March 24, 2017

As part of an effort to mollify critics while simultaneously engendering the development of a much broader Docker ecosystem, Docker Inc. today announced it is donating a core element of Docker Engine known as containerd to a third-party community. The hand-off will occur in the first quarter, according to Docker Inc., with the third-party community named at that time.

Key containerd functions span how container images are transferred, container execution and supervision, as well as low-level local storage and network interfaces across both Linux and Windows platforms.

containerd already leverages the Open Container Initiative (OCI) runtime and image format specifications. As such, containerd is also part of the OCI reference implementation (runC), which Docker Inc. has pledged to obtain certification for from OCI.

Taking those efforts a step further, Alibaba, Amazon Web Services (AWS) Google, IBM and Microsoft all have committed to providing maintainers and contributors to the new containerd project.

Solomon Hykes, founder, CTO and chief product officer at Docker Inc., says the primary motivation for donating containerd to a third-party governance body is that both cloud service providers (CSPs) and OEMS that want to embed Docker functions in systems have been pressing to be able to customize containerd to meet their own unique requirements. By placing the stewardship in the hands of an independent body, Hykes says CSP can extend containerd functions as they see fit while maintaining a consist level of access around a standard set of application programming interfaces (APIs).

For the most part, cloud service providers have been delivering Docker container services on top of virtual machines. The availability of a customizable implementation of containerd suggests CSPs are gearing up to deliver container services on bare-metal servers. One of the promises of Docker has been higher server utilization rates. For CSPs, the ability to run Docker on bare-metal servers could result in millions of dollars in savings gained from being able to increase the overall density of their data center environments.

Docker technologies also are likely to prove to be a crucial component of any approach to hybrid cloud computing that a CSP might choose to develop. With large numbers of enterprise IT organizations embracing Docker to create highly portable applications, those customers want the option of being able to optimally deploy those applications locally or in a public cloud. Each CSP will want to able to differentiate itself on how well those Docker applications can run in their cloud environment.

At the same time, Docker Inc. is clearly moving to quiet criticism surround its control over Docker Engine. Concerns that Docker Inc. would use its influence over the development of Docker to create a proprietary stack of management software that always would be better-optimized to manage Docker than any other platform has been a concern for several years. By making containerd available via a third-party organization, Docker Inc. is helping to ensure the management playing field is level.

Exactly where Docker the open-source project ends and Docker Inc. begins is an ongoing process. Docker Inc. has been donating multiple pieces of code to various third-party bodies since 2014. As more Docker functions become standardized, Hykes is making it clear that process will continue as Docker technologies mature.

Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist with over 25 years of experience. He also contributed to IT Business Edge, Channel Insider, Baseline and a variety of other IT titles. Previously, Vizard was the editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise as well as Editor-in-Chief for CRN and InfoWorld.