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Docker orchestration integration could ruffle partners' feathers

Adding container orchestration to the latest version of Docker Engine fuels debate about what enterprise IT shops want from the still-nascent technology -- and from whom.

SEATTLE -- Docker and its cloud partners may be on a collision course in container orchestration.

Docker has integrated Swarm orchestration with Docker Engine in version 1.12, slated to be commercially supported in the second half of 2016. Docker Engine is the software at the core of Docker and the runtime that creates containers within an operating system. Its functionality -- now baked into Docker Engine when run in Swarm mode -- relies on a distributed database spread among engines to maintain state and define services composed of containers.

In other words, the new Docker Engine will overlap heavily with products offered by the company's teeming ecosystem of partners for Docker orchestration.

These partners include not only Google, with its Kubernetes orchestration product, and Mesosphere, with its Datacenter Operating System, but also Amazon and Microsoft, which offer orchestrated container services on their public clouds.

Docker also released its answer to these cloud products into public beta here this week. Docker for Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Docker for Azure have a familiar value proposition as a fast and easy way to get Docker containers up and running on their respective clouds.

These public cloud partners generate revenue from their compute, networking and storage resources, which they'll continue to sell as underpinnings for Docker's cloud products, Docker officials said last week in a briefing.

However, Docker for AWS and Docker for Azure offer portability for containers off of those public clouds as well.

These additions to Docker's product line are optional; "batteries included but swappable" is the Docker slogan for the Engine changes. But these moves also touch on a debate that is already going strong in the Docker community: Is Docker a tool, or a platform?

"Based on what Docker has done by addressing IT operations needs for enterprise clients and users, it's pretty clear that Docker sees it as a platform," said Jay Lyman, analyst with 451 Research.

There may be some concern that "this may go beyond the original drivers of Docker -- the simplicity and ease of use that made containerization much more viable for a lot more organizations," he said.

Enterprises have yet to place their bets on containers, since it's such a new technology, according to Lyman and other observers.

InVision, a Web and mobile app prototyping software-as-a-service provider based in New York, has Docker in production with Kubernetes and is too invested in Kubernetes to consider Docker Engine in Swarm mode as an alternative orchestration tool, said Patrick Cox, director of site engineering. He said he considers his company a very early adopter of containerization.

"When Docker came out, there was an industry that got built up around it that filled in a lot of the gaps that Docker didn't have [technology for] at the time," Cox said. But in releases such as Docker 1.9, the company began to fold in some of those value-add pieces, such as interhost networking support.

"Docker is now catching up, and I'm confident they'll catch up with everything," he said. "The market is ginormous ... enterprises are a huge market for them, and it's still largely untapped."

As far as the cloud products, making Docker platform-agnostic makes strategic sense, according to Theo Kim, head of DevOps engineering for GoPro, a digital video camera maker in San Francisco. 

Kim said he'd also like to see more native features from Docker, such as persistent file storage -- a place where another market rife with gap-filler companies has risen up around containers.

Other IT pros, however, said they'd like to see a head-on competitor for Docker, and -- turnabout being fair play -- speculate that such a competitor could turn out to be Amazon or Microsoft themselves.

"I suspect that they will do something," said Chris Riley, DevOps analyst with Fixate IO, based in Livermore, Calif., and a TechTarget contributor. "Docker didn't invent containers -- that sort of isolation, the hardest part of containers, was already built into Linux, and everything else is a wrapper around it."

Lyman was skeptical of this prediction, pointing out that Docker already has a head-on competitor in CoreOS' rkt, which has not taken the market by storm.

"It's more likely Microsoft will have its own management and orchestration layer -- that's where the competition is," Lyman said. "But it's very much a Wild West situation right now."

Google's Kubernetes product manager declined comment on the new Swarm integration for Docker orchestration. Amazon and Microsoft did not respond to requests for comments as of press time.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Write to her at [email protected] or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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