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Mirantis marshals reinforcements for Kubernetes management

Mirantis adds engineering staff and revives Docker Swarm as it plans to do battle in container orchestration against Red Hat, Pivotal and Docker itself.

Three months after Mirantis acquired Docker Enterprise, it has added Kubernetes management experts to its development team and resuscitated Docker Swarm to steel itself for the intensely competitive enterprise container management fray.

Six engineers from Kontena, a Finnish open source Kubernetes management firm founded in 2015, will join Mirantis as Kontena sells off its assets, Mirantis officials said. Kontena created developer-focused open source projects, including Kontena Lens, a management and monitoring UI, and Kontena Pharos, a Kubernetes distribution that bundled in multiple elements of the container infrastructure, such as a Weaveworks overlay network.

Lens and Pharos remain open source, Kontena remains a separate legal entity for now, and Mirantis has not acquired rights to its IP. However, Mirantis officials said they expect Kontena's engineers to help create similarly developer-focused features for its Docker Enterprise UI based on the Universal Control Plane IP it acquired with Docker in November.

"A developer focus is part of our strategic direction going forward," said David Van Everen, senior vice president of marketing at Mirantis. "Kubernetes is the intersection where developers and operations meet, and it's important to give developers hands-on capabilities that are as easy to use as possible."

Mirantis also revealed more about its strategic plans for its Docker acquisition this week, with a pledge to revive support for the enterprise edition of the Docker Swarm container orchestrator. The company initially planned support for two years in preparation for the tool's end of life.

The open source community edition of Docker Swarm remained alive after Docker Inc. pivoted toward Kubernetes in 2018, but Mirantis will now renew Docker Enterprise support for Swarm and develop new features for it, according to a company blog post. The decision came after Docker Swarm customers lobbied for continued support, citing Docker Swarm's stability and ease of use, Van Everen said.

Container experts said this resolves lingering confusion about Docker Swarm's fate following the sale to Mirantis.

"Was it going to be end-of-lifed even for Docker CE, or just for the Enterprise Edition?" was the question about Docker Swarm among IT pros, said E.T. Cook, managing partner at Etc.io, a Dallas-based consulting firm. "Docker's biggest opportunities are in the tooling and orchestration market -- Swarm served a different niche and market than Kubernetes, and an alternative hasn't surfaced."

Mirantis faces uphill climb in Kubernetes management

Mirantis is far from the only Kubernetes management vendor looking to capture developer interest with UI improvements -- Red Hat and Pivotal rolled out updates to developer interfaces at KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America in November, and Google Kubernetes Engine added a GitOps interface into Kubernetes for developers last week.

What remains of Docker Inc. after selling off Docker Enterprise is focused on Docker Desktop, also a developer interface into cloud-native infrastructures, including containers. Overall, with 95 Kubernetes distros certified by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation and every major IT vendor throwing its hat into the Kubernetes management ring, analysts expect attrition and consolidation to begin in this market this year.

Mirantis has acquired some interesting technology and expertise, but they still need to put them together into a cohesive platform.
Gary ChenAnalyst, IDC

"Mirantis has acquired some interesting technology and expertise, but they still need to put them together into a cohesive platform," said Gary Chen, an analyst at IDC. "They're facing huge competitors, and it's not like they're early to market."

Mirantis has yet to definitively address network scalability issues that some very large Docker Enterprise users reported prior to the acquisition. Van Everen said those concerns have not surfaced among most Docker Enterprise users so far, but the company also plans to finish Docker's pre-acquisition work to boost Docker Enterprise networking features by integrating Tigera's Calico Enterprise. Mirantis has retained existing Docker Enterprise customers so far, Van Everen said, and grown the business over the last quarter, though he declined to share specific revenue or customer numbers.

However, the overall enterprise market for Kubernetes management and container orchestration has yet to mature, and it's far from too late, other industry watchers said. Most enterprises are still working on the operations aspect of Kubernetes management and have yet to reach a point where they're looking for developer self-service interfaces.

"The overall market is still in its infancy," Cook said. "Even though Docker is going through an identity crisis, there's plenty of time for it to come of age."

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