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Mirantis rejuvenates Docker Enterprise cloud tools, support

Docker Enterprise Container Cloud keeps pace with recent trends in Kubernetes management, such as multicluster and multi-cloud support but faces stiff competition.

Mirantis has made the right moves so far for Docker Enterprise users but still faces major challenges as it looks to expand its customer base.

Mirantis has improved tech support for Docker Enterprise and begun to address longstanding issues with its architecture since acquiring the product in November, enterprise customers said. It has also delivered new features, including production-ready Windows Kubernetes support in June that Docker Inc. had previously promised, and a revamped cloud platform this week.

All that benefits existing Docker shops, 750 of which were shifted into Mirantis custody after the product's acquisition. But industry watchers said the company still faces grim odds competing against large incumbent IT vendors such as Red Hat and VMware for potential new buyers.

"They claim to have the second-largest user base for Kubernetes, but I suspect a lot of that is old Docker customers," said Tom Petrocelli, an analyst at Amalgam Insights. "We're starting to get into an era where market-share changes will be measured in single digits, and the market is starting to solidify around big companies."

Mirantis lacks the name recognition of those vendors among enterprises, and much of its future cachet among large companies will depend on whether it will retain the rights to the Docker name. Mirantis was granted those rights for the first year after the acquisition, and is negotiating with Docker Inc. to extend that into next year, company officials said.

Forrester Research placed Mirantis in the "Contenders" category of its Sept. 15 Wave report on Multicloud Container Development Platforms. However, all but one of the eight vendors Forrester evaluated were given stronger ratings than Mirantis; IBM/Red Hat earned top billing in the "leaders" section of the report, followed by Google, Rancher and VMware.

New Docker cloud platform shows promise

Docker Enterprise Container Cloud, which Mirantis made generally available this week, will include advanced features such as automated Kubernetes cluster provisioning and upgrades. Multicluster and multi-cloud management, a key selling point for Mirantis's Docker Enterprise Container Cloud, has also gained broad momentum lately among other hybrid cloud platform vendors, such as Rancher, VMware and Red Hat.

Don Bauer, Docker captain and community leaderDon Bauer

The ability to manage multiple Docker Kubernetes and Swarm clusters in a single interface, on both private and public cloud, has strong appeal for Don Bauer, a Docker captain, community leader and Docker Enterprise user at a large financial services company he requested not be named.

"It could simplify a lot of things, like monitoring and managing workloads we have that span multiple clusters -- right now, we have to log in to each separately," Bauer said.

Mirantis has also made up for some past Docker Inc. shortcomings for Bauer since the acquisition, he said. Enterprise support tickets and issues now reliably get a response within 30 minutes to an hour, which wasn't always the case with Docker Inc. -- though Docker support teams had begun to turn that around just before the acquisition happened, according to Bauer.

"To date, the Mirantis [customer] portal is way cleaner, and their average response time is way better," he said. "I got lucky because I was working with Docker closely and knew a lot of people -- if an issue was critical enough, there were lots of shoulders I could tap, and I did have to play that card, unfortunately. I don't have as many shoulders to tap at Mirantis, but I haven't felt like I needed to."

Mirantis has also acknowledged and begun to work on issues with a Docker Enterprise component, Universal Control Plane (UCP), that were reported by users but weren't publicly confirmed by Docker the last two years. In the next major Docker Enterprise release, Mirantis will fix issues related to Docker Enterprise Swarm Networking utilities libnetwork and Interlock and will consider reducing some critical path usage of RethinkDB as the backing database for UCP, according to a company spokesperson.

UCP earned a reputation for network bottlenecks that led to lags with database updates in extremely large clusters, especially when management nodes tried to recover from a network connectivity problem. Bauer said he's experienced similar issues in the past in clusters with more than three management nodes -- sometimes as few as five.

"If there's a network hiccup, it can take a long time for the management nodes to reconcile and get leadership figured out again," Bauer said. "The first time I saw this it was 15 minutes before the database was rebuilt; the last time it was five minutes. Since then, we've just run three managers."

Docker Enterprise Container Cloud's fine print, murky future

Mirantis showed off automatic developer self-service resource provisioning and Kubernetes cluster upgrade functions in Docker Enterprise Container Cloud this week. Bauer said he will need to see those features in action before he knows if they'll support his environment, however.

"A demo I saw of automatically provisioning a new cluster looked cool, but I had a ton of questions," he said. Chief among them was how that automated provisioning process might incorporate tools beyond the Kubernetes cluster and underlying compute resources, such as security monitoring agents.

A demo I saw of automatically provisioning a new cluster looked cool, but I had a ton of questions.
Don BauerDocker captain and community leader

The answers to some of those questions involve some caveats at this point. For example, in its initial release, the Docker Enterprise Container Cloud supports auto-provisioning on bare-metal, on-premises VMs and AWS; automated upgrades are supported on bare-metal, OpenStack and AWS, and for Kubernetes applications such as Prometheus; support for VMware, GCP and Azure will follow for both features. Full-stack automated lifecycle management is also limited to Ubuntu Linux OS environments for now. Only clusters initially provisioned with the Docker Enterprise Container Cloud can be automatically updated.

How exactly the automated provisioning and upgrade process might include or invoke customized resources or other third-party services is unclear at this stage, though Docker Enterprise under Mirantis generally supports customization through mainstream Docker and Kubernetes APIs.

Khalil Ahmad, head of DevOps, S&P GlobalKhalil Ahmad

While Bauer said he plans to use Docker Enterprise for the foreseeable future, other big-name customers touted by Mirantis at its virtual event this week were noncommittal. An engineering manager at GlaxoSmithKline who presented about his company's use of Docker Enterprise declined to comment on whether he will keep the product long-term.

Virtual event presenters from RBC Capital Markets did not respond to requests for comment on long-term vendor plans at press time, but they spoke positively about working with Mirantis engineers on Kubernetes GPU support for Docker Enterprise.

S&P Global has used Docker Enterprise in production since 2015, and still uses the Docker Swarm orchestrator to support on-premises Windows workloads. However, the company plans to move away from Swarm in the long term, and has relationships with Red Hat, AWS and VMware.

"We haven't made any decisions yet, [but] we are always conscious to see whether there may be a better option for us," said Khalil Ahmad, head of DevOps at S&P Global. "There is just so much available ... we don't intend to make any quick moves."

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