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Docker orchestration tools address scalability

A trio of Docker orchestration tools gives users a means to manage at scale and a native alternative to third-party software already filling the void.

The ability to use Docker at scale has been a lingering concern around the container technology that caught fire...

last year. Now the company behind the emerging ecosystem has taken steps to address those trepidations.

Docker, Inc. made the first of its open source orchestration tools available for users last week -- entering an area that already has a growing number of third-party vendors trying to stake their claim. Docker, the company behind the open source container ecosystem, sees the additions as an answer to questions among enterprises about using "dockerized" containers at scale.

"Clearly, this is an effort to expand the footprint of Docker and make the technology more usable," said Al Hilwa, an analyst with market research firm IDC, based in Framingham, Mass.

Docker has hit a homerun in meeting pent up demand around faster delivery cycles, migration to the cloud and portability across platforms, and these tools will only help to extend those efforts, Hilwa said.

The tools take away many of the manual steps needed to operate Docker at scale. Docker Machine makes hosts container-ready with one portable command and a common interface available on 12 different drivers, including on-premises and cloud infrastructure. Docker Swarm automates management clusters for multiple hosts and can run different tools side by side, while Docker Compose can be used to construct and define multi-container applications.

Machine and Swarm, which are in beta, as well as Compose, were first announced in December.

This is just the addition of something that was missing from the beginning.
Joe Brownan engineer for

All three offer interesting capabilities, including the ability to create custom clusters with Swarm and to use Machine to put competing platforms next to each other in a command line, said Joe Brown, an engineer for, a Mountain View, Calif.-based Docker user that offers tools for developing social media games.

"It makes the mobility of your containers pretty insane," Brown said.

Many early Docker adopters were tech startups with a single host and a small number of containers, or they were willing to invest in building their own tooling to move containers into production. These new orchestration tools build on the promises of the original Docker tool around portability and being light-weight, but they make it easier for enterprises to use as the market matures, said Scott Johnston, senior vice president of product for Docker.

"It'll give enterprises more comfort in moving ahead with scaling out those deployments from simple dev-test to more staging and eventually production-type scenarios," Johnston said.

Docker and Mesosphere, Inc. developed a reference implementation for Swarm for Apache Mesos and the Mesosphere Datacenter Operating System, an operating system for running containerized workloads on-premises and in the cloud. Additional integrations are planned for container services from Amazon Web Services, IBM Bluemix, Joyent and Microsoft Azure.

There are two different types of users interested in Docker -- developers who want access to things like CLI while maintaining functionality and the ability to do anything anywhere, and enterprises that want to work at scale but want their users narrowly focused, said Ben Hindman, chief architect at Mesosphere, based in San Francisco.

The new orchestration tools help Docker address those competing demands by offering enterprise IT something that is easier to operate and maintain, Hindman said.

"It's a balance," Hindman said. "You still want to provide a really great experience, but maybe not everybody should be able to launch a container as root, for example."

Container competition

All three tools are free and open source. Docker will, over time, offer complementary commercial products, but those won't serve as replacements and nothing will be held back to monetize the open source project, Johnston said.

It's good that Docker continues to innovate, because at some point the technology around dockerized containers will hit critical mass. And, with its existing mindshare in the industry, it's likely Docker will be the one to do it, Hilwa said.

One of the Docker orchestration efforts that has gained the most traction is Kubernetes, the Google-led project for cluster management, similar to Swarm, that received its latest cloud vendor backing last week from OpenStack vendor Mirantis, Inc. Google, which operates on its own internal container system, was an early advocate for Docker and is among the partners in this latest round of products.

Swarm offers the clustering capabilities people have asked for, but so does Kubernetes, said David Linthicum, senior vice president of Cloud Technology Partners, a Boston-based consulting firm.

"I would rather see them work on the core container technology," Linthicum said. "Understand that Google and other startups are going to manage the cluster. Allow them to do that and build an ecosystem."

Kubernetes comes from a Google point of view, while Docker remains agnostic about the underlying implementation, Johnston said. There will be a big ecosystem around Docker containers, so there will be instances where users will put greater priority on uses rather than portability.

Container hurdles remain

Docker has come a long way in a year, but there are certain areas where the technology still needs to mature, Hindmand said. Users still run into issues around overlay file systems, while a balance will have to be struck between the different needs of developers and administrators.

Brown's concern is that more features are being added to the CLI that aren't necessarily intuitive. He's also curious how widely this latest set of tools will be adopted within the ecosystem, especially if enterprise-grade companies are already locked into their own set of internal architectures.

And while Compose actually sounds like it will have the greatest impact, it should really be more of a core Docker feature than a new feature,'s Brown said.

"It feels less like this is a new addition or extension," Brown said. "This is just the addition of something that was missing from the beginning."

Trevor Jones is the news writer for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach him at [email protected].

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