“Build, ship and run any app, anywhere.”
That’s the simple promise from Docker, which is credited with popularizing the idea of software containers a couple of years ago. Many have taken the company up on the claim, to the point that the 2-year-old startup is now said to boast a $1 billion valuation. As is usually the case, though, the hot idea has attracted big competitors, including Microsoft and Google.
Just as virtualization upended the idea of computer hardware a decade or so ago, containers are revolutionizing software and programming. The concept is best explained in metaphor: Like shipping containers, software containers are virtual packages that keeps a program (or part of one) enclosed within a layer of software that can run on any of the big cloud computing platforms. The upshot is that it’s a lot easier for developers to move an app from development phase on your desktop to testing or live availability.
Though the concept is catching on now, it’s not that new. Google developed it some nine years ago for internal use. Google also was an early and crucial backer of Docker in 2014, combining Docker with its cloud computing services, Google App Engine and Google Compute Engine.
However, in December 2014, CoreOS, a former supporter of Docker’s, announced a rival open-source platform called Rocket. In May, Google put its support behind Rocket, though it still supports Docker as well.
After Google came on board, Amazon Web Services announced it was supporting Docker as well with EC2 Container Service, which is integrated with Docker Hub.
Microsoft also partnered with Docker and has made sure that the containers could run on its Azure cloud computing platform. In June 2014, the company announced In October, the company said it planned to support for Docker in Windows Server in future releases. In particular, Microsoft said it will support the Docker Engine, which runs containers.
This April, Microsoft announced the availability of Docker Client for Windows, which was designed to make it easy for app developers to manage Docker hosts and containers for those using Windows as their development machines.
That same month, Microsoft also launched Hyper-V Containers, which it billed as an additional deployment option between Windows Containers and the Hyper-V virtual machine, so app developers could deploy them the same way they would for Windows Server containers. That effort also included Nano Server, a minimal footprint installation of Windows Server that’s optimized for the cloud and designed for containers.
Finally, VMWare, which pioneered virtualization more than a decade ago, appears to have been taken by surprise by Docker’s launch. The company responded this April with Project Lightwave, a container solution.
As the wave of support for industry giants shows, within a short time, Docker has prompted an industry groundswell for containers. The only hitch so far has been security. In January, Gartner Analyst Joerg Fritsch made headlines with a research note that Docker containers “disappoint when it comes to secure administration and management and to support for common controls for confidentiality, integrity and availability.” Overall, Fritsch gave Docker containers a clean bill of health.
It’s also unclear whether Docker will survive the revolution it started. Since the company’s main product is open sourced, Docker doesn’t make money on it, but instead derives revenues from advising companies and there are paid features on Docker Hub, the company’s web-based outreach to developers. You may be able to build, ship and run Docker’s containers anywhere, Docker doesn’t get much out of the arrangement except for brand recognition and bragging rights.