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Docker portability shows promise with new cloud integrations

New integrations and features promise to bring IT shops closer to migrating containerized applications between public cloud infrastructures.

SEATTLE -- Docker portability between private and public clouds is demonstrably possible today.

The seeds for this Holy Grail of server virtualization were planted here at DockerCon with the unveiling of a new Microsoft Azure integration with Docker's Datacenter product. On the keynote stage, Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich demonstrated a new integration between the Azure cloud platform (including the Azure stack, which remains in technical preview) and Docker Datacenter, showing an app operating across public and private Azure clouds.

To this week's IT pro audience, containers appear set to keep the promise VMs couldn't: move apps smoothly between operating environments.

"If you stay with Docker containers as the minimal unit of infrastructure, it was demonstrated today that you can get this portability," said Nirmal Mehta, senior lead technologist for the strategic innovation group at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., a consulting firm based in McLean, Va., who works with government organizations to establish a DevOps culture.

While Docker portability creates less friction for cloud partners to move customer workloads onto their infrastructure, it also makes it easier to leave. Still, a rising tide of moving workloads will raise all boats in the market, Mehta said, and he predicted most cloud players will jump on the portability bandwagon in time.

"The real race is for features other than infrastructure, things like API gateways, security, CDNs, DDoS protection, and serverless computing," Mehta said. "A whole other world is fast approaching."

On premises-to-cloud vs. inter-cloud portability

Other new Docker products released into beta this week, Docker for AWS and Docker for Azure, hold the potential for simultaneous multi-cloud app deployments, though it remains to be seen how these products will assist migration of workloads between different public cloud providers in practice. Nevertheless, that's the goal being pursued by some of the largest and most advanced enterprises in the world.

"We want to operate a multi-cloud environment according to security risk," said Andy Lim, senior developer at General Electric (GE) in a presentation here this week.

GE wants to move applications between clouds depending on if the apps are processing sensitive data. Right now the company is operating only in the AWS cloud, though it has engaged with Azure and Rackspace, according to Lim. It wasn't clear from his presentation which vendors would handle which level of risk for the company.

Meanwhile, an experimental feature released into private beta by Docker this week could be the final missing piece of the inter-cloud container portability puzzle.

Docker Application Bundles, bundles of containers comprising apps, could prove an easier construct for moving workloads between cloud providers. It's an upgrade of Docker Compose, in Mehta's eyes, and "could be the definitive version of how applications can be connected in a declarative way," he said.

While some of the technology is still being sorted out, one thing is clear: Enterprise organizations want this kind of Docker portability in their data centers yesterday.

In a recent survey by 451 Research of more than 400 IT decision makers, two-thirds of respondents said that they care about PaaS and IaaS integration specifically because they want app portability between services, according to Donnie Berkholz, an analyst with the firm.

"That's PaaS rather than containers, but it shows people are interested," Berkholz said.

But interest has yet to translate into action, according to Berkholz.

"What we see right now is a lot of interest in portability, but not a lot of people doing portability yet," he said.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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