The Power of Containers: A Look Under the Hood of Automotive Software

The ever-evolving landscape of software development within the automotive industry is no secret, with a growing expectation from consumers for advanced levels of safety, autonomy, and convenience in their modern ‘software-defined’ vehicles (What is a software-defined vehicle?). How can OEMs deliver on all three of these pillars without compromise and effectively manage this ever-growing increase in software complexity? One promising solution lies in the implementation of containerization technology, which according to the Cloud-Native Computing Foundation is being used by over 60% of backend developers for building and deploying software applications today. By embracing this adoption of containers, OEMs have a clear opportunity to accelerate their software deployment, improve scalability, and enhance the management of complex software ecosystems within vehicles. Containerization provides a modular and efficient approach to software development, allowing for greater flexibility and agility in addressing evolving consumer demands while maintaining the integrity and security of vehicle systems.

What Are Containers?

Before diving into the benefits enabled by containers for OEMs, it is important to understand what they are in the first place. Essentially, a container is a lightweight, standalone, and executable software package that includes everything needed to run an application – including code, runtime, system tools, libraries, and settings. Similar to how a zip file can be used to package and distribute files in a portable and efficient manner, containers can encapsulate an application into a single package. This enables software to run reliably when moved from one computing environment to another. Containers are a good choice to manage software deployment in vehicles because they are portable, scalable, efficient, and secure. Vehicle platforms require three main elements to effectively enable containerization:

  • a container orchestration system such as Kubernetes, which automates the deployment, scaling, and management of such applications, allowing developers to focus on building and deploying software without worrying about the underlying infrastructure details.
  • an over-the-air (OTA) network connection for dynamically exchanging containers to and from the cloud in a safe and reliable way. Wind River Studio Over-The-Air Updates manage multi-tier update campaigns for OTA deployment to vehicles in the field.
  • a runtime environment that supports containers such as Wind River’s VxWorks, the first and only RTOS to support the use of OCI-compliant containers.
    • (What is OCI?) – The Open Container Initiative (OCI) is an open governance structure created to establish industry standards around containers to ensure reliable, consistent, and secure deployment of containers across any system supporting container technology

Addressing OEM Challenges

The use of containers offers a compelling solution to many of the most pressing hurdles faced by OEMs in their software development today. Here are 5 key challenges addressed by containerization:

  1. Portability and Consistency: OEMs often work with diverse environments, including development, testing, and production. Containerization provides a consistent environment across these stages, ensuring that the software behaves the same way regardless of the underlying infrastructure.
  2. Scalability: Containerization enables horizontal scaling by allowing applications to be replicated and distributed across multiple nodes. This is particularly important for OEMs dealing with variable workloads or sudden spikes in usage.
  3. Isolation and Security: Containers provide a level of isolation between applications, enhancing security by reducing the impact of vulnerabilities or breaches. Each container operates independently, minimizing cross-contamination and ensuring that changes do not adversely affect adjacent mixed-critical software within the vehicle.
  4. Microservices Architecture: Many OEMs are transitioning to microservices architecture to improve scalability, maintainability, and flexibility. Containers are well-suited for deploying microservices, as each service can be packaged and deployed independently within its own container.
  5. Legacy Application Modernization: Containerization allows OEMs to modernize legacy applications by encapsulating them within containers, making it easier to migrate them to cloud environments or newer platforms without significant code changes.

Containers and Virtual Machines

As both containers and virtual machines (VMs) enable diverse workloads to run concurrently in a shared computing platform it may be tempting to compare the two technologies, however both come with some key differentiating factors. Unlike VMs, containers virtualize above the operating system level – resulting in lightweight deployment, a reduced consumption of system resources, and faster startup times. Additionally, the identical packaging of applications provided by containers ensures consistency across development environments and they can easily be scaled up or down to be deployed on different systems quickly. This is particularly beneficial in an automotive context, where software needs to be deployed across different models or systems with minimal adjustments.

It is important to note that the use of containers and VMs are not mutually exclusive – in fact they can often complement each other within a broader software architecture, making it ever more important for companies to invest in software solutions compatible with both technologies.


As the automotive industry continues its digital transformation, containerization has emerged as a transformative technology for managing software complexity and meeting consumer demands. By embracing containers, OEMs can navigate the intricate future of automotive software with confidence, delivering innovative solutions that redefine the driving experience. For a deeper dive into the usage and benefits of containers in automotive software, take a look at this article.


Additional Resources

To learn more about how Wind River along with its embrace of containerization can help amplify your business, explore the following additional resources, or contact us today.

Wind River – VxWorks

Wind River – Over-The-Air Updates

Wind River – Automotive

Wind River – Containers


About the Author

Saleh Bhatti is a Product Marketing Intern at Wind River. Saleh is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Management Engineering at the University of Waterloo. He is passionate about the intersection between tech and business bringing real value into people’s lives.