August 20, 2017

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but Microsoft is continuing to shower the Docker community with love. The company recently announced official support for Kubernetes on Azure Container Service, a move that gives customers more choice and adds color to the Microsoft-Docker partnership.

In a blog post published Feb. 21, Microsoft Program Manager Saurya Das announced that the Kubernetes container orchestrator is generally available on Azure Container Service, or ACS, the Docker container environment available from Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform.

The update means that ACS users can now pick between Docker Swarm, Kubernetes or Mesos when choosing a container orchestrator for their environment.

Microsoft says the change is all about maximizing user choice. “With today’s news, we again deliver on our goal of providing our customers the choice of open-source orchestrators and tooling that simplifies the deployment of container based applications in the cloud,” Das wrote in the post.

ACS vs. ECS and GKE

Official Kubernetes support on Azure is not surprising. The days are long gone when Microsoft’s business model revolved around locking customers into a single choice of technology, or pretending to give them choice while actually embracing, extending and extinguishing competing products. Microsoft now realizes that lock-in scares customers away like nothing else.

In this case, customer choice could help Microsoft to win in the marketplace. Microsoft’s decision to let people use whichever orchestrator they want with its hosted container service—or at least choose from among the top three orchestrators—distinguishes ACS in an important way from its biggest competitors, Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS) and Google Container Engine (GKE). ECS uses its own homegrown orchestrator and the latter uses Kubernetes. Giving customers more choice will help ACS compete in this space.

Microsoft, Docker and the Container Ecosystem

At the same time, Kubernetes support also complicates Microsoft’s relationship with Docker Inc. to a certain extent. Microsoft’s close partnership with Docker has been key to the rapid evolution of the Windows container ecosystem. Just a few years ago, you would have sounded crazy if you talked about running Docker on Windows. Thanks to close technical collaboration, however, Windows containers are now a reality.

But Kubernetes is the orchestrator favored by companies that are in competition with Docker, including Red Hat and Google. In that sense, Microsoft is sending a signal that it does not view the Kubernetes community as the enemy, even though Docker does. (Well, this is the open-source world, so competing companies are really just frenemies that pretend to be working together all the time—but the competition is clear enough if you dig beneath the surface.)

Microsoft is not rejecting Swarm, of course, and the partnership between Microsoft and Docker is not going to end over the issue of Kubernetes support. But by embracing Kubernetes alongside Swarm (and Mesos), the company is adopting a more neutral posture within the ecosystem. That leaves Docker slightly more isolated within an ecosystem that is increasingly divided between Docker Inc. and everyone else.

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.