Why companies like Google, Spotify and Red Hat are embracing Docker’s open source containers

It’s no surprise that Docker is in vogue with both developers and systems administrators, two groups not historically accustomed to working well with each other. That’s because the San Francisco-based startup’s take on containers, which are like virtual machines but not equipped with their own operating systems, allows coders to hack away on their newest developments without having to bother the IT folks who need to maintain stability on their servers.

But while containers are not really new technology, Docker’s heavy emphasis on its open source community has helped contribute to the company’s momentum. The company currently touts 2.75 million Docker engine downloads, 14,000 Docker applications in its hub registry and 90 Docker meet-up groups in 33 countries.

Docker’s first conference this week had on display several big-time tech companies — including Google, Spotify and Red Hat, among others — who not only were singing Docker’s praises, but also making their own announcements regarding their support for Docker’s Linux containers.

Eric Brewer, Google’s VP of infrastructure, took to the stage on Tuesday to announce several Docker-related tidbits.

In a blog post that summed up Google’s news and its motivations for linking up to Docker, Brewer wrote that Google uses Linux containers to operate all of its services (search and Gmail included) and fires up over 2 billion container instances across its data centers on a weekly basis. Using containers has led to more reliable Google services and has increased the company’s ability to scale.

Brewer wrote that Google now has extensions available that will allow for Google App Engine developers to build and deploy Docker images across its Managed VMs.

Google also announced its open source container manager, Kubernetes, which the company says was designed to be supported by the community and open to further extensions and tweaks. Essentially, the manager will make it easier to oversee a fleet of containers across many servers.

The search company also launched an open-source resource monitoring tool dubbed cAdvisor that can track a container’s instantaneous and historical statistics.

For an in-depth discussion on Google’s cloud platform, be sure to catch Urs Hölzle, SVP, Technical Infrastructure and Google Fellow, this June at Structure where he will talk about next-generation infrastructure challenges.

Spotify joined Google in announcing Docker-related news at the conference as well. During a presentation of how Spotify uses Docker, Rohan Singh, a Spotify software engineer, said the music-recommendation company opened up Helios, a monitoring framework created to ensure that the Docker containers a person sets up are being actively deployed and running the way they should be running.

Because tens of millions of active users rely on Spotify’s service to stay up as it passes tremendous amounts of data across over 5,000 production servers in four data centers located across the globe, it’s crucial that Spotify avoid constant system errors that cause hiccups and generate lag.

With Helios, Singh said, Spotify can monitor its containers and if a container were to fail, the Helios framework can recognize the problem and instantaneously spin out another one.

“We just always have this guarantee that this service will be running,” said Singh.

While Singh said the company once considering using Mesos, his team decided on developing its own framework because they didn’t need the other features.

“Clone it,” Singh said. “You can see what we are doing internally.”

In addition to Google and Spotify, both Red Hat and Rackspace also jumped on the Docker bandwagon and announced compatibility with Docker containers. Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux 7 product plays nice with Docker and Rackspace has apparently been working with Docker contributors for over four months to strengthen the code.

Perhaps John Engates, CTO at Rackspace, said it best when he addressed the Dockercon attendees during the first keynote session on Monday. While there is an obvious parallel between the Linux container and shipping containers in that both objects hold items and ship them over to destinations, there’s another parallel that’s been less touted by the tech industry.

In order for Docker’s containers to take off, the company needs a slew of companies and people on board to actively use the containers and develop on them through open source collaboration.

“Really, the power of shipping wasn’t realized when there was only one ship,” Engates said. “There had to be a shipping industry.”