Orchestrate those containers

After a dramatic week, Docker pushes on with its product roadmap

Docker is having one of its most interesting weeks of the year starting Monday as partner (and now potential rival) CoreOS revealed its new container technology of mass-destruction, Rocket — a possible alternative to Docker. The timing of Rocket’s launch was suspect, considering this week Docker is holding a conference in Amsterdam, but the container specialist isn’t putting its head in the sand. Instead, Docker is announcing on Thursday several new features to woo developers who want to more easily craft container-based applications on the Docker platform.

Docker will detail its long-awaited open-source container-orchestration services, as well as Docker Hub Enterprise, a version of the [company]Docker[/company] Hub for paid clients. The three orchestration tools are now available in an alpha release and should enter general availability in the second quarter of 2015. Docker Hub Enterprise will be available in early access in February 2015.

The startup noted before that these new services have been in the pipeline for some time as it attempts to make its platform a sort of container-based-application-development-hub for coders to craft multicomponent applications across different cloud providers. To do this, Docker built orchestration tools, which coordinate, schedule and distribute the appropriate system resources necessary for an application to be built and run in an automated fashion.

How to orchestrate your containers

The three new orchestration services include Docker Machine, Docker Swam and Docker Compose.

Docker Machine is essentially a simpler way for developers to get the Docker engine up and running on multiple clouds from the comfort of their own laptops without having to do any manual configuration, explained David Messina, Docker’s vice president of enterprise marketing. The service uses an API that connects to any cloud so “the infrastructure itself is instantly Docker ready,” he said.

Similar to Docker Machine, Docker Compose basically makes it easier for developers to build an application using multiple Docker containers, regardless of the infrastructure used; a configuration file lets coders craft an application using multiple containers in minutes.

Docker Swarm is a clustering service that ensures an application’s distributed containers are automatically “getting fed the right resources,” said Messina. Docker is also partnering with resource-management startup [company]Mesosphere[/company] so that Mesosphere’s technology can be baked into Swarm, he said.

Swarm will eventually have a set of clustering APIs that allow it to connect with other clustering services so a developer could use Swarm to manage a set of containers on a test environment and then eventually transfer those containers to another clustering system like Mesos or the Amazon EC2 Container service.

And on to the enterprise

As for Docker Enterprise, the new service is pretty much the same Docker that everyone knows except tailored for enterprises who want to use it behind a company firewall for added security. Companies should also have access to both private and public Docker repositories.

It was possible to use Docker behind a firewall before, but companies needed open-source software and tools to do so; like Docker Machine and Compose, this service makes a complex task a bit more simple.

Although pricing has not been determined, the new Enterprise Hub will be available through Docker partners [company]Microsoft[/company], [company]Amazon[/company] Web Services, and [company]IBM[/company] on their own clouds. As part of the launch of the Enterprise Hub, Docker is also announcing its new partnership with IBM, making yet another big tech partner.

IBM will let customers use Docker Enterprise on-premise or in the cloud and Microsoft will let organizations sign up on the Azure marketplace. Amazon is making Docker Enterprise available on its AWS Test Drives and AWS Quick Start Reference platforms, which are essentially the Amazon-sanctioned services for people to test out non-Amazon-related IT products on Amazon infrastructure.

It’s not clear yet if Google will eventually offer Docker Enterprise on its own cloud. Google detailed in November its own paid-container-management platform called Google Container Engine, based on its open-sourced Kubernetes system. It will be worth watching how Amazon plans to tout Docker Enterprise as well, since it recently showed off its own EC2 Container Service.

Lots of new features, but are they warranted?

From these announcements, it’s clear Docker is trying to expand from simply being a container-centric startup to being an application-development service that rolls with all the cloud providers.

Of course, given CoreOS’s claims this week that by working on all the extra bells and whistles, Docker has lost sight of creating a “standard container,” it’s hard not to think that perhaps Docker is getting a bit caught up in its own momentum and its urge to become a modern-day application-development hub.

Messina disagreed with Polvi’s statements on Docker, and said “the drive for orchestration is driven by the need of the users in our community.” Supposedly, Docker’s large community has called on Docker to upgrade those containers and make sure they can be spun up and controlled across multiple clouds with ease.

Messina didn’t want to go in detail as to what he felt Polvi got wrong about Docker when CoreOS unveiled its own stripped-down App Containers, but he did say that Polvi was “painfully inaccurate” when he referred to Docker being “fundamentally flawed” as it pertains to security.

“There’s an incredible number of inaccuracies in that blog post,” Messina said. “I don’t want to comment one by one.”

Docker is only roughly 20 months old, said Messina, and like other technologies, the 1.0 version of a product evolves over time into something a bit different than what started out based on community feedback.

“What is there today will not necessarily be there tomorrow or next week,” he said.

Messina stressed that “Each one of these services is available on the platform but optional.” However, as container-clustering startup Giant Swarm’s founder Oliver Thylmann told me earlier this week, he and his team have noticed the Docker daemon growing each day as Docker adds more features.

Still, it’s understandable why Docker is launching these services. The promise of containers was that it could make developing applications a whole lot easier and prevent infrastructure lockdown. The gist of the new orchestration services is that Docker’s containers are more portable than ever and can run better on different clouds; whether that adds to a larger Docker daemon or ironically ends up making Docker more complex than what it needs to be remains to be seen.

As for Docker Enterprise, the startup has been saying it wants to take a Red Hat approach to its open-source technology, and today’s announcements lays the groundwork for more Docker enterprise services to sprout. The important detail was for Docker to convince enterprises that it’s safe to use, and by making a version of Docker that can run behind a company firewall as well as containing private repositories, companies could feel better about giving the new service a whirl.

The outlier in this case are the multiple cloud providers that are Docker partners. Just how long will they tolerate a startup that plays nice with their competitors and allows for customers to use other infrastructure as well? There is a cloud war going on, after all.

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