On Docker, CoreOS, open source and virtualization

In early December, container-specialist Docker was gearing up for its Amsterdam conference and the debut of its new orchestration services and Docker Enterprise product line.

But before Docker co-founder and CTO Solomon Hykes got a chance to board the plane, he got word that operating-system provider [company]CoreOS[/company] announced its own Rocket container technology, which caught the [company]Docker[/company] team off guard, according to Docker CEO Ben Golub in this week’s Structure Show.

“I’ll be the first to say, I think we probably struggled to understand it,” said Golub.

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Let’s clear some misunderstandings

Golub addressed what CoreOS co-founder CEO Alex Polvi told Gigaom on another recent Structure Show and said that there have been “concerns raised about Docker, some of which we think are legitimate, some of which we think are misunderstandings,” especially when it comes to the notion that Docker is “bloated” (Polvi’s word choice) and is offering a container technology that comes packaged with features users may not want.

“I don’t believe that if people take a look at what we have that we are forcing people to use our orchestration or that we are being monolithic in terms of the lower-level container format that we support.”

Regarding the new orchestration APIs the Docker team rolled out, Golub said that users don’t have to use those features and that “you can swap out the batteries” if you don’t want them or want to use another similar service. The standard Docker container still exists, he said.

“We were a little confused by that messaging because if you just want to use Docker, the container format, you can.”

As for what Docker thinks of CoreOS’s new Rocket container technology, Golub said it’s too soon to tell. “It remains to be seen what the guys at CoreOS and the people using Rocket want it to be,” but if the world wants different container formats, so be it.

What exactly is Docker?

Docker, in Golub’s words, “is a platform for building, shipping and running distributed applications, which basically means that we give people the ability to create applications where either the entire application or portions of the application are packaged up in a lightweight format we call a container.”

While Docker is a platform, Golub was quick to point out that Docker is not a platform-as-a-service, like when it was once known as dotCloud; for example, it’s not providing servers.

As for what type of business Docker, Inc. (not the Docker open-source project) envisions itself to be, the best bet would be something similar to [company]VMware[/company].

“The closest analogy I guess I can give you is, for people who think of Docker and containers as a new form of virtualization, so [with] open source we gave away ESX and what we are selling is something akin to vCenter or vSphere.”

Ben Golub, CEO of Docker

Ben Golub, CEO of Docker

Docker has grown fast in the past year, and Golub said that major institutions, like financial institutions, pharmaceutical companies and governments are considering eventually using Docker in production.

“In the banks, generally speaking, they are doing pilots or they’re using us for the less sensitive areas of their operations,” Golub said. “But the plans are to move them over to operations. It took several years to move virtualization into their more core operations.”

And while making a viable business in open source is currently a somewhat disputed notion, Docker maintains it’s on the right trajectory and Golub points to [company]MongoDB[/company], [company]Hortonworks[/company] and [company]Cloudera[/company] as examples of entities “building viable businesses around open source.”

“In the case of Docker, we’ve been very clear to say that our monetization model is selling commercial software around management and monitoring,” he said.