This content is part of the Essential Guide: A guide to Microsoft Windows Server 2016

Microsoft Docker container GA a potential sea change for enterprises

Microsoft-supported Docker products will become generally available beginning with Windows Server 2016 in October 2016, vaulting containers into enterprise prime time.

Microsoft Docker container features are coming in the first release of Windows Server 2016 next month to push containers toward production in enterprise environments.

It's been widely known that Docker for Windows Server 2016 would become generally available in the third quarter of 2016. But the official news yesterday of general availability in October involves a significantly deepened partnership. This cooperation could pay dividends for enterprise customers, as Microsoft said it will throw its considerable weight behind Docker containers and Docker Datacenter.

Commercially supported Docker Engine will be available to Windows Server 2016 customers at no additional cost, and Microsoft will provide Windows Server 2016 customers enterprise support for CS Docker Engine as well.

"Giving away Docker support without charging extra is quite a signal about how serious Microsoft is in the container market," said Zubin Irani, CEO of cPrime Inc., an Agile software development consulting firm in Foster City, Calif.

This is also a big endorsement for Docker as the industry standard for containers, said Chris Riley, a founding partner at HKM Consulting LLC in Rochester, Mass.

"We see about one-third of our customers on Windows OS, so this really helps promote container consumption," he said.

Docker for Windows Server 2016 offers integration that can manage Dockerized Windows apps alongside Linux-based containers without having to switch between interfaces, which represents the start of true maturity in the container market, industry observers said.

"It's huge," Irani said. "Container management is the next big thing, as companies deploy thousands of containers -- being able to view both [Windows and Linux] from the same interface is very important."

This is also a potentially crucial step in allowing Microsoft shops to migrate to the cloud. HKM's Riley said, for his clients, Microsoft Docker container support in the core Windows OS will make Azure an even more attractive option.

"Although we are heavy in Amazon Web Services, as well as Red Hat Enterprise Linux [and] CentOS technologies, Azure is definitely No. 2 in many of our clients' eyes," he said.

Microsoft Docker container fine print

Docker will only work on Windows Server 2016 because much work was done to the kernel to make this possible, so companies who are not willing to upgrade won't be able to take advantage of it. And, as is typical for new Microsoft releases, many users are hesitant to deploy the very first version that will ship next month, even though the integration with Docker has been highly anticipated.

"It's new and, therefore, not mature -- [and it] will probably be buggy," said Mike Kavis, vice president and principal architect for Cloud Technology Partners Inc., a cloud consultancy based in Boston, of the new OS. "There could be a host of issues upgrading Windows, especially for very old versions."

For some shops, however, this could be enough of an incentive to push migration forward more quickly than is typical.

"The big issue is getting customers off of 2012 and up to 2016," HKM's Riley said. "This may help enable that migration more quickly, especially in hybrid OS organizations."

It can take up to a year for an enterprise to migrate to the next version of a Windows Server OS, but now is also the time of year when organizations ready IT plans for the next 12 months, Irani pointed out.

"People are still getting their heads around planning for 2017 -- the timing is interesting," Irani said. For an enterprise to plan to have 20% of its Windows hosts migrated to Windows Server 2016 in the next calendar year is "a reasonable goal now."

Meanwhile, Microsoft must also continue to support more applications on its Windows Nano Server OS, which is an order of magnitude smaller than the 10 GB Windows Server Core. Docker officials said in a blog post that Nano is supported by Docker as well, but further digging revealed there is no native Microsoft Nano support for SQL Server, for example.*

Until there are more Nano integrations, for the most part, "Windows in a container is still heavy," said Chris Riley, DevOps analyst with Fixate IO, based in Livermore, Calif.

Microsoft shops await Docker management integration GA

Microsoft just needs to buy Docker already.
Chris RileyDevOps analyst, Fixate IO

Docker container orchestration and management tools won't hit the market at exactly the same time as Windows Server 2016 support, which won't hold back test and development use cases, but could further delay production rollouts. Docker's management platform, Docker Datacenter for Windows, will be released into beta later in the fourth quarter,** and Swarm Mode for Docker Engine 1.12 also won't be available until later in the fourth quarter, according to Docker officials.

"The final piece of this relationship is the support of Docker Datacenter," Fixate IO's Riley said. "Docker needs Docker Datacenter to transform from the container ... to a platform, which is necessary for enterprise adoption."

Until Docker Datacenter with Windows integration becomes generally available, the announcement amounts to "just some powerful backing from an enterprise player," Fixate IO's Riley said.

This is, obviously, very important for Docker, but "Docker Datacenter on Windows could be able to corner a market that Kubernetes and Mesos would not be able to in any near term," Fixate IO's Riley said, adding that he'd like to see the companies become even closer in the near future.

"Microsoft just needs to buy Docker already," he said.

* Originally we reported that members of the open source community have created a Dockerized SQL Server image with Nano Server; actually, the community image is based on Windows Server Core.

** Information changed after publication.

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.

Next Steps

See how Google Kubernetes functions in production

Is Docker's strategy too ambitious?

Expand your container horizons: Five non-Docker containers

Dig Deeper on Managing Virtual Containers