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Docker Buys SocketPlane As Demand for Network Portability Increases

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Docker has announced the acquisition of SocketPlane, a relatively new startup focused on driving DevOps-defined networking by enabling distributed security, application services, and orchestration for Docker and Linux containers. This move is a talent acquisition play. SocketPlane’s Madhu Venugopal, Brent Salisbury, and Dave Tucker are three of the top twenty committers of the OpenDaylight project. An open platform dedicated to network programmability, OpenDaylight enables software-defined networking (SDN) and creates a solid foundation for network functions virtualization (NFV) for networks at any size and scale. These three industry experts have deep roots in networking technologies and extensive experience leading and participating in large open-source projects. The SocketPlane team also includes industry veteran John Willis, an infrastructure and networking expert himself, who is probably best known for his early contributions as one of the original drivers of the DevOps movement.

Docker is acquiring some serious talent. It’s also gaining a leadership team to carry forward networking collaboration within the open-source community. While several people have raised concerns that Docker might morph into a proprietary platform, nothing could be further from the truth. When I asked David Messina, Docker’s VP of enterprise marketing, what Docker sees in the SocketPlane team, he responded that it is an “incredibly talented and highly collaborative” group of individuals. He emphasized the importance of this team’s ability to collaborate with the community and its history of leadership of open-source projects.

I asked Messina what has driven the surge in attention to networking and Docker containers. The first iterations of Docker focused on abstracting the compute layer for a single container. As the technology matured, a need for multicontainer management emerged, including clustering and orchestration techniques. Docker recently announced Docker Machine, Docker Swarm, and Docker Compose, which will help Docker users deploy Docker containers in complex and distributed environments. As portable as these Docker containers are, when ported across environments with different networking components, manual network configurations are still required. The next logical step is abstraction of the network layer, which is core to the SocketPlane team’s vision for its work. Docker has already created the first level of APIs for networking, but at a rudimentary level. The SocketPlane acquisition will allow Docker to accelerate the development of mature APIs to improve policy management, security, monitoring, and troubleshooting of the network layer.

Another talent acquisition that has flown under the radar is Docker’s recent hire of former Square employees Diogo Mónica and Nathan McCauley, who will lead the security team. When I asked Messina about complaints that Docker lags in security, he told me that this impression is largely misperception. Many people think, incorrectly, that Docker is a replacement for VMs; those who believe this quickly point out security features in VMs that are missing in Docker. Messina says that this is “a false narrative” and that there is a great alignment between VMs and Docker containers. He admitted that there is much security work left to do. However, he said that one of the tasks that Mónica and McCauley are charged with is to educate the community about Docker containers, to help clear up any misperceptions or myths that exist. My colleague Dan Griffin, of Cloud Technology Partners, recently wrote a great piece dispelling six other Docker myths.

I asked Messina what is next after networking. The logical next level of abstraction is the storage layer. A lot of discussion about abstracting the storage layer in containers is already occurring. Expect to see this activity pick up in the near future, including the emergence of new startups. I expect Docker to implement basic functionality in this area and to eventually make another talent acquisition of an experienced team with open-source roots. This is pure speculation on my part, but it’s where I am putting my chips.

Summary

The SocketPlane acquisition gives Docker some of the top talent in the networking space and a leadership role in SDN in the open-source community. This team will drive the development of features that allow Docker containers to be portable across different environments while reducing the administration required across endpoints. Docker is fully committed to remaining an open, community-first company. Any concerns about its becoming a proprietary platform are unmerited, based on what I have seen so far. As Docker perfects the abstraction of the networking layer, look for early work to take place in the area of storage abstraction.

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Mike Kavis
Mike is a VP/Principal Architect for Cloud Technology Partners. Mike has served in numerous technical roles such as CTO, Chief Architect, and VP positions with over 25 years of experience in software development and architecture. A pioneer in cloud computing, Mike led a team that built the world's first high speed transaction network in Amazon's public cloud and won the 2010 AWS Global Startup Challenge. An expert in cloud security, Mike is currently writing a book for Wiley Publishing called "Architecting the Cloud: Design Decisions for Cloud Computing Service Models (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS)" which is expected to be released in late 2013.
Mike Kavis

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