What does Docker want to be? An amazing tool built by developers for developers, or the
modern enterprise pipeline, where containers drive everything? While containers are not new,
there is no question that Docker has taken them to the next level. For the enterprise however,
containers cannot stand alone, and are still a rather immature tool. At DockerCon15 I got to see
how Docker plans to grow up.
Attending DockerCon15 was a great experience. The info hungry audience was too big for a
hotel, and just too small for Moscone center. However at the rate the interest is growing, I would
not be surprised if next year it was.
The makeup of the crowd was surprising. While I was expecting developers from mid to large
companies, I should have known better. Developers have Docker down, but not a lot of ways to
justify an event like this. Instead the show consisted of product teams from large tech
companies like Cisco. And IT Ops from a lot of traditional businesses like financial services and
healthcare. You could hardly call the audience Docker fanatics, but they see enough value to
open up their ears and learn.
Setting the Stage: Handicapped for the enterprise
The perception is that the Docker community and user base is very large. But what are they
doing with it? Are they integrating it into the delivery chain?
I have yet to encounter a use case that spanned beyond onesie twosie developers. When I talk
to companies including the 20 surveyed at the show, there is only one clear use case. It is ad-
hoc developer by developer containers. They use them as a local library of images to deploy
and test on, as well as do some experimental testing. And the widely available existing
containers/configurations hub is a huge plus. This really is just sandboxing supercharged. But it
stops there, the pipeline has not standardized on Docker containers, and rarely do they make
So the next question is how can you take what is available today and make it work team wide?
How do you make it fit into the enterprise? Or do you just wait? The key areas of functionality
that Docker has really been lacking in order to satisfy the enterprise are:
2.) Global container visibility and metadata
3.) Container Management
4.) Release Automation
5.) Governance and Auditing
6.) Limited to front-ends and small applications
The lack of some of these are what hackers, and lawsuits thrive on. And in the enterprise
careers live and die by. It is not a small list. However DockerCon15 had several things to offer.
Features and strategies that are encouraging for enterprise adoption, and address the above
weak spots. Starting with some key announcements.
Docker Grows Up
They keynote had a strong polarization to the community, and besides their great graphics, and
giveaways, was pretty lackluster. However there were a few things that I believe will help move
the Dockerized pipeline forward.
- Notary: Notary is a trusted publishing system, that runs a filter on all newly created
container instances. This is awesome. It mitigates one of my big fears about containers,
which is container sprawl. Many containers in the wild where configurations are
unknown, or old. Notary can be used to make sure there is a standard that is enforced
before containers go out the door, so fewer mystery containers will exist. But also the
process of creating filters alone forces teams to think about security, which educates
devs, and breaks some barriers with IT. The only path to a sustainable environment.
Notary is currently in beta, and has been open-sourced, which I think is a good and bad
thing. With all the code out there it is possible that exploits will be slightly easier to
identify both for committers to fix and hackers to leverage.
- Docker Machine: Docker machine is not new, but it is more advanced, with built in
functionality to run notary automatically on containers.
- Open Source RunC and Docker Open Standard: Docker has partnered with the Linux
Foundation as an independent body to manage the source code of RunC and containers
in general. This is an exciting announcement that will make containers possible on many
platforms, and integrate into existing systems. Which I believe could be a commercial
threat to Docker in the next few years. They will feel the pressure to transform into an
organization that embraces IT, and the Enterprise, along with keeping up with
- Networking: Honestly even the new networking functionality is weak. And not yet close
to satisfying the networking requirements for enterprise IT. But it is still nice to see
Docker is thinking about it. Some of the new functionality makes it easier to connect
containers, but I would suspect that the current solution would still involve software
defined networking SDN agents, that are part of the scripting and then provisioning.
- Microsoft + Docker: Containers in some form will make it to Windows Server. What i’m
not clear on, nor is it announced, is how compatible the Windows container system will
be with ones running on Linux hosts. It looks like the updates are a combination of
changes to the operating system itself. Maybe LXC look alike? Update the file system to
support isolation. And services to control provisioning and container management. I
assume this will be a component/offering in Azure as well.
Reliant on Partners
It was not only what Docker had to say that got my attention. In addition to the announcements,
there was a lot to be had from the exhibitors. A few of the software vendors in the developer
tooling space have clearly identified the enterprise Docker gap. They have jumped on the
opportunity to up level containers, and ride the movements massive wave.
Companies like IBM with Bluemix have added containers to their pipeline management tool (
some might consider it a release automation tool). Log analysis companies like Logentries,
Sumologic ( both customers of mine ), and Loggly, make it much easier to add system logging
on Docker containers, and host operating systems.
Companies like DCHQ provide a great and much needed oversight and auditing system. And
tools like fugue.it to automatically replace containers that don’t meet requirements or have old
But that is not all it takes. Professional services companies like Contino and nebulaworks are
going to be needed as well by most enterprises, to assess, plan, and implement containers.
Because not having the immediate resources or expertise is a huge inhibitor for an enterprise to
even get started, and started from a holistic point of view.
The trend is going to continue with new partners announcing easier ways to work with Docker
and there tool. I would be interested to see companies like OpenLogic and Maven/Sonatype
jump in, to add more credibility to what is deployed on the containers.
Docker cannot currently survive beyond the ad-hoc developer use case. However the direction
of the Docker product team is good, and the partners are doing a lot to make it possible for
enterprises to build that dream pipeline.
One thing I still struggle with is all the moving parts. In order to complete the enterprise Docker
story you need: log analysis for containers and hosts, auditing, release automation,
SDN/Networking, infrastructure scripting like Chef and Puppet, professional services, better
private library management, and the ability to automatically replace containers on the fly. If you
were to build a fully automated pipeline where you are moving only containers, you would need
to invest in a lot of oversight, release automation tools and coding to wire it up. Which adds
additional points of failure, and a lot to change when updates inevitably come.
What I got from DockerCon15 was that the company is serious about going beyond the
individual non-paying developer. And when this happens either by Docker, or some other
software vendor, containers at the very least will be the standard for application front-ends, and
PaaS applications. But hopefully the entire delivery chain.