Google's container management project creates Kumbaya moment

Red Hat, Microsoft, IBM, others are backing an open-source effort led by Google to develop a containerization management tool for startup Docker.

Containerization continues to sweep through the cloud as some of the biggest players in the industry put their weight behind an open-source manager for Docker containers.

Microsoft, IBM, Red Hat, Mesosphere, Inc., CoreOS, Inc., Docker, Inc. and Saltstack, Inc. have all agreed this week to contribute to Kubernetes, an open-source container management project started by Google. San Francisco-based Docker has exploded in popularity in the developer community as the next generation of containerization and the partnering companies see this as a means to bridge some of the management gaps surrounding the technology.

The collaboration first took hold in June at DockerCon 2014, with representatives from several of the involved parties expressing interest in Docker and the broader community around it, according to Jerry Cuomo, an IBM fellow and WebSphere CTO. There was agreement that Docker was a good starting point, but that there needed to be more around it.

"It's really a good sign to see these companies are coming together, putting some of their views aside and looking at how we can collaborate to create value for our users that gives them freedom of choice," Cuomo said.

Google relies on containerization software called Omega to run all of its applications. Google began sharing some of its experience as part of Kubernetes, which launched last month at the Docker conference and represents a pared-down version of its own proprietary technology.

This is more than just an evolution, it's an outright uprising.
David Linthicumanalyst, Cloud Technology Partners

The move benefits Google because its enterprise customers want to be able to run workloads on multiple clouds, and working with other providers to ensure workloads can run anywhere helps them, according to Craig McLuckie, product manager for Google Cloud Platform.

"We believe in the quality of our infrastructure, and anything that lets customers pick their cloud based solely on the merits of the infrastructure, ultimately benefits us," McLuckie said in a statement.

Kubernetes is one of several attempts to improve the scheduling and orchestration of Docker containers. These vendors already had partnerships with Docker, as do other major vendors, including Amazon Web Services. The partnership around Kubernetes represents another inflection point for the growing company, according to Ben Golub, Docker CEO.

"We started by making containers good and solid and easy to use, and now people are looking to do more complex things with Docker," Golub said.

Indeed, the IT industry is hungry for an open, standardized approach to containers, said Paul Burns, an analyst with Neovise.

"Docker containers have gotten an enthusiastic welcome from Linux [distribution] vendors, cloud service providers and IT practitioners," Burns said. "While containers generally do not enable a complete replacement of server virtualization, they are clearly becoming an important part of the IT ecosystem."

Docker knows there are issues with the management of the company's containers, and Golub said the next important step is to incorporate the best elements of Kubernetes and other efforts to improve the functionality of the technology.

It's not surprising that Microsoft, IBM, Docker and Red Hat have gotten behind Kubernetes because of the value it brings to their existing strategies, said David Linthicum, senior vice president at Cloud Technology Partners, a Boston-based consulting firm. The number of companies jumping on the containerization bandwagon is reflective of the popularity of Docker and Kubernetes provides even more value to adopters through a unified standard.

Customers want workload portability that is open and lightweight, which is in contrast with existing proprietary solutions that reduce the value of cloud computing, Linthicum said. The emergence of this community is the perfect storm of open and cost-effective solutions for enterprises.

"This is more than just an evolution; it's an outright uprising," Linthicum said.

While the move is good for customers, it could be a real threat to cloud development technology providers that are pushing more closed approaches and technology, or those leveraging standards that are made redundant by Docker, Linthicum said.

What's old is new

Docker isn't necessarily unique, but it could have major implications for vendors if developers latch on to it to configure applications, according to James Staten, an analyst with Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Forrester Research, Inc.

"It's the flavor of the month," Staten said. "If this becomes the model, all these vendors have to be able to say yes, but I say that it's a little premature to say that's the case."

This open-source initiative is one more component to knock down concerns about cloud vendor lock-in.

"If you freeze-frame today, it's pretty bleak," Cuomo said. "It's early days and the sky isn't falling but the fact of the matter is every cloud out there is a lock-in.

"Yet it's good to see the Googles and the Red Hats and the Dockers and the Microsofts and IBMs seeing what's worked before for Web and saying, 'Hey, for the cloud we can't forget what made some of us so successful.'"

Red Hat also has a long history of using Linux containers and began working with Docker a year ago. Containerization is not a new technology, nor is it a replacement for virtual machines, according to Red Hat. But it allows applications to spin up more quickly and efficiently, and it provides portability, especially with the creation of an industry standard.

"If the space is really fragmented, it's tough to move innovation forward," said Matt Hicks, senior director of engineering for Red Hat. "Having a lot of these on that common stack, the advantage is that you already have a pretty powerful container standard to build around and it gives applications a de facto standard."

Challenges within and without

The problem with containers is that when an underlying operating system crashes, every workload goes down as well. There appears to be enough support in the maturity of Linux that containers have been able to make a comeback, Staten said.

Since the cloud has taught developers not to count on virtual machines to be highly reliable, they've built applications that can survive underlying hardware problems. It also means applications can survive operating system failures.

The re-emergence of containers could hurt the virtualization business, as running a container inside a virtual machine (VM) is redundant, Staten said. It could also hurt companies like VMware and could eventually push Microsoft to play down its Hyper-V offering and play up its own little-hyped containerization tool used inside Windows.

Still, there will come a time when these containers will fail on a large scale and Docker's ability to weather the storm will determine if it can outperform VMs.

"It will be a wakeup call and learning moment for everyone who is excited for everyone who loves it but doesn't truly understand it," Staten said.

Trevor Jones is the news writer for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach him at [email protected].

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