Data Centers

Why Microsoft should acquire Docker to better compete against Kubernetes

Docker needs someone to help it make money, and Microsoft needs a container hedge against Google.

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Image: iStockphoto/Photosampler

Unless it suddenly gets hit by a truck while crossing container street, the container orchestration war is Kubernetes' to lose. Apache Mesos may still have an edge when it comes to data analytics tools like Apache Spark, and Docker still has its name all over containers, but Kubernetes is a community darling and increasingly ebcoming the default tool for managing containers at scale.

Docker Inc., however, has something that Kubernetes doesn't: Rich and long-standing support for Windows. Sure, Kubernetes now supports Windows Server, but it's still alpha. Even more importantly, Microsoft has every reason to go all in on Docker as it hedges against Google. A year ago, rumors swirled that Microsoft wanted to buy Docker for $4 billion, with valuation apparently the only thing scuppering the deal.

Today, with the market set to follow container orchestration and not the runtime, and Docker struggling to monetize the popularity of the latter, it's a perfect time to double-down on Windows Server...and Microsoft.

The enemy of my container enemy is my friend

Containers have gone from developer toy to essential enterprise infrastructure extraordinarily fast. As such, the importance of the management tooling around containers has grown in tandem. While last to the party, Google-spawned Kubernetes has quickly risen to dominate the container orchestration space, developed by a bevy of heavyweights, including Google, Red Hat, IBM, and more. A recent 451 Research survey of enterprise container adoption found that 71% of those enterprises use Kubernetes.

SEE: Microsoft to buy Kubernetes container-orchestration vendor Deis (ZDNet)

One company that had been conspicuously absent was Amazon, though "they have recently started contributing to Kubernetes and other CNCF projects, [which is] a positive sign," Linux Foundation vice president Chris Aniszczyk told me. AWS has a lot to gain from Kubernetes but also potentially much to lose, as a Kubernetes-as-a-Service offering would likely move more workloads to AWS, but also would make it easier to leave. As such, it's understandable that AWS has yet to offer a Kubernetes service, even as it profits from it, given that most Kubernetes deployments sit on AWS today.

Docker has only itself to blame for losing container momentum to a Google-hatched upstart. Of course, the industry couldn't help but pay attention to Google-esque infrastructure tools, given that Google has been running containers at scale for eons. Even so, had Docker truly opened up to community, rather than hoarding its tech, we might be seeing Docker Swarm as the de facto container orchestration on the market, rather than an also-ran.

The one place where Docker's orchestration engine is still popular, and it's a very big place (and a very big deal) is Redmond, where Microsoft's early bet on Docker continues to grow.

Where do you want to containerize today?

Given the popularity of Linux these days, it's easy to forget that Windows Server still owns roughly half the market. While Kubernetes is booming in Linux Land, Docker could very well dominate the Windows world. A big chunk of the enterprise market—right where Docker has aimed—happily runs Windows. Why not focus on that?

SEE: Learn Docker from Scratch (TechRepublic Academy)

After all, in terms of differentiation, no other container orchestration suite can claim to support Windows as well as Docker does, and no other option has as much support from Microsoft. As one industry insider told me, "If I was an exec at Docker, I'd be hitting the Windows angle hard."

Microsoft, for its part, has been singing the public + private workload song ever since it launched Azure. Docker Swarm could complement that story. As 451 Research analyst Jay Lyman said, the reason for tooling like Kubernetes and Swarm is to give a single development layer for developers: "In order to manage this increasingly chaotic IT infrastructure and avoid the mistakes of the past, organizations are turning to container software to deliver a single platform for application deployment across clouds and operationalized efficiency across the organization."

A year ago, Docker and Microsoft re-upped their partnership, announcing Microsoft's inclusion of (and support for) the commercially supported Docker Engine in Windows Server 2016, as well as joint Microsoft and Docker support for Docker Datacenter, aimed at IT professionals. The next logical phase is for Microsoft and Docker to consummate their partnership with an acquisition. Microsoft can continue to support Kubernetes (as its acquisition of Deis proves), but tying up with Docker Inc. gives it an inside track on the runtime while giving Docker the heft of its CIO backing for orchestration.

Everybody wins. Well, everybody except Microsoft and Docker's competitors.

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About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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