Your PaaS has Docker ... so what?

Docker is becoming standard issue in PaaS offerings, but merely 'Docker-washing' a service is no longer enough

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The first use of Docker was in the dotCloud PaaS, and it was such a roaring success dotCloud rebranded itself around Docker. Now Docker is showing up as a regular ingredient in or a central component to other PaaS offerings. But is there more to creating a Docker-powered PaaS than simply adding Docker to an existing PaaS offering? Short answer: There may have to be.

There's little question that Docker all by itself is a strong draw for any cloud platform offering. Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and IBM have all scrambled to add it to their respective clouds. That's the first and most obvious lesson: With so many organizations adding Docker, it's less of a competitive edge and more of a necessity.

Al Tobey, open source mechanic at Datastax, agreed that "offering Docker is a worthy value-add," but noted "it's not enough on its own to stand out. Docker has a great UX on its own and orchestration options are coming together nicely. The bar for standing out is fairly high already."

Consequently, with each of the existing big-name PaaS offerings, it hasn't simply been a matter of plugging Docker into an existing system and standing back. In each case, Docker was accompanied by a good deal of additional tooling or infrastructure to make it useful. To wit: Google created Kubernetes for container management, and Amazon added a Docker scheduling and maintenance layer when it created the Amazon EC2 Container Service.

However, smaller, scrappier, start-up-style PaaSes also feel the heat when the big-name vendors fire up features. The burden is on the little guys to not only add Docker support, but to do it in a way that captures the attention of devops folks who could easily opt for a major name brand.

WaveMaker, creator of a rapid app-dev solution for enterprises, put together its "Docker-architected" PaaS, WaveMaker Cloud, and is trying to stand out by offering tooling and features specific to enterprises' devops teams. For example, IT can define its organizational boundaries within a WaveMaker Cloud instance, "allocating containers to resources and assigning rights to logical cloud 'shards' (e.g., for development, test, and production." Rather than try to steal thunder from A-list cloud players, the idea is to target enterprises requiring a specific toolset that happens to be Docker-powered.

Dave Bartoletti, a principal analyst with Forrester, agrees: "Docker by itself is a nice value-add, since cloud-native ISVs are flocking to it, but it'll be even better with orchestration and usability services around it." But he agreed that "all the ease of use and rapid deployment orchestrations that any container or virtual machine technology," such as app management across multiple containers, or scaling, "needs to be consumable and extensible." Security and governance were other items he cited as "nice to have" in Docker PaaSes.

Of course, nothing says an organization can't hoist its own Docker-powered PaaS -- perhaps by way of something like Dokku, a private "mini-Heroku," or even its bigger, professionally hosted cousin, Deis. But having someone else do the heavy lifting and bolt-tightening is a big plus. Also, given the speed with which Docker and its associated technologies is moving, anyone offering a Docker PaaS solution must assume there will be no low-hanging (or even medium-height-reach) fruit on this tree.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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