August 23, 2017

Docker Swarm may not be as popular as you think, at least for OpenStack admins. That’s according to the latest OpenStack User Survey, which shows Kubernetes enjoying a huge lead over other container and PaaS management tools for OpenStack clouds.

The survey, which was published this month, is the most recent iteration of the OpenStack project’s annual assessment of deployment trends within the OpenStack community. Page 41 of the report displays findings regarding which container and PaaS management tools OpenStack admins use. They look like this:

OpenStack 2016 Management Tool Survey Results

Excerpted from http://www.openstack.org/assets/survey/April-2016-User-Survey-Report.pdf. Solid blue bars represent production deployments, lighter blue is for development and QA and the lightest blue is for proof-of-concept.

All the big names you’d expect are on the list: Kubernetes, Mesos, Docker Swarm and so on. But Kubernetes’s commanding dominance is surprising, as is Docker Swarm’s tiny, tiny share of deployment and proof-of-concept environments.

Does this mean Docker is losing handedly in its bid to discredit Kubernetes’s effectiveness as a container management platform? Well, that may be the case among respondents to this particular question on the latest OpenStack User Survey, at this particular time. But it’s important to bear in mind that, as the OpenStack survey editors noted, these results are based on the relatively small sample size of only 118 respondents, so they may not be highly representative of bigger trends.

Also problematic is the fact that the survey question blended container and PaaS deployments together. It’s not clear from the information available whether the trend illustrated above would hold true if OpenStack had asked only about container deployments.

And, of course, we should note that this was a survey directed at OpenStack cloud admins. OpenStack is a big project, but it does not represent the entire community of developers who might be interested in using containers.

This is all to say that we shouldn’t go jumping to conclusions yet regarding the respective market share of Kubernetes, Swarm, Mesos or anything else. But that doesn’t make the OpenStack survey results entirely meaningless.

Probably the most significant and solid takeaway here is the high degree of volatility regarding the popularity of different management platforms. Compared to the previous year’s survey results, Kubernetes gained a fair amount of market share (and moved to the top of the list; previously, CloudFoundry was in the lead), while Docker dropped a staggering amount.

The volatility of the results implies that, at least among OpenStack admins, there was a high level of experimentation with different management solutions over the past year. It’s a safe bet that that experimentation continues today. This means container management tools remain anyone’s game.

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.