Last week, I interviewed Solomon Hykes, founder and CTO of Docker. I first met Solomon back in January of 2013 when I was interviewing executives in Silicon Valley. At the time, I was researching PaaS solutions for my recently released book, Architecting the Cloud. Back then, the company had a very promising public PaaS solution called dotCloud (the former name of the company). Private PaaS solutions were just starting to become a hot topic within the enterprise. During my interview with Solomon, I asked if they had any plans on their roadmap for addressing private PaaS requirements. Solomon answered that the demand from his customers was not yet pushing them in that direction, but that making dotCloud a private or hybrid PaaS would not be a major architectural challenge. He then described how they use containers internally and invited me to a demo the next time I was in town.
A month later, I returned to San Francisco and attended the first demo day of Docker. I was one of five people who attended. What I saw that day was a great concept on how to take the complexity out of building consistent environments while making it easy to change and administer without the overhead of hypervisors. Solomon has held these demos every week since that day, and Docker meetups are occurring regularly all over the world. In fact, the demand for Docker has grown tremendously, to the point where the community has demanded a conference. The first ever DockerCon will be held in San Francisco this June.
Roughly one year after that first demo, dotCloud has now changed its name to Docker and has totally pivoted from being a PaaS company to being an open-source provider of lightweight container based technology. Docker has raised a $15M series B round and is seeing traction with OpenStack, AWS, IBM, HP, Rackspace, and just about every cloud endpoint. In fact, many SaaS solutions, like Script Rock, are using Docker under the covers, and major PaaS players, like Red Hat’s OpenShift, are also adopting Docker. I can’t recall the last time I have seen a technology grow this quickly and exponentially in just one year.
Here is the transcript of the Q&A session I had with Solomon. Solomon’s answers are paraphrased and may not be word-for-word quotes.
MK – You guys are on quite a tear. About a year ago you held your first demo day, which I attended with four other people. Now Docker and containers are the talk of the industry. You closed on $15M series B and are becoming an integral part of many vendor solutions, including Red Hat, which made some announcements today about Docker. Tell me, what has the last year been like and where do you see it going?
SH – Docker grew up in an unexpected way. We just ran with it and are trying to keep up with the tremendous growth of the community. It’s here. We get patches, bug reports, feedback from all over the world. People are using it in production. The community and ecosystem have formed, and we are working real hard on keeping up with the growth.
MK – Why do you think containers are so hot now, and how will this change the industry?
SH – The industry was looking for something like containers for a long time. Containers are reusable and portable, and they allow people to interconnect multiple technology components. Containers allow us perform abstractions across different languages and abstraction layers, across all code. This is happening now for two reasons. First, there is a different kind of demand because there is technology available now that was not available before. We are building new kinds of applications. These applications are designed from ground up. They are distributed, service-oriented, and loosely coupled over the network, across different languages, and run over any number of machines. Applications today are being architected more distributed than ever before.
Second, software needs to get to customers faster than ever before. It has to scale and be better than what competition is offering. Today’s architectures have no restrictions. We must be able to mix and match numerous disparate technologies with a high level of automation to meet the needs of the business.
MK – Now that you have closed on series B, where is Docker investing its resources?
SH – Docker needs to be used by a lot of people. It needs a high bar of quality. It is going to take a large investment by a number of companies to provide the level of quality and reliability required from a production-ready solution. Docker needs a strong, healthy organization to build it. Our primary focus is continuous engineering. We will invest in more resources and continue reinvesting into the product. We want to drive revenue and growth and reinvest it in Docker.
MK – One year after launching your beta product, you have enough followers to hold DockerCon14? How many people are you expecting, and what should we expect from the conference?
SH – We are expecting 500 people. We really had no choice. The community demanded it. We never really set out to create a conference. Our community members want it, so we are having our first one this summer. There will be a lot of great presentations from our open-source community. This is not a marketing event. This is for the engineers.
MK – A lot of people look at community stats to measure the importance of open-source software. In November, you guys posted some impressive numbers on your blog. What do those numbers look like now?
SH – I haven’t checked in a while, so these numbers might not be current, but last I checked we had over 350 people contributing and over ten thousand GitHub stars. We are a top 50 open-source project and are creeping higher up that list every day.
MK – What are some of the most impressive uses of Docker you have seen from the community?
SH – We have one customer that deploys half a million containers a week in production. That is quite impressive.
MK – What are some of the most bizarre uses of Docker you have seen from the community?
SH – We were sitting in a bar in Portland when a customer showed us a very unique solution. They were running Docker on Raspberry Pi devices connected to each keg and beer tap. The application produced all kinds of data about the beer temperature, pressure, and other information.
MK – I just read Red Hat’s announcement of its use of Docker, and I see many other vendors embracing it as well. What are your thoughts on this?
SH – The point is not to replace solutions, but to improve them. Docker has a common ingredient to add to the mix to supercharge your toolbox. It can manage an infinite number of permutations, which allows vendors to drop Docker in and then pull in components and claim them as their own.
MK – What is the next great feature we can expect from Docker?
SH – Our focus is on stabilizing, quality over features, shrink the core, and provide more APIs. We will focus on network, storage, monitoring, logging APIs, the interconnection of containers, and orchestration. The first generation of Docker was a solid way to run individual containers. The next generation will be a solid way to run interconnected containers. It all boils down to community and a healthy open-source ecosystem. We will spend a lot of time joining and federating the effort of the community.
Docker has grown from an internal project to one of the top open-source projects in just over a year. The demand for Docker has been so stunning that the company pivoted from a pure PaaS play to what is known as Docker today. Vendors are embracing Docker as a much improved way to manage and deploy infrastructure. This is just the tip of the iceberg for Docker. As they start releasing features to run interconnected containers, I expect to see Docker becoming more accepted in larger enterprises.
I would like to thank Solomon for taking time out of his busy schedule yet again to share his insights with me.
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