Docker containers are wildly popular. Docker Inc., the company, however, faces some deep problems. Here’s a list of the challenges it needs to solve to remain relevant.
The situation the company finds itself in today was hard to foresee a few years ago. Shortly after Docker containers became publicly available as an open source project in 2013, they revolutionized the way IT teams thought about application deployment.
Circa 2015, it was easy to imagine Docker becoming the next VMware—which is probably why Microsoft reportedly tried to buy the company for $4 billion around that time.
Fast forward to 2018, however, and its future looks considerably less bright.
That’s not to say that Docker has no future. The problems listed below are all solvable. But they are issues that the company must address if it hopes to remain relevant as a business.
Defining a Business Model
At present, Docker’s business strategy centers around selling enterprise support services for containers. Selling support has worked out well for plenty of other open source companies, so it’s understandable why it has chosen this strategy.
However, the issue is that lots of other open source companies—Red Hat and SUSE, for example—are bundling Docker technology with their products and offering enterprise support plans of their own. This undercuts its ability to generate revenue from support.
Perhaps the company should consider alternative revenue streams, such as selling a premium, proprietary version of its container runtime that is not available to open source resellers. (It’s not as if the company was ever that committed to open source, anyway.)
Docker has offered native support on certain versions of Windows for more than a year.
When Docker support for Windows debuted, it was exciting. The company showed that it could bring innovative, lightweight virtualization to a platform where container-like technology had never before trod.
Yet, it has done little so far to capitalize on its Windows offering. Most of the company’s focus and momentum remain centered on the Linux world. It’s a safe bet that most people who are using Docker on Windows are doing so only for testing purposes.
Winning more Windows customers could bolster the company’s business significantly. This is especially true because, unlike Docker containers on Linux, Docker containers for Windows are not being packaged by third-party vendors. There are no SUSEs or Red Hats in the Windows world.
If it could convince more companies to deploy its containers natively on Windows, then it would position itself as the primary source of enterprise support for Docker in the Windows world. That would do much to shore up the company’s weak business model.
Losing Mindshare to Kubernetes
Kubernetes has become a shorthand for the entire container ecosystem.
That’s bad news for Docker. Even though its runtime remains an essential part of many container environments, the fact that people no longer talk much about Docker signals how much mindshare the company has lost.
Solving this issue entails making the company—and the technology—exciting again. Kubernetes has become the most influential project in the container ecosystem. It needs to respond by making its own value and influence clearer.
Defining Docker’s Scope
Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what Docker wants to be.
The company’s original focus was on building an open source container runtime. Then it got into the orchestration space by developing Swarm. It has also dabbled in container security with Docker Security Scanning.
Other projects are doing many of these same things—and they’re arguably doing them better. Kubernetes is winning at orchestration. Vendors including Twistlock and Aqua Security offer much more robust container security suites than Docker.
If I were Docker, I’d hone my focus back to container runtimes. That’s what it has consistently done better than anyone else, and that’s the area where it stands the best chance of regaining momentum.