Docker Cloud pricing irks Tutum users

Beta users of the Tutum platform aren't happy with a steep price increase, but Docker officials say to stay tuned for further pricing options this year.

Docker Cloud has arrived, but it's not being entirely welcomed with open arms.

Docker Inc.'s offering of Docker Cloud containers as a service, now generally available, integrates Tutum's container management software, which  Docker acquired last fall, with Docker Hub and Docker ID. It's designed for large enterprise customers -- but some smaller development shops that were Tutum's bread and butter feel left out in the cold with the pricing model.

"What Tutum provided was one area where Docker was really a bit anemic, and that's providing a front-end interface to abstract away the most complex parts of container management, and make it accessible for smaller teams," said E.T. Cook, chief advocate at Dallas-based consulting firm etc.io, which used Tutum before Docker acquired it in September.

Tutum, previously a beta product prior to Docker's buyout, was free -- Docker Cloud has priced the service at $15 per node per month, though single-node and single-repository deployments remain free. The vast majority of Tutum users were running in a single-node configuration, Docker officials said.

But to Cook and other developers, the new pricing reflects a reach for Docker upmarket at the expense of its smaller customers, who would rather see a lower price per node, if not a model that prices per Docker repository.

"They've gone to the node-based revenue model that reflects more of the enterprise demographic that they're trying to target," Cook said. "But I think they've cut out a segment of the lower end of the market, which is frustrating because that's what Tutum was targeting in the first place."

Right now, we can run everything on one large server instead of multiple nodes, but that's ideally not how we would do it.
Aleksander Hanssonfounder and consultant, WPSmarter

Other development shops agreed, indicating the new price point will push them into deploying containers on fewer, larger nodes -- which runs contrary to high-availability redundancy, as well as the practice of spinning cloud servers up and down to save on hourly cloud costs.

"Right now, we can run everything on one large server instead of multiple nodes, but that's ideally not how we would do it," said Aleksander Hansson, founder and consultant at WPSmarter, a WordPress development shop based in Seattle that had used Tutum during the beta period.

Docker Cloud's new price point changes that strategy, since "instead of running it as their users would want to, they're kind of forcing them to use it a certain way," he said.

This change will drive smaller shops toward another free, open source container management product called Rancher, predicts Aaron Welch, senior vice president of product at Packet a bare metal hosted server provider based in New York. Packet already uses Rancher, in part because it can be deployed on-premises and because it's free.

The pricing standoff

While smaller shops are the most affected by the change, very large enterprises also might balk at the new price point if they're deploying containers at high scale, according to Welch.

"Some aren't going to care because their infrastructure spend is already so big," Welch said. "On the other hand, for an organization with thousands of nodes looking at Docker Cloud, $15 per node per month is not an inconsequential amount of money." 

Targeting enterprises is part of Docker's natural evolution from startup to an enterprise infrastructure player, according to Chris Riley, DevOps analyst at Fixate IO and a TechTarget contributor.

"Docker really suffered from the problem of being built by developers for developers," Riley said. "A solution that more closely melds with the enterprise way of adopting technology, which this node-based system does, is what's going to bring it to the enterprise."

This must happen in order for the company to remain viable, Riley said. Without paying a price for Docker, developers at enterprise organizations don't have enough "skin in the game" to push for its adoption throughout the software supply chain, he said.

Deal or no deal?

Not every small shop or citizen developer is up in arms about Docker Cloud. The new Docker product was perfect to solve a thorny container deployment problem for Thomas McGonagle, senior DevOps consultant, who works with large enterprises on DevOps adoption and tried out Docker Cloud for the first time this week.

McGonagle, who also heads up a Boston area Jenkins meet-up group, was tasked with creating a demo environment for the group's inaugural meeting this week, and ran into issues publishing ports through the desktop command line interface. He spun up a server using his personal Amazon account through Docker Cloud, and within minutes the demo was up and running with the proper server ports opened -- all at no cost since only one node and one repository were used.

Furthermore, McGonagle called $15 per node for a clustered deployment "a great deal," saying it paled in comparison to cloud infrastructure costs.

"Last month I spent $300 in AWS just on EC2 VMs," he said.

Meanwhile, users who remain unhappy with Docker Cloud pricing should stay tuned for further developments this year, said Scott Johnston, SVP of product management and product design at Docker.

There will be more features added, such as Docker Content Trust, a digital signing feature, throughout the year, Johnston said.

With the addition of new features and editions, there will be additional tiering, which will see both higher and lower price points, Johnston added.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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