster and they can be managed by orchestrators like Kubernetes, which has amazing features like auto-scaling, fault tolerance, storage, etc.
  • This flexibility comes with higher complexity in deployment and, hence, requires specialized expertise and the creation of full-time jobs.

A quick thought on serverless

  • Serverless is best if you need to perform relatively simple processes on a series of events. It is easy to set up and lower in costs too.
  • Unlike containerization, there is no infrastructure to manage and you only need to take care of codes.
  • That said, there are limitations like limited supported programming languages and runtime environments. However, there are some workarounds for these limitations.
  • As infrastructure is abstract, it is difficult to monitor and visualize how applications are running and hence have stability issues too.

As the weakness of one can be negated by the advantage of the other, both can co-exist and prove useful to the organization, and, if used together, it is very much viable to put both the systems to use. However, as said earlier, the use case and specific requirements govern the decision to use either system or both.

If you are confused and require more information to decide on what fits best for your use case or specific requirement,  contact us at Aspire Systems and you will be given expert advice on what best suits the unique needs of your organization.


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