The open-source Docker container project held events around the globe last week as it celebrated its fourth birthday. Docker is more popular than ever as the standard bearer for the container microservices DevOps movement, though Docker Inc. as a company now faces more challenges than ever before as well.
Three years ago, I wrote about the first anniversary of Docker, predicting significant growth in 2014. As it turned out, I was right about the growth, though I was wrong about Docker Inc. Back in 2014, I had predicted that Docker Inc. would likely be acquired, but to date that hasn’t happened—though there has been no shortage of speculation over the last three years.
Docker Inc. and the open-source container ecosystem that Docker helped create have evolved significantly since 2014, and over the course of the project’s four-year existence. This past year has arguably been the most significant yet for Docker Inc., both as a business and an open-source project.
On the business front, Docker Inc. now has more partnerships and integrations than ever before. The very first time I heard of Docker was in September 2013, when I first met Docker founder Solomon Hykes at the Linuxcon New Orleans event. At the time, few had heard of the nascent Docker technology, but Red Hat’s Fedora Linux community was already working to support it.
Now in 2017, Docker Inc. has go-to-market and sales partnerships with the biggest companies in IT, including Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) as part of a deal first announced in June 2016 that bundles Docker with all shipping HPE servers. Docker also has a robust partnership with Microsoft that was announced in September 2016 and a partnership with Cisco announced in March 2017. Docker had previously announced a partnership with IBM back in December 2014.
The scope of Docker’s commercial aspiration has also been expanding. While originally Docker just provided support for its open-source tools, the company now has a robust Docker Enterprise Edition (EE) offering that includes multiple types of data center capabilities. Docker EE was formally announced earlier this month as a new enterprise-supported product that includes an ecosystem of certified applications and platforms. Docker EE in many respects is the culmination of four years of growth by Docker toward a stable, fully supported enterprise model for Docker Inc.’s commercial products.
One core area where Docker expanded significantly in the last year is with orchestration and Docker Swarm, a technology first announced in December 2014. In June 2016, the so-called Swarm-mode was first directly integrated into the Docker Engine with the Docker 1.12 release, providing a new approach for container orchestration.
Container clustering and orchestration over the last few years has become a core area of competition, with the open-source Kubernetes project that the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) now runs emerging to become a leading choice.
While in some respects Docker Inc. competes directly against Kubernetes, in many other respects it also helps to enable Kubernetes. Although there are other container runtimes, currently Docker is the most widely used and deployed. Docker Inc. is also a founding member of the CNCF.
Perhaps the biggest new piece in the Docker puzzle, as the project celebrates its fourth birthday, is the continued move toward standardization. While several Docker components early on looked to become de facto standards, there has been competition, notably from rival CoreOS. That rivalry originally led to the creation of the Open Container Initiative (OCI) in June 2015. The OCI effort today helps to define two container specifications, one for the runtime and the other for application images.
The OCI specifications, however, are relatively low-level, which led Docker to create the containerd project in December 2016 as a complete container runtime project that is based on the OCI specifications. Just last week, Docker Inc. announced that it will be moving the containerd project to the CNCF, the home of Kubernetes.
With containerd, Docker continues its effort to disaggregate the Docker Engine and create a very modular platform that is based on open standards. Docker Inc. is positioning itself to be able to both innovate on top of the open-source standards as well as enable others to use containerd, plug into it and grow the overall container ecosystem.
Just as was the case when Docker turned 1 year old, Docker at 4 years old is about much more than just Docker Inc. Certainly the continued evolution of the Docker Inc. business model and go-to-market partnerships are important, but so too is the overall competitive landscape. The growth of Kubernetes and the myriad vendors that support it are proof positive that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for containers. Competition and choice are good things, and are core to a true open-source model. Docker isn’t the only player in the container space, nor should it be.
The last four years of Docker’s history, from its rise as a nascent open-source project in 2013 to it becoming a core element of the DevOps movement and IT deployment plans in 2017, have been surprising to many. I recently asked Hykes what has surprised him most about his four-year journey with Docker.
“I’m endlessly surprised every day, and whenever we think it can’t get any more surprising, we’re wrong,” Hykes told eWEEK. “We’re trying to live up to expectations mostly.”