Will Open-Source Docker Revolutionize Cloud Virtualization?

NEWS ANALYSIS: The 1-year-old container technology represents a more efficient model than traditional hypervisor virtualization, and it's poised for growth in 2014.

The Docker open-source virtualization container technology project celebrated its one-year anniversary on March 20, as the project stands on the precipice of significant growth in 2014.

Docker represents a different model for virtualization than the traditional hypervisor virtual machine (VM) approach espoused by VMware's ESX, Microsoft's Hyper-V, Xen and the open-source KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine) technologies that are already widely deployed in data centers around the world. With a traditional hypervisor, each VM needs its own operating system. In contrast, with Docker, applications sit inside a container that resides on a single host operating system that can serve many containers.

The Docker technology carries with it a tremendous amount of promise and excitement.

The first time I heard of Docker was the day I met its creator Solomon Hykes, in September 2013 at the Linuxcon conference in New Orleans. I was talking with the incomparable Robyn Bergeron, leader of the Fedora Linux project, and she noticed Hykes walking by. Bergeron insisted that I meet Hykes, telling me that Docker is something very exciting. She wasn't wrong (Bergeron hardly ever is).

My eyes were opened in my first brief meeting with Hykes, and I too clearly saw the promise that Docker represents.

"What has happened with hypervisors is that it's a great technology, but the industry sees it as a big hammer and is trying to use it everywhere," Hykes told me at the time.

Container-type approaches to virtualization are not an entirely new concept. In the Unix world, both Oracle's Solaris and FreeBSD have their own native container concepts. Docker itself leverages the LXC (Linux Containers) project, though Hykes explained to me that Docker is a collection of low-level technologies that already existed but are organized in a way that is more than the sum of its parts.

Back in August 2013, Docker was still getting its bearings and announced a collaboration with Red Hat and the Fedora Linux community project. At that time, Docker was just the name of the open-source project, and Hyke's company was called dotCloud. Since then, dotCloud has renamed itself as Docker Inc. and has raised $15 million in new funding.

I've also had the good fortune to meet with Docker's CEO, Ben Golub, a man who is no stranger to bringing open-source startups to successful exits. Golub sold his last company, Gluster, to Red Hat for $136 million back in 2011.

"If the problem is, how do I take an application and deploy it across a large number of servers, there is no need to take an application that is measured in megabytes, combine it with an operating system that's in gigabytes and run that whole thing on top of a hypervisor that is running on top of another host operating system," Golub told me.

Docker is an idea that on the surface seems painfully obvious, which is why it is such an attractive technology. As a 1-year-old project, Docker is still quite young, but it is poised for success in 2014.

Red Hat, the world's leading enterprise Linux vendor, has already pledged to include Docker in the upcoming Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 7 release. Going a step further, Red Hat is also leading an effort to help certify containerized Docker applications running on RHEL.

Docker support is being integrated with the open-source OpenStack cloud platform as well, which is also likely to be a driver for Docker growth.

One year after its birth, Docker is at an enviable point for a technology startup. The company has funding and a commercial ecosystem of backers. More importantly, Docker also has strong community support, which is the key to any open-source project's success.

While the success of Docker as an open-source technology is likely, the future of Docker Inc. as an independent entity is not so clear. The business model for Docker Inc. is still emerging, with the first official commercial offering only being announced on March 19. Docker now offers private repositories to users for a fee.

What is possible in the coming year is that Docker will be an acquisition target and integrated into the platform of a larger company. Red Hat seems like an obvious candidate, given the company's embrace of Docker so far.

Regardless of the fate of Docker Inc., open-source Docker container technology makes sense on many levels. The long-held promise of virtualization is all about efficient optimization of server resources. It's a promise that Docker delivers in containerized form.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.