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IBM hitches a ride on the Docker bandwagon

Hoping to get a leg up on Amazon and Microsoft, IBM partners with Docker to create applications that can shuttle between on premise and cloud environments.

Hoping to leapfrog cloud archrivals Amazon and Microsoft, IBM forged a long-term alliance with Docker.

The two companies will work to accelerate the creation of next generation applications that can run both in on-premises and hybrid cloud environments.

The deal calls for IBM and Docker, Inc. to jointly develop integrated and distributed applications aimed primarily at large IT shops using the new Docker Hub Enterprise (DHE). The technology will allow corporate developers to create more customized offerings behind the firewall and assemble them together. These offerings can then be used in concert with any one of the 60,000 Dockerized services residing in the Docker Hub hosted repository.

IT pros will be able to build enterprise apps as Dockerized containers on-premises or build them off-premises on SoftLayer and move them back and forth. IT can also expose them to a public cloud like BlueMix to build applications for hybrid cloud environments, according to Angel Diaz, IBM's Vice President of Open Technology and Cloud Performance Solutions.

Some users working in Big Blue shops said they like the flexibility of creating and distributing containerized applications among different cloud environments. They worry, however about the cost and time of training their programmers to become proficient in technologies associated with Docker and BlueMix, IBM's cloud-based development environment.

"This appears to be a good relationship for IBM, but for us it will be some time before we can train up people here to work with these newer platforms and tools," said one IT professional with a large Minnesota-based manufacturing company. "But I am heartened by IBM moving forward with next generation applications."

Analysts were generally optimistic the agreement could boost IBM's cloud fortunes, especially if it can properly leverage their estimable portfolio of existing hosted-based applications and technical services.

"IBM is trying to be all things to all people but given they support OpenStack, a bunch of other open frameworks, and now Docker, I think that approach can work for them," said Jillian Mirandi, a Senior Analyst with Technology Business Research, Inc. (TBR), a market researcher in Hampton, N.H. "It gives their users yet another way to run their environment the way they want. And with everything they have in their product portfolio, they have the breadth to do that."

Another analyst sees the Docker agreement potentially putting some daylight between IBM and more traditional competitors like HP and Dell given its technical resources, although there is little holding back those competitors from doing the same thing.

"IBM has a legacy of managed services and has done well in managing private clouds," said Cassandra Mooshian, a cloud analyst also with TBR. "Traditional infrastructure providers like HP, Dell and IBM are grasping at straws when it comes to the public cloud. So this deal helps IBM gain ground in the public cloud, but if HP and Dell also support Docker in this way, what can IBM differentiate on?”

New container tools from IBM, Docker

IBM also launched this week the beta version of IBM Containers, a Docker-based service that includes Docker-native features and interfaces, including the recently released Docker orchestration services. The containers will be delivered as part of BlueMix. The new service is what will allow enterprise users to launch Docker containers straight to the IBM Cloud on SoftLayer-based bare metal servers.

Docker also released three new open platform services this week that enable developers and system admins to build, ship and run distributed applications on any infrastructure.

Docker Machine allows IT to prepare any host whether it's a local laptop or a data center VM to run Docker distributed apps and manage them through a single interface. Docker Swarm is native clustering for scheduling and executing Docker container workloads, and Docker Compose assembles a distributed app using any container, whether it's an in-house customized app or available on Docker Hub.

“The three new orchestration tools were interesting, with two of them having a developer focus," Mooshian said. "This is where IBM is behind compared to AWS and Microsoft, so this is a way for them to play catch up.”

News editor Adam Hughes also contributed to this story.

Ed Scannell is senior executive editor for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization media group. He can be reached at escannell@techtarget.com. 

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