Docker’s Kubernetes Support Leaves Questions Around Swarm

Docker Inc.’s decision last month to add native Kubernetes support within its Docker Enterprise Edition framework has been lauded by many as a significant win for the burgeoning container orchestration community. The move has also left questions about the future of Docker Inc.’s native Swarm platform.

As part of the Kubernetes announcement, Banjot Chanana, senior director of product management at Docker Inc., said the decision was made to satisfy customer requests.

“This is really about having to choose an orchestrator off the table,” Chanana said. “The container space has been evolving for some time and changing a lot over the past few years. For enterprises that need the value of Kubernetes or just said they wanted the opportunity to choose and not be tied to a specific vendor, this makes sense.”

Chanana explained the move to include Kubernetes would also benefit organizations that are already familiar and comfortable with its EE platform. This includes taking advantage of EE’s security, management, workflow, and tooling.

David Messina, chief marketing officer at Docker Inc., said the Kubernetes news was “universally very well received” at the company’s DockerCon event in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“Developers don’t live in the world of orchestration,” Messina said. “That’s a production construct. … From a development standpoint, the exciting part is that they don’t have to worry about having to modify their work between Docker and Kubernetes.”

The decision made sense from a market perspective as recent reports have shown Kubernetes controlling more than 70 percent of the container orchestration market. This far outpaced other platforms such as Swarm and Mesos.

According to a survey conducted as part of a recent SDxCentral report on container and cloud orchestration, 64 percent of respondents said they were using Kubernetes, 36 percent said they were using Swarm, and 18 percent said they were using Mesos. The survey included the option for multiple answers.

Analysts noted Docker Inc.’s support for Kubernetes was necessary to tap into the platform’s growing adoption.

“The key is that Kubernetes does seem to be gathering more momentum from a wide range of vendors,” said Edwin Yuen, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.

What About Swarm?

However, the move also raised questions around Swarm.

Rancher Labs CEO Sheng Liang said what while he supported the move to support Kubernetes, he was hoping Docker Inc. would also announce some new innovations around Swarm.

“I kept looking for concrete reasons to continue embracing Swarm, with some advances in Swarm itself,” Liang said. “There have been a lot of advances in Kubernetes, so I was looking for Swarm to be moving forward.”

Rancher Labs recently transitioned its container orchestration support from Swarm to Kubernetes for its container management platform.

Liang at the time said the move was based on customer demand.

“One area that has been a challenge for us as a Docker partner is that there are not a lot of areas of innovation on the Docker platform,” Liang said. “Docker used to announce projects nonstop like Kubernetes does today and we used to learn those and integrate them into our platform. Docker was clearly leading the way in terms of innovation. I was expecting that to continue, but have not seen that yet. There is still a lot of innovation in the container ecosystem, but that innovation is happening in Kubernetes.”

Analysts agree that Docker Inc. needs to throw more support behind the Swarm platform.

“I think Docker needs to be clear on the continued support and future of Swarm and to clearly define why developers should choose Swarm over Kubernetes, even if there are good technical reasons for it,” Yuen said. “The market will likely decide whether Kubernetes becomes the default and whether or not companies like AWS [Amazon Web Services] and Docker should be working on their equivalents.”

Docker Inc.’s Messina said the company planned to evolve the Swarm platform, but did not provide any details on those plans.

“Docker puts an emphasis on the value add of features, security, automation, and tooling. That’s where we put a ton of investment,” Messina said. “We will continue to evolve Swarm and benefit from the evolution of Kubernetes.”

Jay Lyman, an analyst at 451 Research, noted that using Kubernetes to help evolve Swarm could highlight the new container orchestration landscape for Docker.

“Given the history of systems management software, technical reasons, and the broad number of vendors supporting not only Kubernetes, but also Swarm and other container management and orchestration options, the move also fits the mixed-use reality we’re seeing now,” Lyman said. “Swarm’s differentiation didn’t really come from keeping up with Kubernetes, rather it seems to be the simpler option for organizations just starting with containers or for those that aren’t scaling to 10,000-container clusters. I expect we may continue to see more momentum and vendor support for Kubernetes, but the other options, including Swarm, will still be relevant in the market, which will likely continue to be characterized by mixed use.”