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New Docker networking feature removes limitations

Docker networking limitations have hindered production use of containers, but a new feature adds much-needed flexibility.

SAN FRANCISCO – Docker is madly working to plug technology  holes that have appeared in its container platform,...

as the company sets off on its quest to become the standard with which to build, ship and run distributed applications.

At DockerCon here this week, the company introduced new technology projects aimed at improved networking and orchestration, and a plug-in architecture to allow partners to easily slot in to the framework. Plus, Docker will donate the code for its application format and runtime to the new Open Container Project under the Linux Foundation, to ensure that the technology doesn't get fragmented.

Early Docker adopters have thus far been bedeviled by the technology's networking limitations. The old Docker networking paradigm was single-host, inflexible, and limited to a single network. Working with technology that the company acquired from SocketPlane back in March, the company delivered Docker Network, an experimental feature for developers to create multi-container topologies that can span multiple containers, hosts and networks.

Consistent with other tools in the portfolio, Docker Network takes an application-centric approach to the problem.

"The network should be part of the application, not the other way around," said Solomon Hykes, Docker co-founder and CTO during the keynote.  

A new plug-in architecture developed in conjunction with ClusterHQ, Glider Labs and Weaveworks, allows ecosystem partners to integrate with -- or swap out – the baseline networking stack. Docker partners delivering networking plug-ins include Cisco, Microsoft, Midokura, Nuage Networks, Project Calico, VMware and Weave for SDN, while ClusterHQ has a new plug-in to manage storage volumes.

Docker Network is also integrated with the company's own orchestration tools: Docker Machine, Docker Swarm and Docker Compose. For instance, developers can use Docker Compose to define the containers in a multi-host distributed application and the relationship between them, while Docker Swarm allows that multi-container to be automatically networked with a single command. In addition, support for Apache Mesos is in beta, and work to integrate with Amazon EC2 is in progress.

Docker’s code donation

Docker early adopters welcomed the news of the new Docker networking stack, saying  it would remove impediments to push Docker further in to production.

Financial services firm Capital One uses Docker as one component of an enterprise analytics platform from which data scientists can access a pre-populated Docker container that holds a variety of analytics tools that they can play with. Santosh Bardwaj, senior director for technology at Capital One, cited inflexible networking as a major challenge of the project, along with getting a heterogenous stack to play nice together.

But beyond product enhancements, it was the news of the Docker donating the code for its application format and runtime that elicited the most applause from attendees. This provides a level of assurance to Docker adopters and partners that the de facto standard for container technology will not radically change. It also puts to rest a long-simmering dispute between Docker and rival factions, notably CoreOS, which created its own container format called Rocket, but is now joining the OCP.

"One of the things I hate is people arguing about the size and the shape of the box," said Docker's Hykes. "That leads to standard wars, which are ugly and terrible and boring."

In addition to CoreOS, organizations in support of new OCP include Amazon Web Services, Apcera, Cisco, Docker, EMC, Fujitsu Limited, Goldman Sachs, Google, HP, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Joyent, Linux Foundation, Mesosphere, Microsoft, Pivotal, Rancher Labs, Red Hat,Inc., and VMware.  

Alex Barrett is editor in chief of TechTarget’s Modern Infrastructure. Email her at abarrett@techtarget.com.

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It’s good to see that Docker is working to help grow the container ecosystem. They’ve taken a smart approach by addressing some of the larger issues that users are having, and which could potentially prevent organizations from using Docker in a production setting. The move to donate the code to the OCP is another smart move, and shows that they are working towards building a sustainable container ecosystem. I’m looking forward to their next moves!
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