This content is part of the Essential Guide: Get to know Docker, container technology out of the box

Docker just one piece of Red Hat's Linux containers

Linux containers are nothing new. But with the rise of Docker, Red Hat Atomic Host is being rolled out as an OS focusing on security and the surrounding infrastructure.

Red Hat has been one of the earliest and biggest backers of Docker, but the emerging technology is more of a footnote in the cloud vendor's latest container push.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 Atomic Host is now generally available, providing a packaged set of tools to run Linux containers. Unlike many of its competitors, the open source leader downplayed the Docker talk in promoting the operating system, as it tries to convey the message that there's more to application containerization.

With this move, Red Hat targets the enterprise and addresses some of the larger issues around Docker, said Jay Lyman, cloud platforms research manager for 451 Research, LLC, based in New York.

"Red Hat is wisely focusing on building and enhancing infrastructure around containers," Lyman said. "It makes sense because that's sort of where they live."

Atomic Host includes built-in security through isolation for containerized applications and multi-tenant architectural support, according to Red Hat. There are automated security updates and rollback, container certification from ISVs and orchestration through the Google-led open source tool Kubernetes.

There's been an explosion of vendors that want to grab a piece of the container ecosystem. Red Hat, with a focus on compliance and missing pieces in the architecture, is just the latest to overlay its technology around that ecosystem in hopes of people using more of its components, said David Linthicum, senior vice president of Cloud Technology Partners, a Boston-based cloud consulting firm.

"They're addressing some of the security concerns around automated updates, which I think is huge for the Docker stuff and in the container world in general," Linthicum said.

Docker who?

Red Hat is the second largest contributor to the Docker project and was one of the first to embrace the technology by incorporating it into Red Hat Linux Enterprise in late 2013. But mention of Docker is noticeably absent with the rollout of Atomic Host -- an "intentional and conscious choice," said Lars Herrmann, senior director of strategy at Red Hat.

"Docker is a very important technology in the stack and we value it very highly and invested a lot of resources into improving it," Herrmann said. "But it's only one component in a larger stack."

Containers are about resource management, the Linux kernel and the capabilities of the operating system. Docker only represents the front-end of those capabilities and doesn't define application portability, Herrmann said.

Red Hat is wisely focusing on building and enhancing infrastructure around containers. It makes sense because that's sort of where they live.
Jay Lymancloud platforms research manager for 451 Research, LLC

Red Hat may not have put Docker front and center in the rollout of Atomic Host, but the vendor certainly put a huge emphasis on it as a de facto, complimentary piece in the use of Linux containers. Red Hat also has greater depth with Docker than most other vendors, Lyman said.

The focus on Atomic Host allows the company to meet demand for other Linux container runtimes, such as CoreOS' Rocket, should they gain traction. However, a commercial partnership between Red Hat and Docker could still be in the cards, he added.

"By formally partnering with Docker, that would go some ways in engendering more enterprise credibility. But they're scratching the right itches and seem to be on the right path," Lyman said.

Despite the enterprise pitch around a holistic approach, the actual Atomic Host use cases will be different, said Ryan Murray, chief architect at Dallas-based Red Hat reseller Sintre Technologies. Murray hasn't worked directly with Atomic Host, but says it reminds him of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Hypervisor in its use of a minimal image for security purposes.

"Is this a play for enterprises to run compartments on Docker? I don't think so," Murray said. "This… gives customers an easy way to get their feet wet with compartmentalization as a technology and see how they like it."

Containers remain a hurdle for enterprises because many c-level executives still don't understand their potential, Murray said. He doesn't see this as a full product like OpenShift that large enterprises will consume, but as more of a building block for customers constructing custom clouds.

Red Hat finding its place in cloud computing

There have been many upgrades and additions to the Red Hat cloud ecosystem of late. Last month Red Hat delivered the latest version of RHEL for OpenStack and created the OpenShift Commons to generate community involvement around improving the platform as a service offering and overlapping open source software.

The company has been successful with its cloud strategy, but the challenge of being an open source leader and selling products on top isn't getting any easier as mixed environments become the norm, Lyman said.

"It's a changing landscape and environment that we're all living in," Lyman said. "It's quite a contrast to when they were the open source software vendor and everybody else was selling proprietary."

Don't expect Red Hat to explode in the cloud market, but the company will find a portion of the market to embrace tools like OpenShift, Linthicum said. Red Hat will also align closely to where it has existed in the traditional marketplace.

"We don't see them every day, but we see them enough to understand they have good penetration and their products work well," Linthicum said.

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

Dig Deeper on IT Ops Implications of Continuous Delivery