If hybrid clouds are the future, as both researchers and cloud creators are hinting, then IBM is smart to push its hybrid cloud plan into action. The company's plan, unveiled Monday, can be summed up in one word: Docker. Er, make that three: Docker, Bluemix, and OpenStack.
With Enterprise Containers, IBM hints that this is meant to be more than a reskin of Docker or a repackaging with Bluemix and OpenStack. Enterprise Containers allows workloads to be packaged in Docker-based containers, deployed either locally or remotely on IBM's cloud, and outfitted with IBM's security and management tools. IBM said Enterprise Containers will "help developers rapidly build and deliver applications by extending native Linux containers with Docker APIs to provide enterprise–class visibility, control, and security as well as an added level of automation."
For further support, IBM will offer Bluemix Local to develop Bluemix-compatible services in one's environment. Once created, those services can be run locally, deployed to the real Bluemix in the cloud, or connected across the two. "Solutions developed in a cloud environment could be brought to on-premises systems for execution," said IBM, "allowing many of the benefits of cloud computing to be realized for data that cannot be moved to cloud for processing for reasons of data sensitivity, size, or performance."
Also key, IBM will leverage another well-known ingredient for creating hybrid clouds: OpenStack. Here, the picture is less clear; IBM was vague on its deployment plans for OpenStack -- whether through its own distribution or as an IBM-managed on-premises resource. A more detailed answer may be coming soon, as IBM's stated plan is to have both Bluemix Local and the OpenStack components ready for general availability this summer. (Beta customers have access right now to a VM of Bluemix Local.)
However, the hybrid environment IBM is envisioning doesn't seem to exclusively involve Bluemix or OpenStack. Rather, it seems more focused on using Docker as a the least common denominator on both ends, as the local cloud works with the Docker-compatible container management system it's comfortable with. (An IBM spokesperson confirmed that IBM's container management and security tools will be open source and existing Docker containers will run as-is in this system.)
The rest of the cloud competition -- hybrid or otherwise -- has already dived headfirst into Docker as a deployment methodology. Less than a year ago, Amazon upgraded its Elastic Beanstalk technology to not only deploy Docker containers, but also to automatically scale them as demand dictates. More recently, Amazon delved further into container territory with EC2 Container Service, which makes it possible to deploy containers as if they were EC2 instances. Google added Google Container Engine to its Google Cloud Platform, underpinned by its Kubernetes project. And Microsoft has debuted its Docker-deployment system on Azure by way of Ubuntu VMs.
Nonetheless, the competition lacks a genuine hybrid cloud methodology that involves containers, barring whatever someone might create on their own with OpenStack (vendor support not necessarily included). Microsoft is the only one that comes close, with a hybrid strategy that encompasses tight pre-existing integration between Windows locally and Microsoft Azure remotely, though it's limited by the lack of native support for Docker on Windows. Once Microsoft works out how container technologies can be implemented natively in Windows, the picture is bound to change.