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Joyent bets future on Docker deployment at scale

Joyent is all-in on Docker and plans to marry the technology with its container-based infrastructure to get a leg up with cloud developers.

Docker is on the lips of IT professionals everywhere as cloud vendors fall over each other to declare their support....

Now one provider is taking its embrace of containers a step further -- staking its future on Docker deployments and trying to be the first to operate it at scale.

Joyent, Inc., an early cloud vendor that has become more of a niche player behind industry heavyweights Amazon, Microsoft and Google, has raised $15 million to hasten its attempt to marry Docker application containers with its container-based cloud infrastructure.

The company is "pouring jet fuel" into its efforts and will roll out a whole series of Docker-based products and features over the next quarter, said Bryan Cantrill, Joyent CTO.

Joyent certainly isn't the first to publicly laud the Docker's potential, and vendors from VMware to Amazon have added Docker support. There also is a raft of ongoing open source efforts around orchestration, including the Google-led Kubernetes.

"We've been down this path for so long and we're so deeply differentiated [by being container-based],” Cantrill said. "There’s a difference between having Docker as keynote versus truly being able to realize OS-based virtualization."

Cloud vendors generally operate on virtual machines, but Joyent claims to be the only provider running container-based infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and virtualized operating systems in production in a multi-tenant fashion.

But this isn't necessarily new in other cloud models. Containers are the underlying technology for nearly all platform as a service and Web-hosting vendors. It's also used broadly by Google, though not for Google Compute Engine.

And while other vendors offer bare-metal IaaS, including Rackspace and IBM's SoftLayer, Docker runs higher up the stack and deploys the application layer on virtual OSes.

An unsurprising embrace of Docker

Kubernetes, which is an effort by Google and others to lure customers to a platform, is more about building infrastructure products to run Docker containers, while Joyent is looking at Docker as part of a core business strategy to grow its cloud business, said David Linthicum, senior vice president at Cloud Technology Partners, a Boston-based consulting firm.

Larger vendors can swoop in later to copy successful offerings, but for now, providers such as Joyent, Red Hat and even IBM and HP, to a lesser degree, must make similar moves to stand out, Linthicum said.

"It's not creative or surprising, but being an IaaS provider today means you're going to have to be a niche player in terms of how you provide your offering when there are guys like Amazon, Microsoft and Google that can spend $5 billion on something in a heartbeat," Linthicum said.

Joyent must be fully committed to Docker for the foreseeable future, Linthicum added.

Challenges stack up for Docker future

The funding was necessary not only to keep up with the accelerated pace of advancements in the field, but to make the technical fixes needed to run application containers at scale in the cloud, Cantrill said.

Containers are pretty straightforward when it comes to small, closed systems, but become exponentially more complex with the notion of Docker as a service and the potential for hundreds of customers wanting to use thousands of containers on a single VM or physical host, said Carl Brooks, an analyst with 451 Research, based in New York.

"Containers in widespread use are all controlled by the operator, not users," Brooks said. "We're talking about flipping that on its head, and it's really complicated -- insanely complicated."

The theoretical advantages of Docker as a service are clear, including more efficiently using the infrastructure, freeing developers from the OS and crafting applications in more resource-sensitive way, Brooks said. But it remains pie in the sky until someone can address how to maintain security, access control and monitoring at scale.

Joyent has a decent chance at solving the issues because of its container-based background, but it will be an uphill climb, Brooks said. Solving these technical challenges will be akin to Amazon’s early efforts in the cloud to find a profitable way to automate and separate workloads on VMs to provide sufficient safety and security.

"For someone to actually make a difference in this space and move the conversation forward, they have to do it the same way Amazon was able to do it with virtual machines being absolutely automated and separated from each other and the user with a degree of safety and security in a way that turns a profit. It's a legendary amount of work," Brooks said.

Trevor Jones is the news writer for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach him at tjones@techtarget.com.

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