Containers are finding their way to the enterprise. DH2i has been there for a while, having pushed the idea for Windows environments. And today, startup Robin Systems launched with its own take on Linux containers.
What the companies have in common is that they aren’t targeting newly crafted, cloud-native applications. They’re interested in extending the usefulness of containers to different types of enterprise applications.
Robin Systems’ Infrastructure Makeover
Robin’s real goal is to make an enterprise’s IT and infrastructure people work in a more application-oriented way, says Sushil Kumar, chief marketing officer.
The San Jose, Calif. company got started in 2014 when Krishna Yeddanapudi, a software architect whose career stops included Tivo Inc. and Violin Memory, saw enterprise implications in the rising popularity of Docker. (Yeddanapudi appears to have already left Robin. His LinkedIn profile reads: “planning my next startup.”)
The startup wants to make storage and computing elements more application-aware. The vehicle for doing that is a container environment built for “data-heavy applications,” Kumar says.
He means the applications that are distributed across a cluster of virtual machines and that use multiple storage volumes. These applications require particular attention to performance, he says.
“Without infrastructure having the notion of an application, it’s very hard to manage these applications,” Kumar says.
In addition to containers, Robin offers a storage layer that knows if an application is spread across hundreds or thousands of storage subsystems. Applications can also be treated heterogeneously; stateful and stateless tiers can get different levels of protection, for instance.
An element called the Application-Aware Fabric Controller oversees the whole platform, handling provisioning of both containers and storage for an application.
The target audiences for the platform are the infrastructure and IT departments. They’re struggling as the application becomes the “center of gravity” for the enterprise, with infrastructure expected to respond fluidly to applications’ needs, Kumar says.
Robin raised $15 million in October, bringing its total funding to $22 million. Its customers include Walmart, which has been working with the startup for about a year.
DH2i’s Containers for Windows
While Robin is targeting new breeds of enterprise applications, DH2i is more concerned with putting established applications into containers. In fact, it’s been doing this since 2011 — before Docker Inc. existed.
Fort Collins, Colo.-based DH2i’s next step is to offer containers-as-a-service. This week, the company launched a Microsoft SQL server service on Rackspace — containers provided by DH2i, hosted on Rackspace’s cloud infrastructure.
While Docker caught on as a way to move containers between environments, DH2i was more interested in another aspect of containers: running multiple jobs on one CPU.
Hewlett-Packard Co. had worked on a similar project, “a much more primitive version of it,” says Don Boxley, one of DH2i’s founders. HP lost interest and declined to create a spin-out, so Boxley and OJ Ngo created DH2i, serving as CEO and CTO, respectively.
A DH2i container creates an isolated slice of a CPU. “It’s like a VM, but without the operating system. The container has a server name and an IP address; it’s logged into DNS. So to the outside world, it looks like a server,” Boxley says.
But, as with Linux containers, DH2i’s versions piggyback on the operating system that the host CPU is running. That’s a trait of containers — they live as roommates on the same server and/or the same virtual machine.
Using containers, then, means using fewer servers and virtual machines — and that’s been DH2i’s selling point.
“All of our business, 100 percent of it, is: ‘We’ve got too many servers we’re managing, i.e., we’ve got too many virtual machines,” Boxley says.
Microsoft has been developing Windows containers as well, to be included in Microsoft Server and/or deployed on Microsoft Azure. This opens possibilities for using DH2i and Windows containers together in mind-bending ways. For example, if an application consists of a group of Windows containers, they could all be packaged into one DH2i container, giving the application one “location” on the network.