June 24, 2017

What’s Red Hat’s vision for container adoption, and what has the company learned about the way clients go about setting up container platforms? Director of Product Strategy Brian Gracely recently shared his perspective on these topics with Container Journal. Here’s what he had to say.

Red Hat and the Container Ecosystem

First, though, a little background: Red Hat has emerged as one of the key vendors in the container space. It offers a PaaS, OpenShift, built using Docker and Kubernetes. It’s also the main sponsor of Project Atomic, which builds a lightweight Linux distribution for hosting Docker.

Most of the other big-name Linux vendors, including Canonical and SUSE, are doing similar things. Red Hat is competing with those companies in the container market.

But in key ways, Red Hat’s biggest competitor is Docker Inc. While Red Hat’s container products rely on Docker containers, it tends to favor tools, such as Kubernetes, that are not a part of the container stack that Docker Inc. would like to see organizations embrace. The simmering competition between Docker Inc. and Red Hat is at the center of the current fracturing of the container ecosystem.

Red Hat’s Perspective

If you understand that context, many of the comments that Gracely offered about Docker container adoption make sense. The following were the key points he made in a conversation with Container Journal about how organizations should approach container adoption:

  • They should embrace open standards in order to ensure flexibility. “Companies should look for a platform that puts a premium on standardization, automation and cloud-based technology in order to streamline developer workflows and build apps more quickly and efficiently,” Gracely said. “Look for self-service capabilities that will enable developers to create applications on demand—directly from the tools they use most. Support for multiple languages and interaction models is also key.” This makes sense; since Red Hat’s origins in the late 1990s, the company’s business model has centered around promoting open standards and open-source code. That’s somewhat at odds with Docker Inc.’s approach, which is to build a container stack comprised of technologies from Docker itself (and held together by protocols that are more or less open right now, but may not always be).
  • They should embrace container products that are widely supported in the ecosystem. “Look for a platform that has a large ecosystem of partners and developers that are enhancing the overall capabilities of the platform,” Gracely said. In other words, Red Hat thinks containers work best when a broad group of companies collaborates in producing the technologies that power them. That makes Red Hat different from Docker Inc., which promotes a container software stack built using its own tools.
  • They should make sure their container platform can scale. “The platform should have web-scale DNA built into its core orchestration engine, as well as run consistently on top of any cloud environment,” Gracely said. “This allows scaling to be optimized for any big challenge, whether it’s for locally clustered applications, or in response to global customer demand.” It’s harder to see this point as a criticism of Docker Inc. But it is a reflection of Red Hat’s emphasis on portability and scalability, which go hand in hand with open standards.

Taken together, these messages form the core of the thesis about container adoption that Red Hat is promoting. If you’ve followed Red Hat and the open-source world for a while, they probably don’t sound very new. This is the messaging that Red Hat has been using to promote its Linux distribution and other open-source products for years.

But not everyone in the Docker world today has a background in open source. The big test for Red Hat’s messages is getting buy-in from people who don’t intrinsically believe open standards are better and vibrant partner ecosystems lead to faster innovation.

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.