What I Learned @ DockerCon 2015

I attended DockerCon 2015 this week in San Francisco. I have been writing about Docker since the days when its name was still dotCloud and it first decided to pull its container technology out of its PaaS solution. I remember the first Docker meetup, which consisted of about five of us in the “jungle” of the original dotCloud headquarters, back in February of 2013. Fast-forward to June 22–23, 2015, and Docker filled up the Grand Marquis in San Francisco and was streaming live to a rabid user base all over the world. Couple that with $190M in funding, and you have a company on fire.

Why Are Containers So Hot?

Business is moving at a pace today that outweighs IT’s ability to deliver. To stay above water, developers need tools that get them from requirements to production much faster than ever before. The challenge is that the typical enterprise is a complex, heterogeneous environment made up of thousands of permutations of compute, network, storage, and programming languages. Enterprises need a way to abstract away the complex “plumbing” of the underlying technologies so that they can focus simply on business requirements. This is where containers fit in. Companies are leveraging container technology to present developers with an abstraction layer that lets them mix and match different technologies without having to worry what is going on under the covers. What is really happening here is that enterprises are creating the building blocks for assembling their own custom PaaS solutions that empower their developers.

There Is More to This than Containers

Coming into this conference, I was trying to understand why investors had poured $190M into a container company. “How much is automation really worth?” I asked myself. What I learned quickly was that Docker’s vision is much bigger than containers. In fact, containers make up only 5% of Docker’s code. What Docker is really aiming for is to be a software layer that “makes the Internet programmable.” In other words, Docker is building the next generation of PaaS. However, instead of delivering a fully backed PaaS with constraints that developers must adhere to, it is building a PaaS that lets developers pick and choose which components make sense for their organization, so that they can roll their own PaaS. I sat through numerous case studies from PayPal, GE, GrubHub, and Orbitz and saw a common theme. These organizations all used containers as a big part of their architecture to construct an internal PaaS for increasing the overall agility of development while lowering the costs of computing. That is the vision that has VCs standing in line to write checks for Docker.

Still a Long Way to Go

Docker has come a long way in the last two years. The following picture, which I took at the conference, shows some impressive growth since last year’s DockerCon.

Docker reveals impressive growth since last year’s DockerCon
Docker reveals impressive growth since last year’s DockerCon

However, most implementations of Docker have been in non-production environments (PayPal is an exception). Docker has some gaps to fill. It is well aware of what those gaps are, as depicted in the following image, and it has made a number of announcements that address each gap.

Docker is well aware what gaps it needs to fill
Docker is well aware what gaps it needs to fill

What you should expect to see over the next twelve months leading up to DockerCon 2016 is a surge of activity around improved security, better orchestration, advancements in network and storage abstraction, emerging standards, and most importantly, more customer success stories and lessons learned. I expect that next year’s conference will have many presentations that focus on production implementations at scale.

A Budding Ecosystem

If you are going to build a platform, you need to build a strong ecosystem of partners. Docker is doing just that. AWS, EMC, Google, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and VMware are just some of the larger companies that are working closely with Docker. A large number of start-ups are emerging to fill in some of the gaps that exist today in Docker’s offerings. Some of the standouts are:

  • ClusterHQ: Has built Flocker, which helps companies manage their containers and volumes together. Companies can mix and match different persistent storage back-end technologies with their compute containers.
  • Twistlock: Provides end-to-end security for containers, including policy management.
  • Project Calico: An open-source project that focuses on abstracting the network layer.
  • Datawise.io: This early-stage start-up has announced Project 6, a solution that abstracts both network and storage layers.

Several of the vendors at the show offer tools for container orchestration. At the same time, Docker made a series of announcements indicating that it will be building much of this same functionality over the next year. I am sure some of these vendors had a lot of heartburn after hearing that.

The other big announcement addressed the formation of the Open Container Project, through which industry leaders are coming together to create set of open standards for software containers.


In summary, here is what I learned at DockerCon: Containers are hot, but Docker is more than containers. It is building the new generation of PaaS, which is why investors are investing big bucks: to be a part of this revolution. Container adoption is rising at hockey-stick levels, but there are still many barriers to overcome before many enterprises will use Docker in production. All of those barriers are being addressed in the current roadmap or by the partner ecosystem. In the next twelve to eighteen months, expect to see a lot more use of Docker in production. And finally, watch the PaaS space. Things could get real interesting once the majority of people realize that Docker is much more than containers and that rolling your own PaaS is finally becoming a feasible and sensible choice.


Posted in Transformation & Agility