Cloud

Why the container community is wrong to whine about Docker

Docker's competitors think it's not playing fair, but enterprise adoption tells a different story.

Image: Docker

The Docker inmates want to run the asylum, as Red Hat's Daniel Riek makes clear. So much so, in fact, that there are rumblings of a Docker fork. Companies like Red Hat see their future in containers and worry about being forced into second-class citizenship, while operations vendors like VMware worry about the entire fabric of their virtualization businesses being ripped to shreds.

SEE: Cloud Computing Policy (Tech Pro Research)

Not surprisingly, Docker Inc., the primary developer of Docker, the open source project, has little interest in slowing down to accommodate the "community." Google's Kelsey Hightower, commenting on an interaction with Docker founder Solomon Hykes, queries, "Review this thread and tell me why Docker deserves to be the stewards of an open container standard?"

The answer, of course, is that Docker doesn't need to "deserve" that honor. It owns Docker, and so far that ownership has not slowed Docker adoption. The day that changes is the right time to start talking about standardization.

Everybody wants to rule the (Docker) world

Docker is hot, and not just for test-and-dev workloads, as important as those are. As Docker CEO Ben Golub told me earlier this year, "There are many examples of mainstream enterprises—across financial, healthcare, media, government, consumer goods, and defense—using Docker in production."

SEE: Containers rock the enterprise: 81% look to increase use of data center's hottest tech

Production deployments are the real test of popularity, but there are other measures of Docker's hotness, too. As New Relic calls out:

  • Docker questions on Stack Overflow have jumped 264% in the last year, with over 8,000 questions asked;
  • On GitHub, Docker stars climbed 103% to over 32,500 stars; and
  • Among New Relic customers, the average number of Docker containers in production jumped to 28,000. One company had nearly 5 million Docker containers in production.

Predictably, everyone wants in on this Docker action, though few are as honest about that interest as Red Hat's Riek. Though he stresses he doesn't speak for Red Hat, it's not hard to believe that his concerns would be widespread within the open source giant, not to mention other vendors. Declaring "containers as the future of the Linux OS and application-centric IT," Riek questions "the aggressive way that Docker Inc is trying to control the Docker open source project."

More specifically, Riek laments that despite being an active upstream contributor to the Docker project, "Red Hat patches that enable valid requirements from Red Hat customer use cases get shut down as it seems for the simple reason that they don't fit into Docker Inc's business strategy." Even more damning, he contends, is the possibility that "Docker has exclusively enabled [a feature] for Microsoft while at the same time refusing Red Hat and other Linux vendors [the ability] to use it."

As to why it all matters, the answer is "containers [are] the future of the Linux OS and application-centric IT."

It's not slowing the train

Why Red Hat et al. want a standardized Docker is clear. Why Docker would resist is also clear—the company doesn't want to slow the progress of the project, and make no mistake: standardization = slow. Oh, and Docker also wants to profit from its innovation.

None of which would matter if Docker's hoarding instinct were bad for customers. By all measures, Docker-the-project doesn't seem to be negatively impacted by all the allegedly nefarious moves of Docker-the-company. Interest is booming. Adoption is booming. Deployments are booming.

SEE: Why Kubernetes could be crowned king of container management

You know what else is booming? The vendor community. Despite the (valid) complaints of Red Hat or VMware or [name your preferred infrastructure vendor here], all of these vendors continue to rally around Docker, willingly or no. Guess what? In some cases they're actually beating Docker Inc. on its own turf.

Take Kubernetes, for example. Despite Docker Inc. having a privileged position to do orchestration "right" with Swarm, Kubernetes is where the industry keeps collaborating for Docker orchestration. Yes, Swarm is making solid progress, as is Apache Mesos, but it is Kubernetes that has built the most vibrant Docker orchestration community.

Again, there doesn't seem to be any slowing of the Docker train due to a lack of standardization. Nor is there any paucity of community sprouting up around the project, despite the control exercised by Docker Inc. Enterprise adoption, not enterprise vendor complaints, should be the litmus test for Docker standardization.

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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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