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Docker Enterprise spun off to Mirantis, company restructures

In an unexpected move, Docker sells off its Docker Enterprise business -- including customer support -- to Mirantis and refocuses on Docker Hub and Docker Desktop.

In a startling turn of events, Docker as the industry knows it is no more.

Mirantis, a privately held company based in Campbell, Calif., acquired the Docker Enterprise business from Docker Inc., including Docker employees, Docker Enterprise partnerships and some 750 Docker Enterprise customer accounts. The IP acquired in the deal for an undisclosed sum, announced today, includes Docker Engine - Enterprise, Docker Trusted Registry, Docker Universal Control Plane and Docker CLI.

"This is the end of Docker as we knew it, and it's a stunning end," said Jay Lyman, an analyst at 451 Research. The industry as a whole had been skeptical of Docker's business strategy for years, particularly in the last six months as the company went quiet. The company underwent a major restructuring in the wake of the Mirantis deal today, naming longtime COO Scott Johnston as CEO. Johnston replaces Robert Bearden, who served just six months as the company's chief executive.

"This validates a lot of the questions and uncertainty that have been surrounding Docker," Lyman said. "We certainly had good reasons for asking the questions that we were."

While not the end for Docker Enterprise, it appears to be the end for Docker's Swarm orchestrator, which Mirantis will support for another two years. The primary focus will be on Kubernetes, Mirantis CEO Adrian Ionel wrote in a company blog post.

This is the end of Docker as we knew it, and it's a stunning end.
Jay LymanAnalyst, 451 Research

Docker Enterprise customers are already being directed to Mirantis for support, though Docker account managers and points of contact remain the same for now, as they transition over to Mirantis. Going forward, Mirantis will incorporate Docker Kubernetes into its Kubernetes as a Service offering, which analysts believe will give it a fresh toehold in public and hybrid cloud container orchestration.

However, it's a market already crowded with vendors. Competitors include big names such as Google, which offers hybrid Kubernetes services with Anthos, and IBM-Red Hat, which so far has dominated the enterprise market for on-premises and hybrid Kubernetes management with more than 1000 customers.

A surprising exit for Docker Inc.

While the value of the deal remains unknown, it's unlikely that Mirantis, which numbers 400 employees and is best known for its on-premises OpenStack and Kubernetes-as-a-service business, could afford a blockbuster sum equivalent to the hundreds of millions of dollars in funding Docker Inc. received since it launched Docker Engine 1.0 in 2014.

"I thought Docker would find a bigger buyer -- I'm not sure Mirantis has the resources or name to do a very large deal," said Gary Chen, an analyst at IDC.

Analysts were also surprised that Docker split off Docker Enterprise rather than being acquired as a whole, though it's possible a second deal for Docker's remaining Docker Hub and Docker Desktop IP could follow.

"It could be another buyer only wanted that part of the business, but Docker put so much into Docker Enterprise for quite a while -- this is a complete turnaround," Chen said.

Docker Enterprise hit scalability, reliability snags for some

As Docker looked to differentiate its Kubernetes implementation within Docker Enterprise last year, one customer who used the Swarm orchestrator for some workloads hoped that Kubernetes support would alleviate scalability and stability concerns. Mitchell International, an auto insurance software company in San Diego, said it suffered a two-hour internal service outage when a Swarm master failed and a quorum algorithm to elect a new master node also did not work. This outage prompted Mitchell to move Linux containers to Amazon EKS, but members of its IT team hoped Docker Enterprise with Kubernetes support would replace swarm for Windows containers.

However, about a month ago, a senior architect at a large insurance company on the East Coast told SearchITOperations he'd experienced similar issues in his deployment, including the software's Kubernetes integration.

This company's environment is comprised of thousands of containers and hundreds of host nodes, and according to the architect, the Docker Enterprise networking implementation can become unstable at that scale. He traced this to its use of the Raft Consensus Algorithm, an open source utility which maintains consistency in distributed systems, and how it stores data in the open source RethinkDB, which can become corrupt when it processes high volumes of data, and out of sync with third-party overlay networks in the environment.

"The Docker implementation gives you the native Kubernetes APIs, but we do have concerns with how some of the core networking with their Universal Control Plane is implemented," the architect said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to speak for his company in the press. "This is challenging at scale, and that carries forward into Kubernetes."

The insurance company has been able to address this by running a greater number of relatively small Docker Enterprise clusters, but wasn't satisfied with that as a long-term approach, and has begun to evaluate different Kubernetes distros from vendors such as Rancher and VMware to replace Docker Enterprise.

The senior architect was briefed on Mirantis' managed service plans prior to the acquisition this week, and said his company will still move away from Docker Enterprise next year.

"We talked to Mirantis' leadership team before [the acquisition] became public, but we don't see a managed service as a strategic piece for us," he said in an interview today. "I'm sure some customers will continue to ride out [the transition], but we're not looking for a vendor to come in and manage our platform."

Mirantis CEO pledges support, tech stability for customers

Docker reps said last year that it has many customers using Docker Enterprise with Windows and Swarm who had not run into the issue, in response to Mitchell International's report of a problem. A company spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment about the more recent customer report of issues with Kubernetes last month.

Mirantis CEO Ionel said he hasn't yet dug into that level of detail on the product, but that his company's tech team will take the lead on Kubernetes product development going forward.

"Mirantis will contribute our Kubernetes expertise, including around scalability, robustness, ease of management and operation to the platform," he said in an interview with SearchITOperations today. "That's part of the unique value that we bring -- the [Docker] brand will remain [Universal Control Plane], since that's what customers are used to, but the technology underneath the hood is going to get an upgrade."

At least for the foreseeable future, most Docker Enterprise customers will probably wait and see how the platform changes under Mirantis before they make a decision, consultants said.

"I know of only one Docker Enterprise customer, and I am sure they will stay on the platform, as it supports their production environment, until they see what Mirantis provides going forward," said Chris Riley, DevOps delivery director at Cprime Inc., an Agile software development consulting firm in San Mateo, Calif.

Most enterprises have yet to deploy full container platforms in production, but most of his enterprise clients are either focused on OpenShift for its hybrid cloud support or using a managed Kubernetes service from a public cloud provider, Riley said.

Docker intends to refocus its efforts around Docker Desktop, but that product won't be of interest to the insurance company's senior architect and his team, who have developed their own process for moving apps from the developer desktop into the CI/CD pipeline.

In fact, the senior architect said he'd become frustrated by the company's apparent focus on Docker Desktop over the last 18 months, while some Docker Enterprise customers waited for features such as blue-green container cluster upgrades, which Docker shipped in Docker Enterprise 3.0 in July.

"We'd been asking for ease of upgrade features for two years -- it's been a big pain point for us, to the point where we developed our own [software] to address it," he said. "They finally started to get there [with version 3.0], but it's a little too late for us."

Mirantis' Ionel said the company plans to include seamless upgrades as a major feature of its managed service offering. Other areas of focus will be centralized management of a fleet of Kubernetes clusters rather than just one, and self-service features for development teams.

Mirantis will acquire all of Docker's customer support and customer success team employees, as well as the systems they use to support Docker Enterprise shops and all historical customer support data, Ionel said.

"Nothing there has changed," he said. "They are still doing today what they were doing yesterday."

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