September 29, 2016

Docker launched its first major enterprise product, Docker Datacenter, a few days ago. Here’s how the Containers-as-a-Service (CaaS) platform will impact other container companies and software, and what it means for innovation within the container ecosystem as a whole.

Docker is pitching its new platform as the industry’s “first end-to-end on premises Container-as-a-Service (CaaS) solution.” Depending on your perspective, this may sound like something of a stretch.

Before the Docker Datacenter (DDC) release, third-party vendors had already released integrated container solutions similar (if not identical) to Docker’s new platform. In particular, these included container virtualization solutions from Linux vendors like Red Hat (which offers the Atomic Host container platform) and Canonical (which is developing LXD for hosting containers from Docker and other vendors on Ubuntu).

That means DDC is not actually the first enterprise-grade container platform that makes it easy for companies to deploy and manage CaaS on-premise or in a private cloud. They could already do that using third-party solutions — or, of course, by setting up the Docker components manually on their own infrastructure.

That said, DDC is novel — and different from previously existing container platforms for the enterprise — in other important respects. Those include:

  • DDC has the Docker brand. Docker can promise customers that they are getting an enterprise container solution — along with the commercial support that is included with a DDC subscription — straight from the source. Vendors like Red Hat can’t say the same. (On balance, some customers may prefer a solution from a company like Red Hat over Docker because they already have Red Hat environments — so the Docker branding for DDC may not be seen as a good thing in all situations.)
  • DDC is Docker-focused. That’s an important difference from most other enterprise container platforms. They tend to cater to all types of containers — not just Docker’s format but also CoreOS rkt and, sometimes, generic LXC containers. Here, too, DDC’s narrower focus may be seen as either a pro or a con, depending on a customer’s perspective. If a company is sure it only wants to use Docker containers, DDC will be an attractive choice. But for organizations concerned about being locked into Docker, an agnostic solution from a third party will seem better.
  • DDC is the first major commercial product from Docker. For Docker, DDC is a big step toward profitability. The company has received lots of investment and a $1 billion valuation, but it has so far introduced few revenue-generating products. By giving Docker a way to make lots of money in the enterprise space, DDC will help to assure investors. It is also a signal of Docker’s maturity as compared to competing solutions like CoreOS, which seems far from releasing an enterprise-level commercial platform that will be likely to enjoy widespread adoption.

So, in some ways, DDC is more of the same. In others, it’s a radical step forward for Docker, and one that has big ramifications for other companies eager to stake claim to their slice of the container ecosystem. Where things go from here remains to be seen — and will depend largely on how many enterprises choose to use DDC (as we’ve noted, some major companies have already deployed it) — but it’s clear already that DDC is a sign of major new trends in the container world.

Christopher Tozzi

Christopher Tozzi has covered technology and business news for nearly a decade, specializing in open source, containers, big data, networking and security. He is currently Senior Editor and DevOps Analyst with Fixate.io and Sweetcode.io.