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Docker Acquires Tutum. How will the Ecosystem React?


This week, Docker announced that it was acquiring Tutum, a New York-based startup that provides cloud services focused on deploying and managing Docker containers into production on any infrastructure, whether in the cloud or on-premises.

Tutum jumped on the container bandwagon early, launching the company back in October of 2013.  With their prolonged Beta launch, Tutum was able to parlay its technology into the hands of thousands of organizations using it to create their first Dockerized distributed applications and to create sustainable environments for the deployment and management of those applications in production.

The purchase of Tutum will allow Docker to deliver a more complete package of services for its own customers, which is becoming increasingly important as the product matures. By integrating Tutum with Docker Hub, a cloud service for automating development team workflows, Docker stated it would be able to provide a commercial solution for IT teams to collaboratively build, ship, and run production-ready distributed applications.

When thinking about what the acquisition means, Ben Golub, CEO of Docker, said "Tutum has already been validated by our user community as the best way to achieve a seamless Docker user experience from the point of initial onboarding to running Dockerized applications in production. Users and customers alike are excited by the intersection of these two companies and the combined tooling that will result from our close collaboration."

This latest acquisition does however bring up a number of questions for the container community and the Docker ecosystem.  Docker will have to rationalize a number of its existing projects - for example, Orca (Docker's homegrown top-to-bottom integrated stack project) versus Tutum, Socketplane (the SDN startup acquired by Docker in March, set to deliver Docker-native networking) and Weave (the networking stack currently used in Tutum), as well as Tutum's private registry versus the one already in use by Docker.

Beyond that, Docker may find itself in a similar position to that of VMware, the server virtualization giant who also started off growing its customer base through the ingenuity and hard work of its partner ecosystem. At some point in VMware's history, the company realized it had to expand into other areas of the stack in order to grow and increase revenue -- meaning it could no longer sit by and allow its partner ecosystem to fill in the gaps alone; it therefore had to build or buy, and ultimately compete with those partners who helped them build the server virtualization market into what it is today.

As Docker grows and looks for ways to monetize its container platform, they too will have to carefully navigate the ecosystem to avoid the perception that it will cannibalize the more profitable areas of the container stack and take away opportunities from those startups which are already providing solutions, and trying to make their own way.   

Docker has been operating with a "batteries included, but swappable" approach when it comes to company owned technology versus that of third-party solutions in order to foster a lively ecosystem. But as Docker continues to build out its own stack internally, and use its cash rich position to acquire new technology or bring on other talented team members via acquisition, it will be interesting to watch how the community and its partners will react.  

From the users' perspective, Docker growth in this manner is a win-win. But for vendors in the ecosystem, things could go either way. For example, if a vendor's technology is still filling a gap for Docker, they are probably excited to see the platform grow and advance. But if the vendor's technology has to go head-to-head with a Docker branded solution, that "thrill" may die down quickly. Sure, competition is validation of what you've been building, but now you have to go up against a native Docker tool and you better be able to differentiate yourself.    

According to Jon Reeve, VP of Product at StackEngine, a container ecosystem partner and long time Docker community member, Docker continues to make impressive strides in growing its developer community.  Reeve said, "Moves like the Tutum acquisition will further help their developer adoption - but many questions remain for enterprise adoption. In order for Docker to successfully move off of the laptop and into production, there are many enterprise needs to be addressed in its core offering across networking, storage and security. We see the majority of customer issues in these key areas, which are stalling Docker's move into production environments. Docker must be careful not to lose focus on its core platform in order to meet these enterprise grade requirements." 

Critics will point out the importance of focusing on core product and encouraging the broader market to handle the rest. After all, we watched Jack Dorsey get on stage this week to apologize for Twitter's past missteps in an attempt to welcome back the ecosystem that once formed a thriving community.

To that, Reeve added, "The clear takeaway for Docker is balance and focus. A solid base will drive success for everyone."

"In order for containers to make the leap from agile startup teams into the enterprise, operations and management requirements will need to be addressed across orchestration, networking, storage, governance, and control," said Reeve. "Enterprise customers want the peace of mind of enterprise management on-premise, in the cloud, and in any hybrid combination as they move their microservice-based applications from prototype to production."

Meanwhile, Docker growth should continue; and much like server virtualization, containers are expected to continue to evolve and make inroads, ultimately finding its way into the enterprise.

Back in August of 2014, Tutum closed a $2.65 million seed round, bringing its total capital raised to $2.72 million from venture capital firms RTP Ventures, Azure Capital Partners, NXTP Labs and Techstars.  Docker on the other hand has already raised $162 million across 4 rounds of funding.

As part of the acquisition, Docker not only gets a new key component to its own stack, it also gets the 11 person team at Tutum. Each member is set to move to San Francisco and become part of the larger Docker team as soon as the deal closes.

Tutum and Docker are both privately held companies, and as such, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Published Friday, October 23, 2015 3:18 PM by David Marshall
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