Red Hat sets Docker as nucleus of 'Project Atomic'

Slimmer future versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux -- aka Project Atomic -- will rely heavily on Docker app virtualization

Red Hat's love affair with Docker has become transformational. Certifying Docker-ized apps to run on Red Hat Enterprise Linux was only the beginning; now, Red Hat's planning a major reworking of RHEL around the app virtualization technology.

Red Hat describes this new initiative, aka Project Atomic, as "a new community project to develop technologies for creating lightweight Linux Container hosts, based on next-generation capabilities in the Linux ecosystem." In the near term, this means the creation of an entirely new variant of RHEL called Red Hat Linux Enterprise Atomic Host. Essentially, Project Atomic will be to Atomic Host in much the same way that the Fedora Project's Fedora Linux is to RHEL itself.

Atomic Hosts are minimal versions of RHEL (CentOS or Fedora can also be used), designed mainly to run Docker containers. There are multiple advantages to building the OS in this manner, and one of the biggest is quick rollback in the event of an update creaing more problems than it solves. System upgrades will still require a reboot to take effect, so a possible future direction to explore would be to use a Kgraft-like technology to eliminate the need for reboots.

A server OS that ships in both "full" and "minimal" editions isn't by itself new -- after all, even Microsoft did the same, pre-cloud explosion, with Windows Server Core. That version of Windows Server stripped out nearly everything that didn't need to be there, leaving behind little more than a command line -- a radical move for a system, server or not, that's always been closely associated with its GUI.

But Red Hat's approach is about more than just reducing the resource footprint and attack surface of the OS. Those were two of the key reasons touted by Microsoft for creating Server Core, aside from appealing to admins who wanted to leave the GUI behind. The Atomic project sports a smaller footprint and better security as two of its benefits, but the main payoff is in how applications become simpler to maintain and deploy -- especially when orchestrated and managed through Red Hat's other A-list projects, OpenStack and OpenShift.

It's interesting to note how a general across-the-board refactoring and atomization, so to speak, of projects is taking place throughout Red Hat. The Fedora Project, for instance, is being reworked into three distinct, allied projects -- Fedora Workstation, Fedora Cloud, and Fedora Server -- each designed to better suit a distinct audience or workload. Red Hat has dropped hints that Project Atomic and Docker are going to be employed to create those systems, possibly by way of using different containerized application bundles to outfit each edition of Fedora with the software layers it needs.

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