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Docker's Latest Technologies May Challenge Its Ecosystem

Thinking about server virtualization, I'm reminded about the early years of VMware where the then virtualization start-up was concentrating on building the world's most powerful, enterprise-ready server virtualization platform -- leaving the management and other tool gaps to its third-party ecosystem to solve and address.  But over time, it became apparent that VMware would need to expand into these areas, and compete with its own ecosystem, in order for it to continue to grow financially.  Ultimately, breaking in a dawn of co-opetition for the virtualization giant and its followers.  

And even though Docker is a very young company, I believe they may be headed down that same path, albeit much sooner.

Initially, Docker was laser focused on the container piece of the technology itself.  But over the last few months, the emerging company has broadened its ambitions a bit more, if for no other reason but to answer those who question its enterprise play in the market.  And as a venture backed company, the move will also answer those who funded the company with a response to questions around the company's commercial viability.

Recently, Docker addressed the need to orchestrate containers in the enterprise by making available three new tools for download: Machine Beta, Swarm Beta, and Compose.  The tools make it easier to provision infrastructure, create clusters and combine multiple Docker containers within a distributed application.

With the same announcement, the company also promoted its ecosystem, saying it supports 12 infrastructures out of the box -- Amazon EC2, Digital Ocean, Google Cloud Platform, IBM Softlayer, Microsoft Azure, Microsoft Hyper-V, OpenStack, Rackspace Cloud, VirtualBox, VMware Fusion, VMware vCloud Air, and VMware vSphere.  And noted, its community has also generated 10 other pull requests for incremental drivers.

These new technologies are a definite boon to Docker users, but what does it do to the fledgling ecosystem that is building up around the container technology?  VMware's ecosystem was much further down the path before the giant decided it would jump in and address those "other" spaces.  But the vendors who have decided to address the Docker container gaps are still trying to get their own sea legs underneath them, and they too are trying to help build the container market for enterprise-readiness.  Are things far enough along that the two sides can come together and support one another?  

"Unlike previous center-points or leaders in rapidly developing ecosystems, Docker is not looking to make money from its core platform," explained Bob Quillin, co-founder and CEO of StackEngine.  "For example, while VMware sold the underlying hypervisor and Amazon sells AWS, Docker containerization is open sourced and free.  Thus, Docker instead has to make money from add-on products that naturally compete with their own ecosystem."

Quillin went on to say, "Furthermore, the need to quickly drive revenue is exacerbated by aggressive fundraising that accelerates expectations from investors.  It is somewhat ironic that it was the support and contributions by the community that has helped Docker get to this point, raise significant money, and then begin to encroach on that very same community that brought them here."

VMware has found a way to keep from cannibalizing its own ecosystem.  But they've had years of practice, and their ecosystem was much further along and entrenched.  But they figured out a way to make co-opetition work for everyone involved, as is evident by the continued growth of sponsors and vendor booths at VMworld each and every year.  Docker needs to find a way to create new tools and make money, while still playing nice with its own ecosystem, and encouraging other companies to continue to find ways to enhance, augment and fill in the gaps in order to propel this technology forward where it deserves to be.

As one of those ecosystem players, Quillin agrees, saying, "The challenge for Docker going forward will be navigating this slippery slope without losing the hearts and minds of the community that they worked so hard to build."

The Docker team is so much more than just a bunch of highly intelligent developers and technologists.  The team also has a great business sense.  I have no doubt, they will figure out how to navigate the ecosystem waters and bring containers into the mainstream, much the same way as VMware figured things out.

Published Wednesday, March 04, 2015 7:33 AM by David Marshall
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