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Can IT service providers be thought leaders on Docker technology?

Execs say using Docker technology could significantly impact MSPs and cloud services firms. Read about partners that found business opportunities.

Docker, an open source platform for running distributed applications, threatens to disrupt virtualization and cloud technology, but is only beginning to impact channel companies.

That's the general view of industry executives who believe Docker could significantly influence managed services providers (MSPs) and cloud services firms. They said those companies may find a number of uses for Docker as the software continues to mature. A service provider, for example, could provide Docker-related services to support its customers, leverage Docker technology embedded within monitoring tools, or roll out the technology internally to boost operational efficiency.

That's quite a scope of endeavor for software that was first released two years ago. Docker debuted as an open source project in March 2013. The technology has gained considerable traction since then. Docker Inc., the software's corporate sponsor, declared Docker technology ready to "meet enterprise IT standards" in June 2014, when it launched Docker 1.0 with commercial support. Docker now points to 200 million-plus downloads and a user base that includes eBay, Spotify and Cambridge HealthCare. The company partners with Amazon Web Services, Google, IBM and Microsoft, among others.

Docker has attracted this attention with a technology that "containerizes" applications. The platform lets organizations create and deploy applications in what Docker describes as lightweight containers, consisting of the application and its dependencies. A virtual machine, in contrast, involves greater overhead since it includes an operating system as well as the application and requires a hypervisor to run. Docker's bare-minimum container approach increases application portability and makes it possible to stack numerous containerized applications to improve infrastructure utilization.

William Kulju, senior product marketing manager at Asigra Inc., a cloud backup software provider, suggested Docker is following the same trajectory as virtualization.

"I'd say Docker is very much today where virtual machines were seven years ago," he said.

He said Docker technology provides benefits similar to virtual machines, which allow higher densities and greater server utilization, while also reducing the time and effort required to deploy applications. Docker's difference is its ability to offer still greater densities and fewer deployment headaches.

"Docker is taking it to the next level," Kulju said.

Channel moves

Asigra in January announced that its cloud offering supports Docker containers, providing backup and recovery for application data in such environments. Asigra markets backup products through value-added resllers (VARs) that sell its software to customers for use in private clouds. The company also sells to MSPs, which deploy Asigra as the basis for their cloud backup services.

Kulju said he hasn't seen a lot of Docker activity among partners yet, but sees plenty of potential. He said service providers able to protect Docker technology can stand out from the MSP crowd. Those providers, who take the time now to acquire expertise in Docker software, will reap rewards later as more enterprises use the technology to run mission-critical data and applications. Docker, Kulju said, offers an avenue for differentiation at a time when many MSPs offers similar services.

"Service providers have a great opportunity to establish themselves as thought leaders around Docker," he said. "By getting in early, they can ride the wave."

Yotta280 Inc., an Asigra partner and data protection specialist based in Jacksonville, Fla., is one MSP exploring Docker's possibilities. Terry Fields, CEO and president of Yotta280, said his company installed Asigra's Docker-supporting backup software in its lab to test how the solution protects data on storage devices connected to Docker containers. Other lab work involves testing a few of the 45,000-plus Docker apps available through Docker Hub "in terms of being able to protect the data and applications," Fields added.

The MSP has been testing Docker for about six months.

"It is still a little bit new to us," Fields said.

Protecting Docker containers and associated storage offers a potential direction for service providers. Another possibility: offering Docker within a broader cloud hosting service. DigitalOcean Inc., a cloud hosting provider based in New York City, offers Docker pre-installed on its cloud servers.

DigitalOcean's customers have launched about 50,000 cloud servers with Docker technology pre-installed since offering the software a half a year ago, noted Mitch Wainer, the company’s co-founder.

The company offers its cloud infrastructure to developers. Wainer said developers adopting Docker fall into two groups: those who are interested in experimenting with Docker on the DigitalOcean platform, and those who continually use Docker for their distributed applications.

Service providers have a great opportunity to establish themselves as thought leaders around Docker.
William Kuljusenior product marketing manager, Asigra Inc.

Developers can click on Docker as an option on DigitalOcean's applications tab when spinning up a cloud server. The company's cloud server plans start at $5 per month, but Wainer noted that the company bills hourly and lets users spin down their servers at any time.

"That allows users to create a Docker server, experiment with running some services as containers, then spin down and only pay for the time their server was live," he said.

WaveMaker Inc., meanwhile, is also taking Docker to the cloud as a developer platform. The Mountain View, Calif., company plans to enlist hosting services providers as a channel.

Samir Ghosh, CEO of WaveMaker, refers to the company's WaveMaker Cloud as a "Docker-architected" platform as a service (PaaS). Unlike DigitalOcean, WaveMaker doesn't target developers directly. Instead, the company gears its Docker-based PaaS toward enterprise IT departments, which, in turn, offer the platform to their developers.

The premise behind WaveMaker Cloud is that IT groups have needs that Docker technology doesn't fully address on its own. Ghosh said enterprises find it difficult to assemble Docker environments that can handle varied workloads, diverse application stacks and heterogeneous infrastructure. WaveMaker Cloud, however, meets the requirements of the enterprise market, he noted.

"That is where we see our PaaS fitting in," he said.

Ghosh said WaveMaker seeks to partner with hosting providers to crack enterprise IT accounts, noting that the company is in early-stage conversations with such companies.

MSPs and VARs that aren't yet tempted to offer Docker-related services may indirectly benefit from the technology. The latest version of Zenoss Inc.'s IT monitoring product, for instance, leverages Docker. The company said the ability to encapsulate Zenoss in containers provides increased portability and improved configuration management. The containerization capability is available in Zenoss 5, which launched in February. Service providers rank among Zenoss' top market segments.

Infrastructure efficiency

Industry executives noted that service providers may also opt to use Docker internally to improve operations. A higher server utilization rate is one potential plus. A Docker container's slim profile lets a service provider stack more workloads on its server infrastructure.

Paul Bruce, API engineer at SmartBear Software, said the Docker approach can significantly decrease the cost of hosting services because companies "use fewer resources than standard machine-level virtualization." SmartBear, based in Somerville, Mass., makes test and development tools.

"You can fit more of your services on one piece of hardware, virtualized or not," Bruce said.

Matt Maloney, senior technical product manager at Zenoss, also noted Docker's ability to increase infrastructure utilization, ramp up operational efficiency and reduce the cost of services.

"That is the big financial gain from stacking containers," he said.

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