August 19, 2017

Docker handed over a good bit of its code as open source to the Open Container Initiative  / AppC with the Linux Foundation in charge of it. When Docker seeds source code like that it actually helps the development community, Docker, Docker competitors, and enterprises using or considering using containers.

First, open sourcing Docker gives back to the development community. “I think Docker is acknowledging that a large portion of what they were doing is directly related to LXC (Linux Containers). A large portion of Docker’s code, probably 50-percent of it, is LXC. Benefiting directly from open source that way, you always want to give back. Joining the Linux Foundation allows them to do that. I think that’s really what the point is,” says Lars Cromley, Cloud Architect, 2nd Watch, a managed public cloud provider.

Second, the development community will in turn provide a large resource for innovating and improving Docker. “By opening up Docker to the Linux Foundation, Docker gains access to an intelligent group of people who are really supportive of open source software. As a result, Docker can only get better,” says Cromley.

For example, once Docker entered the Linux Foundation, this enabled companies that automate configuration management for provisioning such as Puppet, Ansible, and Chef to engage with Docker’s code to determine how their solutions can better interact with Docker. This is important due to the broad and rapid adoption of Docker, which means these organizations will need this open source code access to better interoperate and integrate with Docker as they increasingly rub up against it in DevOps environments.

And of course both giving back to the open source community and enabling more innovation and interoperation are good for publicity. “This attracts a lot of talent to Docker,” says Cromley. That’s talent both in the open source community and inside Docker the organization. And that helps Docker to feed quality and innovation into future projects that it builds and supports on top of Docker such as the Docker Orca Project.

Third, open sourcing Docker makes Docker more competitive with other container software such as CoreOS Rocket. “By open sourcing a large portion of your code base you’re enabling other companies to come and see what else they can build on top of it,” says Cromley. This increases the utility and popularity of the software, which leads other container vendors to raise their game in order to compete.

Fourth, open sourcing Docker helps its enterprise customers and potential customers. “Docker’s fame is driving its adoption. Right now more people are wondering how they can utilize and leverage Docker and the value it brings,” says Cromley. By open sourcing Docker in conjunction with the Linux Foundation, Docker is helping a broader audience to see how many different ways they can apply it. Meanwhile, the increased competition between container vendors gives enterprise customers a higher-quality selection of container products to choose from.

Profit Through Cooperation

Though healthy competition is good, businesses globally have learned that cooperation leads to increased profits, too, where as those who don’t play well get themselves kicked out of the sandbox. VHS didn’t shut out Betamax in the video tape format face-off; Betamax shut itself out largely by remaining proprietary. Similarly, Blu-ray beat HD DVD in the battle for primacy and ultimately exclusivity as the HD optical disc format of choice—the de facto standard.

By opening its source code, Docker has selected the path of VHS and Blu-ray. Though it is not alone in this choice, it will grow with the open container movement as a result. “I think they’ll be leading that movement, only because they have been doing so much with it since 2013,” says Cromley.

By entering the Linux Foundation, Docker can participate in an open dialog about their ideas for AppC. “It will be more of a discussion rather than like throwing bricks over the fence at each other. I keep going back to CoreOS and Docker because that seems to be where a lot of this rift came from,” says Cromley. A number of trade magazine feature articles have been feeding on this apparent “rift”, reporting on competition between CoreOS and Docker.

“I think by both of them joining the Linux Foundation and working together it’s a step toward showing that we really can work together and we can make something really great,” says Cromley. And if this cooperation wakens quality and profits while putting rift rumors to bed, all the better.

David Geer

David Geer’s work has appeared in ScientificAmerican, The Economist Technology Quarterly, CSO & CSOonline, FierceMarkets, TechTarget, InformationWeek, Computerworld, Byte.com, ITWorld.com, IEEE Computer Society’s Computer magazine, IEEE Distributed Systems Online, Government Security News, Laptop, Smart Computing, Technical Support, The Hosting Standard (Canada), TechWorld.com (UK), SIGnature, Processor, and the Engineering News-Record. David served as a technician at CoreComm in Cleveland, OH prior venturing into writing.