Cloud

Why Mesosphere and Docker may regret their slow embrace of Kubernetes

Mesosphere is touting itself as the leader in containers, which hasn't been true for some time. Here's why Kubernetes is leading the pack and how competitors should respond.

Mesosphere just launched a marketing shot across the bow of container competitors, proclaiming itself as "leading the container ecosystem" based on triple-digit sales growth, a slew of $1 million contracts, and 125 customers. While this is great growth and indicative of a rising container tide lifting all boats, it's not nearly enough to justify the "leading" appellation.

No, by every metric there's just one leader in containers, and it's Kubernetes.

Let me count the ways

I'd tally up the reasons Kubernetes is the undisputed leader in container orchestration, but Kevin Casey has already done so. I've highlighted a few reasons that Kubernetes holds the container community crown, but Casey digs out a few ways to visualize that success.

For one thing, Kubernetes is the most discussed project on GitHub by a wide margin, garnering 388,100 comments last year, compared to second-place OpenShift Origin with 91,100 comments. Secondly, it has 28,519 stars—an indication of interest—compared to Apache Mesos' 3,400 stars.

If stars are insufficient, there's also The Krihelinator Project, which uses a weighted average of recent authors, commits, pull requests, and issues to establish a popularity score. Kubernetes earned a score of 6,525. Mesosphere's DCOS Commons? 423.

SEE: Why containers are critical to successful DevOps projects (Tech Pro Research)

Add to this survey after survey of production usage, and Kubernetes is so far out in front of Mesos (and everyone else) that there's hardly any real competition, and certainly no question of who is "leading the container ecosystem." It's Kubernetes, and with a seemingly insurmountable lead.

So what should competitors do at this point? That's easy: Not compete.

Assimilation now

Docker was slow—and then quick—to realize this, eventually announcing full, native support for Kubernetes. Redmonk analyst James Governor hailed this "pragmatic" move and, indeed, what else could Docker do? One can pretend that gravity doesn't exist, but that doesn't stop you from falling.

For the moment, both Docker and Mesosphere have embraced Kubernetes as an orchestration option, though Docker founder Solomon Hykes has tried to pass this off as non-news: "Over time no one will care which orchestrator is winning." Ah, but they do, and for good reason: Kubernetes won precisely because it is great tech without a single vendor controlling its destiny, unlike Docker Swarm and Mesosphere's DCOS.

SEE: Introduction to Kubernetes Using Docker (TechRepublic Academy)

"Docker's focus," wrote Governor, "should absolutely be on creating tools that paying customers want to use, not trying to outflank Kubernetes." That's true, but it's also true that those tools developers happily use and pay for are not coming from Docker or Mesosphere. Both companies are making money (evidenced by Mesosphere's million-dollar contracts, which I'm sure Docker can match), but Red Hat, the primary packager of Kubernetes, is making much, much more, and has the benefit of a built-in customer base that wants its help getting into containers.

So, yes, Mesosphere and Docker have both seen the light on going with the Kubernetes flow, and that's for the best. But their early unwillingness to get behind the community leader means they're now followers, with Red Hat and Google poised to benefit disproportionately from Kubernetes' rise.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/Photosampler

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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