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We love containers. And, for most of us, containers means Docker. As RightScale observed in its RightScale 2018 State of the Cloud report, Docker's adoption by the industry has increased to 49 percent from 35 percent in 2017.
All's not well in Docker-land
There's only one problem with this: While Docker, the technology, is going great guns, Docker, the business, isn't doing half as well.
For users, this isn't that much of a problem. Whatever Docker the business' future, Docker the technology is both open source and a standard. Docker could close up shop today, and you'd still be using Docker containers tomorrow.
Read also: Weak Docker security could lead to magnified vulnerabilities due to efficiency of containers
Of course, it's a different story if you have a contract with Docker. But, while that would prove annoying -- not to mention an ugly mark on the balance sheet -- it shouldn't impact your business flow. Containers are now a well-known technology. Securing and managing them continue to be troublesome, but deploying and running them? Not so much.
Still, you should be aware that all's not well in Docker-land.
What's the business plan?
Docker's problem is simple: It doesn't have a viable business plan.
It's not the market. According to 451 Research, "the application container market will explode over the next five years. Annual revenue is expected to increase by 4x, growing from $749 million in 2016 to more than $3.4 billon by 2021, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35 percent."
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But to make that revenue, you need a business that can exploit containers. So, Google, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and all the rest of the big public cloud companies, earn their dollars from customers eager to make the most of their server resources. Others, like Red Hat/CoreOS, Canonical, and Mirantis, provide easy-to-use container approaches for private clouds.
Docker? It provides the open-source framework for the most popular container format. That's great, but it's not a business plan.
Confusion is not what you want
Docker's plan had been, according to former CEO Ben Golub, to build up a subscription business model. The driver behind its Enterprise Edition, with its three levels of service and functionality, was container orchestration using Docker Engine's swarm mode. Docker, the company, also rebranded Docker, the open-source software, to Moby while continuing to use Docker as the name for its commercial software products.
Read also: Docker appoints industry veteran as new CEO
This led to more than a little confusion. Quick! How many of you knew Moby was now the "official" name for Docker the program? Confusion is not what you want in sales.
Mere weeks later, Golub was out, and Steve Singh, from SAP, was in.
Docker has never explained why Singh was brought in from outside to become the leader, but it doesn't take a genius to see that core container technologies were becoming commoditized. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF)'s Open Container Initiative (OCI) standard turned today's container fundamentals, including Docker containers themselves, into open standards. There wasn't much value-add that Docker could offer its enterprise customers.
As Dave Bartoletti, a Forrester analyst, told The Register at the time: "The poor guy has to figure out how to make money at Docker. That's not easy when a lot of people in the community just bristle at anyone trying to make money."
The rise of Kubernetes
Making matters much harder for Docker's business plans is that Docker swarm and all other orchestration programs have found themselves overwhelmed by the rise of Kubernetes.
Read also: Docker LinuxKit: Secure Linux containers for Windows, macOS, and clouds
Today, Kubernetes -- whether it's a grand Google plan to create a Google cloud stack or not -- dominates cloud orchestration. Even Docker adopted Kubernetes because of customer demand in October 2017.
When your main value-add is container orchestration and everyone and their uncle has adopted another container orchestration program, what can you offer customers? Good question.
Docker has also been dealing with internal changes. Solomon Hykes, a co-founder and former CTO, was kicked upstairs to vice chairman of the board of directors and chief architect. Hykes, a controversy lightning rod, was also the public face of the company. He's been far more quiet lately.
Red Hat's answer was to buy Docker's chief rival, CoreOS. That gave Red Hat not only its own container platform, but its own enterprise Kubernetes platform: Tectonic.
Docker really needs cash from customers
So, what should you do if you depend on Docker the company's support? I'd look to my operating system and cloud vendors for help. After all, most of them, Red Hat, AWS, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, SUSE, VMware, etc., already incorporate Docker.
Read also: Docker, IBM expand partnership
In the last few months, Docker raised another $75 million in venture capital. This brings the total capitalization of Docker to a rather amazing $250 million from ME Cloud Ventures, Benchmark, Coatue Management, Goldman Sachs, and Greylock Partners. That's a lot of money, but I still don't see how Docker will pay out.
Cash from investors is great, but what Docker really needs is cash from customers.
For most enterprise users, there are no real worries here. Docker or Moby, the container standard is both open source and an open standard. For Docker investors, well, that's another story.