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Docker Inc.'s acquisition of software networking company SocketPlane could bring the developer of open application containers a step closer to building an alternative to hypervisors made by companies like VMware.
In related news this week, Red Hat released version 7.1 of Enterprise Linux Atomic Host, the company's operating system for Docker's container virtualization.
Docker acquired SocketPlane as much for the talent as the technology. The latter company's chief executive is Madhu Venugopal, a former senior technical leader at Cisco. With the acquisition, he became senior director of networking for Docker.
SocketPlane, founded in October 2014, has focused on making it possible to network thousands of Docker containers that interact with each other based on the computing task. The containers could host applications on a PC or data center server.
Dockers are Linux containers that host an application and its dependencies as an isolated process on a Linux kernel. Considered a lightweight alternative to hypervisors, also known as virtual machine managers, multiple containers can share the same Linux kernel. Containers can also be moved to other Linux distributions without a lot of effort.
The former SocketPlane team will be responsible at Docker for working with other tech companies in building application programming interfaces (APIs) that will enable container networking at a much larger scale. SocketPlane partners expected to continue working on the APIs include tech heavyweights Cisco, IBM, Microsoft and VMware.
The Docker advantage
Docker proponents say the technology consumes fewer computer resources than a hypervisor, which runs multiple virtual machines, each with an operating system.
"If you've got the option of boxing something up in a heavy mahogany crate or boxing it up in some lightweight aluminum, you're going to go with the aluminum," Nemertes Research analyst John Burke said.
While containers are not expected to replace hypervisors anytime soon, the latter could be used less over time, threatening the business of companies like VMware.
To avoid such a threat, VMware could choose to make a Docker container, or something similar, a first-class entity inside of vCenter, where the same tools could be used in deploying and managing containers and hypervisors.
VCenter is the centralized management tool for VMware's vSphere virtualization platform.
"They could make a fairly seamless transition from one paradigm to the other," Burke said. "It's just a question of how aggressively they can pursue that."
What's Docker missing?
In the meantime, Docker has a ways to go before its namesake open source container is a fully functional technology for the enterprise. Besides scalability, orchestration and security tools with more capabilities than exist today will have to be developed, experts said.
But progress is being made. Docker introduced in December an on-premises container lifecycle management tool called Docker Hub Enterprise.
Docker technology is also getting strong support from enterprise vendors. Microsoft, for example, is building a version for Windows Server.
Public cloud providers like Google and Amazon are offering either Docker services or broader container and container management services.
In time, Docker or a competing container technology like Rocket could be used in packaging networking functions like content caching or load balancing, Burke said. Developers could build container APIs that talk to software-defined networking controllers to prioritize bandwidth for video streaming or conferencing.
"That's a use case that's reasonable [to expect]," Burke said.
The latest version of Red Hat's Enterprise Linux Atomic Host includes features like the ability to deploy and run images in Docker format as application containers. Orchestration of containers running on Atomic Host clusters is performed using Google's Kubernetes engine.
Security features include the ability to isolate each container in a multi-container environment.
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