December 5, 2020

The key Docker players in Mirantis’ longview strategy for Kubernetes

As a container orchestration tool, Kubernetes is flexible, scalable, powerful and reliable. But one thing it is not is simple to use.

In the business world, this represents what is known as a market opportunity, and Mirantis Inc. is focused on leveraging the Docker Inc. technology it acquired last year to make Kubernetes simpler, faster, secure and more developer friendly.

The purchase of Docker’s enterprise assets in November was not the first venture into the container world for Mirantis. The company partnered with Google LLC five years ago to deploy a version of OpenStack that offered Kubernetes container management integration.

Today, containers represent Mirantis’ fastest-growing business and accounts for two-thirds of its revenue, according to Adrian Ionel, Mirantis’ chief executive officer.

Docker launched in 2013 with great promise. Things looked bright when the company made a decision to offer its Linux-based software container packaging format as an open-source project to the Linux Foundation in June 2015.

That same month, Google contributed its home-grown container orchestrator — Kubernetes — to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. Four years later, Docker would release a new version of its enterprise edition that included expanded support for Kubernetes. The container orchestration war was effectively over, and Kubernetes had won.

Key moves since November

Since acquiring Docker Enterprise and its over 700 customers in November, Mirantis has embarked on a journey to retool the Docker platform to be more aligned with its own mission: providing choice, security and simplicity to help developers ship code faster. Mirantis is betting on Kubernetes as the foundational technology to make that happen while doubling down on its power at scale.

After purchasing Docker’s enterprise business, Mirantis made two additional key moves leading up to its major announcements at Launchpad 2020 this month. It acquired the assets of cloud container services company Kontena in February, with the goal of integrating the Finland company’s role-based access control and multi-cluster management tools into Docker Kubernetes Service.

Mirantis followed that up with the purchase of Kontena’s Lens desktop application six months later. Lens’ technology includes context-aware, multi-cluster management capabilities that work to integrate Kubernetes development across clouds. Mirantis was clearly zeroing in on offerings to build modern applications at scale.

“Just like Visual Studio was a breakthrough for software developers, Lens is a game changer for Kubernetes developers and operators,” said Ionel in a statement released at the time of the acquisition. “It makes writing, testing and running Kubernetes apps easy and simple on any public or private cloud. Lens fills a major gap in moving people from being interested in Kubernetes to being productive with Kubernetes.”

With the assets acquired through Kontena and Lens, it should come as no surprise that the announcement of Docker Enterprise Container Cloud at this month’s Launchpad event included automated Kubernetes cluster provisioning, along with easier application and multicloud management. The solution supports auto-provisioning on bare metal, on-premises virtual machines, and Amazon Web Services Inc., with plans to add similar support for VMware Inc., Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure in the near future.

One of the issues surrounding Docker that Mirantis has sought to address was that Docker developers lacked an easy way to use Kubernetes without a learning curve, without having to become familiar with new tools and workflows. This can get old really fast for someone who lives on the command line and wants to keep it that way.

So Mirantis extended the Docker command line interface with seamless new functionality and the ability to manage contexts for multiple Kubernetes clusters deployed by Docker Enterprise Container Cloud.

Continuity with Swarm

Docker developers often orchestrate on Swarm, a native clustering engine for containers. The existence of Swarm in the Docker equation is important because its largest active users include major enterprises such as S&P Global and the Swedish national bank SEB.

There was earlier speculation that Swarm’s days were numbered, and Mirantis had previously indicated that it would support the product for two years before retiring it for good.

Yet the company has tacked with the wind after listening to a number of Docker customers and announced that it would continue to develop Swarm alongside its other Kubernetes offerings.

“Docker Swarm is an extremely important part of what we brought on board,” said Dave Van Everen, senior vice president of marketing at Mirantis, during an interview in January. “It’s important because it does work. I’ve had multiple Docker Enterprise customers come to me and rave about its ease of use, simplicity and effectiveness at just working, and working reliably. We don’t want to disrupt any of that; we want to provide continuity to those Docker Swarm customers.”

Docker Enterprise Container Cloud can deploy Docker Enterprise with Swarm Orchestration. In addition, Ionel has indicated that the next major release of Docker Enterprise would include an ability for the Swarm interface to run on a Kubernetes back end.

Mirantis is also addressing issues related to Swarm networking utilities that were affecting Docker’s universal control plane. That Swarm lives to see another day is significant, because it shows yet again that developers are willing to embrace less complicated tools beyond Kubernetes.

“I want to be able to use [Kubernetes] but not at the detailed level that it is today,” said Johan Spännare, a senior developer at SEB, which runs a primarily Windows-based IT environment on Docker Swarm in production, during a recent interview. “I want some kind of abstraction for it.”

All of this should come as welcome news for a Mirantis customer base that already includes major enterprises, such as Adobe Inc., PayPal Inc., Docusign Inc. and Volkswagen. Docker itself claimed a third of Fortune 100 and a fifth of Global 500 businesses as customers at the time of the Mirantis acquisition. Docker may have been struggling by the time its enterprise assets were acquired in 2019, but developers among major businesses have expressed a clear interest in keeping its tools around. Mirantis has responded accordingly.

By making it easier for customers to use Kubernetes, Mirantis is establishing its role as an essential service for modernizing applications. The company’s previous work with OpenStack and more recent moves in container networking show that Mirantis intends to have a prominent seat at the open-source table.

“We are open-source experts and continue to provide the greatest flexibility and choice in our industry, but we do it in such a way that there are guardrails in place so that companies don’t end up having something that’s overly complex and unmanageable, or configured incorrectly,” said Van Everen, in a February interview. “That’s a unique value that only Mirantis can provide to the market, where we can couple open-source technologies with strong services to ensure that companies really get the most out of that open-source technology and fulfill their ultimate goal, which is to accelerate their pace of innovation.”

To view all presentations from the Mirantis Launchpad 2020 event, click here.

Image: kenishirotie via Envato

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