Docker welcomes Google 'validation,' but sees more work ahead

Docker recruits more big names following Google's seal of approval, but keeps an eye on next steps

After Google announced Kubernetes, its open source project to manage Docker containers, major names jumped in and started contributing to it. Some, like Red Hat and CoreOS, were predictable; others, like Microsoft, were less so. All had their professed reasons and avowed motivations.

But what does Docker think about all this excitement -- especially since it's based not solely on Docker, but on a third-party expansion?

Scott Johnston, senior vice president of product at Docker, sees it as nothing less than vindication of Docker as an ecosystem. "When someone like Google walks in with their experience running infrastructure at scale and contributes to this space," he said in a phone interview, "it's pretty exciting for all of us, and it's a validation of Docker as a foundational unit to all that."

For Johnston, the old-school IT infrastructure of vertical stacks has given way to a new one made out of microservices, with Docker acting as one of the building blocks. The other companies contributing to Kubernetes, he says, are looking for tools to "not only use Docker as a unit, but construct multiple microservice-based apps out of those containers."

What's the significance of all these disparate companies rallying behind this project? In Johnston's eyes, it's a sign of confidence in Google's expertise with running projects at scale -- but it also means the companies are contributing back to the project as a way to make it a fit for their workloads rather than Google's.

"Nobody's going to turn off their tools today and jump on Google tomorrow," said Johnston. "But [Google] can show this as a viewpoint for how they do work at scale. It'll be an important voice in the conversation about how we look at workloads. It doesn't mean a binary decision of one tool versus another; it's about how the category evolves."

Johnston sees Kubernetes as a way to create a technical dialog within the industry about how to make orchestration a portable resource in the same way Docker has made apps portable. But because Kubernetes was built from Google's experiences with scaling and orchestration, it's also beholden to Google's viewpoint.

"Google has done a pretty good job of building a solution from how Google views massive scale computing," said Johnston, noting that he doesn't speak for Google's engineering team. "There's an opportunity for [other companies contributing to Kubernetes] to generalize that and make it more applicable to other platforms -- not just Google's but more generic."

The fact that Microsoft is one of the interested parties is a sign of how that reality is manifesting and how the future of the project must be shaped by many hands, not Google's alone.

Said Johnston, "The way in which Docker has enabled workloads to migrate across any operating system and any environment has really kind of freed up development and operations. We want to keep them going at the next layer of the stack, which is orchestration. Docker containers have been around for 15 months, so the developers' tools around them have an even shorter lifecycle. We're in the very early days of the category, and Google is an important big new voice in that conversation."

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.