Docker expands and fine-tunes container orchestration services

Docker Machine, Docker Swarm, and Docker Compose deal with all phases of an application's lifecycle

Man conducting orchestra
Credit: Thinkstock

If "move fast and break things" is the motto of many a startup, Docker's version would be "move fast and build things." On the first day of Docker's two-day European DockerCon event, the company has announced a set of new orchestration systems, as well as word of a forthcoming enterprise version of its Docker Hub product.

Despite the timing, Docker maintains that these announcements shouldn't be construed as a direct response to CoreOS's criticisms of Docker or its newly proposed software container system. "Everything we are doing here has been driven by our users," said David Messina, Docker's VP of marketing, in a phone interview.

Orchestrating applications that span multiple containers has become a major part of the Docker world, via projects like Google's Kubernetes or Flocker. Docker's new offering in this area is a set of three orchestration services designed to "cover all aspects of the dynamic lifecycle of distributed applications," per the company's press release, from app development to deployment and maintenance.

  • Docker Machine is designed to "provision any host with the Docker Engine" as a way to save the developer time in setup and fine-tuning.
  • Docker Swarm is a clustering and orchestration tool "expressly designed for a continuous lifecycle from development to operations" that allows swapping in different clustering implementations.
  • Docker Compose allows applications to be grouped together from multiple containers via a configuration file.

"What we've gotten from our customer and partner feedback," said Messina, "is that orchestration is actually a set of services, each one in turn dealing with different aspects of the development lifecycle."

Docker's approach is described as "batteries included, but removable" -- the services are optional and can be replaced with second- or third-party solutions as needed, since they leverage open APIs. If the default clustering or orchestration model doesn't work, for instance, a user can roll their own or swap in a third-party variety, such as one provided by Docker partner Mesosphere.

Messina cited this modularity as a counterbalance to statements that Docker is too closely tied to its own tool set. The idea that Docker is modular and API-powered, and any given Docker component is ultimately optional "has been a core tenet of the overall platform," he stated. "I think, frankly, some of what's been painted has been fairly inaccurate in that regard."

That said, he believes that Docker Machine and its compatriot products would by themselves provide the kind of enhanced portability for Docker applications that its own testing partners have already found useful.

The other major announcement by Docker involves a to-be-released commercial product, DHE (Docker Hub Enterprise), a version of the existing Docker Hub for private use. Docker containers can be built, have their lifecycles maintained, and be subjected to the kind of governance and security needed inside a corporation. The plan is to offer DHE as a VM image through a variety of cloud partners -- Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM, initially -- and to allow either local or cloud-hosted storage for containers.

It'll be a while before anyone can try out DHE, as it'll be made available for early-access users in February 2015, although Docker is accepting signups for testers. Machine, Swarm, and Compose are available right now as alpha-test releases, with full release versions slated for Q2 of 2015.

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