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Docker containerd ups the open source container management ante

After months of controversy in the open source container management software ecosystem, Docker containerd offers an olive branch to the community.

Enterprise container users may see improved Docker container management tools in the cloud once the Docker containerd utility is open-sourced next quarter.

Access to Docker containerd -- which includes methods to transfer container images, container execution and supervision, low-level local storage and network interfaces for both Linux and Windows -- could allow cloud provider partners to improve container orchestration service products, analysts said.

"It may result in more options for customization," said Jay Lyman, analyst with 451 Research. "It may make it easier for, say, AWS, to connect Docker and containers to some of its other services."

Alibaba Cloud, Amazon Web Services, Google, IBM and Microsoft have committed coders to the project, unveiled by Docker this week.

Advanced Docker container operators in large enterprises may also want to customize under the hood of the Docker Engine, and this will also allow such work to happen much more easily.

In addition to customizability, open source container management software can more easily connect with other open source software components, whereas proprietary software can require hand-scripting, and integration may require competitive vendors to cooperate, Lyman said.

Docker containerd aims to quiet open source grumbles

The move to make Docker containerd part of the open source container management software community is also, in part, a response by Docker to critics who said the company packed too much into its Docker Engine and neglected its open source container components. The integration of Docker Swarm container orchestration into the Docker Engine at DockerCon earlier this year also raised hackles among partners. Docker containerd slices out a portion of the Docker Engine for governance by an open source foundation, to be named later.

"After DockerCon, there were concerns that Docker was not being so open," said Mike Kavis, vice president and principal architect for Cloud Technology Partners Inc., a cloud consultancy based in Boston. "[Now], they are opening their core component, the container runtime, which allows the community to participate and not have to fear vendor lock-in."

Containerd is the result of Docker listening to several months of feedback about what the open source container management community wants Docker to do next, said Solomon Hykes, founder, CTO and chief product officer at Docker, based in San Francisco.

It feels like we are seeing the jockeying of Docker vs. Red Hat and Google at the foundational levels of container technology.
Chris Rileyfounding partner, HKM Consulting LLC

This included calls to make the platform more modular, specifically carve out the runtime components that are stable, emphasize backward-compatible interfaces, embrace open standards and submit to open source governance, Hykes said.

Docker hasn't named the foundation to which it will donate containerd, but the short list includes "the usual suspects," such as the Apache Software Foundation or the Linux Foundation, Hykes said.

Not committing to a specific foundation makes some observers nervous.

"Docker is potentially defining its own path, rather than collaborating with the existing path," said Chris Riley, a founding partner at HKM Consulting LLC in Rochester, Mass.

Docker containerd draws new line in open source sand

Docker previously donated its RunC utility to the Open Container Initiative (OCI), but that was a specification, Hykes said.

"Containerd has a wider scope than just executing containers: downloading container images, managing storage and network interfaces, calling RunC with the right parameters to run containers," Kavis explained.

IT pros quickly connected the dots this week to a fledgling project in the Google Kubernetes incubator, called CRI-O, which expands on OCI specifications for the Docker container image format and runtime to include a daemon that handles container management features. Now, Docker has expanded its donations to open source with its own daemon in containerd.

"My understanding is that [CRI-O] is very experimental, more of a proof of concept than anything," Hykes said, but added, "I expect that containerd addresses exactly the needs that drove part of the ecosystem to experiment with things like that."

Red Hat supports push/pull features for the registry in CRI-O, and, along with any additional Red Hat or Google features added to CRI-O, may not be available, applicable or supportable with containerd, Riley said.

"It feels like we are seeing the jockeying of Docker vs. Red Hat and Google at the foundational levels of container technology," Riley said. "Whether this further expands the schism, I believe we will see play out in 2017."

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.

Next Steps

Others are building off of Docker's donations to OCI

The Open Container Initiative aims to improve container security

Read more about Docker's developmental roadmap

Dig Deeper on Managing Virtual Containers

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