A telco as cloud powerhouse? CenturyLink might pull it off

Telcos have tried and failed to become enterprise cloud juggernauts, but CenturyLink's 'developers first' approach -- and plunge in to Docker -- may give it a shot

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Carlson says that by default Panamax uses the new CoreOS Linux distribution, a slimmed-down distro tailor-made for Docker containers and designed for massive-scale deployments. CenturyLink is also "working with" other bleeding-edge technology from the Docker ecosystem, including Kubernetes and Mesos.

What's Carlson's view of the evolving relationship between PaaS and Docker, especially considering that the AppFog PaaS was his baby? Here's his candid response:

PaaS has serious limitations. You can only deploy a certain kind of application. It has all this data -- it takes your code and runs it for you, so you can never really have control of the architecture. For lots of applications, that's fine. But especially for enterprise, large-scale private cloud applications, after talking to a bunch of customers I heard the same thing over and over: How can we build complex applications on our private cloud using PaaS?

PaaS is kind of philosophically restrictive. It's like, don't worry about anything else, we'll take care of it. That's great, except if you have to worry about something else, you don't get options. With Panamax, you can stitch together different containers; what got my attention is realizing the devops community can curate on the Docker hub the best of the best. So the best Nginx devops people can make the best Nginx container and I can just pull it and they'll make one better than I could ever make. And then I can go to the MySQL guys and Oracle can make the best MySQL container and Apache might make the best Apache container, much better than the one I can make, and they can fine-tune it. That was not possible before.

This potential to leap beyond PaaS accounts for a big helping of the excitement around Docker. The triumph of the Docker ecosystem is not inevitable, though, nor is rapid uptake of a sophisticated new platform from the No. 3 telco. For one thing, CenturyLink's idea of a "private cloud" for customers is basically a bunch of managed servers in one of its 57 data centers. For another, VMware's ESX is the only hypervisor currently supported on the CenturyLink cloud, although a company spokesperson advised me to "watch this space."

What I like about CenturyLink's approach is that it could dramatically accelerate large-scale enterprise application deployment in the cloud. In other words, as the Docker ecosystem matures and fortifies CenturyLink's offering, enterprises could manage and orchestrate distributed applications easily across legions of Docker containers -- and those apps would be inherently portable to other Linux hosts. That could take a while, and many things could go awry along the way. But thanks to CenturyLink's sharp developer focus and embrace of open source, this particular telco has already demonstrated real thought leadership.

This article, "A telco as cloud powerhouse? CenturyLink might pull it off," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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