Why is Docker so popular? The technical advantages of containers have a lot to do with it. However, part of the answer is also cultural: Docker is a status symbol that companies use to demonstrate ahead-of-the-curve thinking.
To be sure, it would be a big stretch to say that the only reason why Docker is popular is that containers make a company look cool. Containers offer plenty of practical benefits, such as faster startup time than virtual machines, a greater degree of portability and the ability to scale more seamlessly.
Yet, at least part of the reason why Docker became so massively popular in a short time—remember, Docker is barely 4 years old and is already in widespread use in companies large and small—is that Docker functions as a sort of status symbol.
In other words, adopting Docker has become a way for organizations to show that they are embracing technological innovation and committed to efficiency.
Docker as Status Symbol
This may seem a controversial argument to make because no company would actually admit to adopting Docker just because it’s the cool thing to do.
That’s not how status symbols work. If you say that you only use something because of its cool factor, then it stops making you cool.
Still, if you consider just how difficult it can be to migrate to Docker and how much additional management overhead containers entail, it’s hard not to think that the cool factor is what is driving Docker adoption to a significant degree.
After all, most companies have long used virtual machines. Their engineers know the ins and outs of virtualization. They have long-standing contracts with virtualization vendors. Most of the apps they use were written to work with traditional infrastructure, not microservices and containers.
Unless you’re a brand-new company building a software stack from scratch (and therefore able to create all of your applications to be microservices-centric), or have the massive scalability needs of a company like Netflix or Google, chances are that virtual machines will probably keep working out for you. Migrating existing environments to run efficiently with Docker is a lot of work, and probably not worth the payoff in some cases.
Yet the fact that big-name tech companies like Netflix and Google have embraced containers means that everyone else is now eager to do the same. Even if the infrastructure and scalability needs of most companies are very different from those of the tech giants, everyone wants to use Docker because that’s what the cool companies do (with good reason in their case, because, again, their operations are so massive that migrating to containers is actually worth the trouble for them).
Consider, too, the fact that container technology was around long before Docker in the form of platforms such as LXC. But very few companies used LXC or a similar container framework in production, because LXC never assumed the cachet or hipness of Docker.
In short, while Docker is a genuinely beneficial technology, I don’t think Docker adoption would have proceeded as quickly as it has if there were not a certain cool factor helping to drive it. That cool factor derives in large part from the fact that very large tech companies embraced containers and microservices at an early date because they actually need them. Smaller companies, or those with fewer infrastructure needs, may not benefit as much from migrating to Docker, but they are doing so anyway because it’s the hip thing to do.