Linux containers are now everywhere. Just look at how many tech publications are covered in stock photos of cargo ships.
It’s not as if you didn’t see this coming. A year ago, it was evident that containers, particularly Docker containers, would be a major theme of 2016, and my “7 Docker Themes for 2015” turned out to be representative of how the year unfolded.
What’s different from last year is that containers have become a more complex topic, with their development pushed in more directions by more players. That includes VMware, whose participation in the container world is, so far, more supportive than many people expected.
Here’s a rundown of what’s been important in containers lately — topics from the past year that will be worth watching in 2016.
1. Containers in Production
Containers have proven their worth in test and development systems, with one survey saying 94 percent of enterprises have at least investigated the concept.
But to make a real business out of them — and to get an eventual return on all that Docker Inc. venture money (see below) — containers will have to run major production workloads.
That opens a host of practicalities that were ignorable in the early days of Docker. It’s also become fertile ground for startups such as StackEngine, which focused on container orchestration and recently got acquired by Oracle.
Docker Inc. made some moves of its own in this direction:
- Docker Lends a Hand for Running Containers in Production
- Docker Inc. Gathers More Partners as Containers Grow Up
- Docker’s Triumphant Stagecraft Backed by Real Wins
2. Containers vs. VMs
The official line is that containers and virtual machines can live in peace, and there’s validity to VMware’s concept of running containers inside of virtual machines.
But the truce might not last forever. Containers are moving in many directions, some of them designed to ultimately supplant virtual machines. I got an earful about it at OpenStack Silicon Valley in August from vendors including Canonical and Citrix. It’s an issue to watch as containers mature.
- Can We Shrink (or Eliminate) VMs to Suit Containers?
- VMware’s Photon Platform Embraces an All-Container World
- VMware Creates Its Own Linux OS for Containers
3. Docker Inc., Phase II
Docker Inc. has made the jump to lightspeed. The company raised $95 million this year after raising $40 million in 2014, money applied toward making Docker containers into a more “real” business. That includes the production push as well as acquisitions — although teeny purchases like Socketplane aren’t exactly breaking the bank.
The money puts Docker Inc. in a position to make big moves during the next couple of years. There’s no guarantee it will be spent wisely, but it’s better to have it than to be worried about funding, right?
Docker-related startups? Oh yes, we’ve got ’em, and Docker’s bankroll ensures there’ll be more coming. Infrastructure, storage, and security (see below) are among the hot buttons; here’s a small sampling of the activity brewing out there.
- Rancher Gets Hyperconverged With Its Docker Platform
- ContainerX Brings an Elastic Approach to Docker Infrastructure
- Twistlock Launches Its Container Security Suite
- Portworx Wants to Run Docker Right on Storage Infrastructure
5. Container Networking & Security
Docker Inc.’s sudden acquisition of Socketplane, VMware’s argument for containers inside of virtual machines, WeaveWorks‘ Weave platform — all this work is in recognition of containers’ shortcomings when it comes to large-scale networking. Look for even more activity on this front in 2016.
And while security has become a ubiquitous topic in all corners of technology, it becomes particularly relevant for Docker containers, because they share a Linux core. Containers and their networks will evolve to overcome that situation.
- VMware Eyes Security and Networking for Docker Containers
- Docker Plugs Containers Into SDN
- Docker Acquires Networking Startup SocketPlane
- Docker Security Gets a Hardware Assist
- Security Startup Illumio Joins the Docker Parade
6. Other Types of Containers
CoreOS, Intel, and others started producing alternatives to Docker containers last year. We painted the situation as a source of possible friction, especially between Docker and CoreOS, but those differences seem to have been patched up quickly. The formation of the Open Container Intitiative sets the groundwork for container variations that will play nicely together.