The open source cloud world is buzzing about a new approach to Linux containers called Docker, which has the potential to improve cloud portability and streamline application development.
Docker will be a big thing from what we can tell from our side.
senior director of platform engineering, PayPal
The open source project is the brainchild of former Platform as a Service (PaaS) startup dotCloud, now called Docker Inc. It allows applications to be packaged in isolated containers, based on the Linux LXC utility.
While LXC and Linux containers aren't new, what's novel about Docker is that it makes those containers portable among different distributions of Linux, as well as different machine environments, whether physical or virtual; deployed in a private, public or hybrid cloud; or even running on workstations and laptops.
All of this adds up to quicker deployment and cloud portability for applications and other advantages, according to Paul Burns, analyst with Neovise, an IT research firm based in Fort Collins, Colo.
"It has the potential to make it easy to move applications between different cloud environments, which has been problematic," Burns said. "Potentially, this will also allow you to put two applications on one cloud instance, and you can get greater efficiency because you're only paying for the one cloud server."
Currently, Docker boasts integrations with the OpenStack cloud management platform, Red Hat's OpenShift PaaS, and DevOps system configuration tools such as Chef, Puppet and SaltStack. Early adopters include Russian search engine Yandex, eBay, cloud-based network security player CloudFlare, Rackspace for its Mailgun mail service, and CRM startup RelateIQ.
"Docker will be a big thing from what we can tell from our side," said Saran Mandair, senior director of platform engineering at PayPal.
PayPal is experimenting with Docker in its development environment. Mandair expects the technology to allow applications to be ported from developers' desktops into PayPal's full-fledged private cloud environment without requiring modification of the app or reconfiguration of the server.
"We just look at it as a large file that we can just move around without worrying about dependencies because it's all self-contained," Mandair said.
Cambridge, Mass.-based online marketing firm HubSpot Inc. is also kicking the tires on Docker via another open source project, a cluster manager called Apache Mesos.
"We see the needs and benefits of both [traditional hypervisors and Linux containers] playing together," said Jim O'Neill, HubSpot's CIO. "The benefit of a Linux container is that it can run applications closer to the data than a normal virtualization platform, which still relies on shared disk for data-heavy applications."
However, Docker is only in version 0.64, with version 1.0 expected in January.
"We are encouraging people to use it for dev and test, but not to go that last step to production," said Docker CEO Ben Golub. "That being said, lots of organizations are cheerfully ignoring us."