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Docker with Kubernetes forges new container standard

Docker's support of Kubernetes alongside Swarm is a big shift for containers. IT pros see the benefits of this integration but question its effect on market competition.

The comingling of the two main competitors in container orchestration should bring IT shops a greater stability and consistency in container infrastructures over time.

Docker with Kubernetes will appear in the next versions of Docker Enterprise Edition and Community Edition, expected to be generally available in 1Q18, according to the company. This comes on the heels of support for Kubernetes in recent products from Mesosphere, Rancher and Cloud Foundry -- an industry embrace that affirms Kubernetes as the standard for container orchestration, and expands choices available to enterprise IT organizations as containers go into production.

Kubernetes and Docker rose to popularity simultaneously and were always closely associated. However, they emerged independently, and changes to one would sometimes break the other. With Docker and Kubernetes formally aligned under the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, developers can more closely coordinate alterations and therefore likely eliminate such hitches.

"It has not always been a given that Kubernetes was going to work with Docker," said Gary Chen, an analyst at IDC. "People who want Docker from the source and Kubernetes along with that can now get that integration from a single vendor."

Docker with Kubernetes is a declaration of victory for Kubernetes, but it's also a big change for the IT industry with a container standard for orchestration in addition to the standard OCI runtime and format.

Gary Chen, analyst, IDCGary Chen

"It's not something we ever had with servers or virtual machines," Chen said. "This brings industry standardization to a whole new level."

Container management vendors will seek new differentiations outside of raw orchestration, and enterprise IT users can evaluate new tools and consider new possibilities for multicloud interoperability.

Docker brings support for modernizing traditional enterprise apps, while Kubernetes is still favored for newer, stateless distributed applications. Their convergence will strengthen orchestration that spans enterprise IT operating systems and different types of cloud infrastructure, said E.T. Cook, chief advocate at Dallas-based consulting firm Etc.io.

"Unified tooling that can orchestrate across all of the different platforms offers enterprises a massive advantage," he said.

Being able to bridge private data centers, public clouds, and Docker Swarm and Kubernetes orchestrators will make deploying the software that runs on those things easier.
Peter Nealonsolutions architect, Runkeeper

Container portability will also take on new flexibility and depth with increased compatibility between Docker and Kubernetes, said Peter Nealon, a solutions architect at Runkeeper, a mobile running app owned by ASICS, the Japanese athletic equipment retailer.

"Being able to bridge private data centers, public clouds, and Docker Swarm and Kubernetes orchestrators will make deploying the software that runs on those things easier," Nealon said. "It will also be easier to provide the security and performance that apps need."

The rich get richer with Docker and Kubernetes

Docker remains committed to its Swarm container orchestrator. But with heavy momentum on the Kubernetes side, some IT pros are concerned whether the market will sustain a healthy, long-term competition.

"I'm sure some folks will not like to see Kubernetes get another win, wanting choices," said Michael Bishop, CTO at Alpha Vertex, a New York-based fintech startup, which uses Kubernetes. "But I'll be happy to see even more developers [from Docker] working away at making it even more powerful."

Meanwhile, enterprise IT consultants said their clients at large companies rarely mention Swarm.

"I personally have never seen anyone run Swarm in a production cluster," said Enrico Bartz, system engineer at SVA in Hamburg, Germany.

Some SVA clients will consider Docker Enterprise Edition support for Kubernetes as it may offer a more streamlined and familiar developer interface and be easier to install and configure than Kubernetes alone, Bartz said. But Docker still faces stiff competition from other products, such as Red Hat OpenShift, which already makes Kubernetes easier to use for enterprise IT.

Some industry watchers also wonder if Docker with Kubernetes might be too late to preserve Docker Inc., and Swarm with it, in the long run.

"Two years ago or even a year ago there was more differentiation for Docker in terms of the security and networking features it could offer beyond Kubernetes," said Chris Riley, director of solutions architecture at cPrime Inc., a consulting firm in Foster City, Calif., that focuses on Agile software development. "But the recent releases of Kubernetes have made up those gaps, and it's closing the gaps in stateful application management."

Amazon also waits in the wings with its own forthcoming Kubernetes as a service alternative, which users hope to see unveiled at the AWS Re:Invent conference next month. Some enterprise shops won't evaluate Docker with Kubernetes until they see what Amazon can offer as a managed public cloud service.

"If there's no AWS announcement that hugely expands the feature set around [the EC2 Container Service], it will open up a whole set of discussions around whether we deploy Kubernetes or Docker Swarm in the cloud, or consider other cloud providers," Runkeeper's Nealon said. "Our discussion has been focused on what container orchestration platform we will consume as a cloud service."

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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