Docker acquires Orchard in a sign of rising ambitions

Docker's acquisition of Orchard -- and its Fig tool -- shows growing scope of the little company that's shaken up IT

One sure sign a company has arrived: It starts acquiring other companies. Docker, the startup with barely a year under its belt, is following up the remarkable success of its eponymous software-containerization technology by buying one of the companies that helps users get the most from it.

The company in question, the London-based two-man outfit Orchard Laboratories Ltd., created the Orchard service, one of the six noteworthy Docker services singled out by InfoWorld earlier this year. Orchard provides users with "a Docker host in the cloud that works just like a local one," allowing control of the service through the same command-line interface Docker normally employs.

Orchard also offers Fig, an open source tool for using Docker containers to create isolated development environments. This spares end-users the hassle of having to install the software in question; they can simply snap together Docker containers that supply the needed apps, then let Fig handle the setup and orchestration.

It's clear why Orchard and Fig would attract Docker's attention: They're useful tools that are natural additions to the core Docker ecosystem. But more than that, they represent expertise Docker clearly wants on its team rather than working for themselves -- or, possibly, a competitor.

When I spoke with Scott Johnston, senior vice president of product at Docker, he characterized the acquisition as one of many ways the company has been trying to transition from organizing applications to becoming an infrastructure for distributed services.

"Composing all that complexity," Johnston said, referring to the way distributed applications are built, "is typically done by hand, sometimes hardwired. What we're doing is providing additional tooling around the Docker container [Fig] to make it easier to build, ship, and run those applications."

The acquisition, he explained, was the first concrete step in that direction, and it provided high-level tooling to compose those applications and lower the barriers for users.

Johnston also noted that the two folks who make up Orchard, Ben Firshman and Aanand Prasad, are not being brushed aside or left out of what they have created. The two are "both contributors to and beneficiaries of the Docker community, and are taking important leadership roles within the company." Both will continue to be core maintainers of the Fig project.

Fig is seen by Johnston, and Docker generally, as a prime example of how to use Docker's libswarm interface -- the API that allows Docker containers to be managed and orchestrated. Johnston envisions Fig's functionality as more completely integrated with Docker over time, but the timeframe for such a project is wide open.

One minor downside of the acquisition, and a potentially gloomy footnote to the price of progress: The Orchard service itself is being discontinued. Johnston said its users have been forewarned and will be given ample time to transition to one of many other Docker-oriented services, such as those run by Rackspace.

This story, "Docker acquires Orchard in a sign of rising ambitions," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.