Container standards: Patching over the cracks

At OSCon, it may look like the container powers are all getting along, but under the surface disagreements simmer.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- If all you did was look at the headlines, Oracle and Twitter pile in behind renamed Open Container Initiative and Google releases Kubernetes 1.0: Container management will never be the same, you'd think the container companies were singing together in perfect harmony. They're not.

Container standardization is coming, but not everyone's happy about the process.

Yes, on some levels, they are working together smoothly. For example, the Open Container Initiative (OCI) container specification is well on its way to a first draft. Considering that the OCI was only founded on June 22 that's impressive.

As Patrick Chanezon, a member of Docker's technical staff, said, "I've been involved in many open-source projects and many standards like these in the past. I've been impressed that we gathered everybody and the work started right away, and the draft spec will be there six weeks after we announced it. I've never seen anything go as fast as this." As someone who's reported on many open-source projects and standard bodies, I've seldom seen a standardization effort go so fast either.

Of course, that's in no small part because the initial OCI specification is based on Docker's specification. The real work will come later when the other partners get their say on it.

Containers are coming together on Internet time. That's because, as Jim Zemlin, the Linux Foundation's executive director, explained in his OSCon, keynote that "Containers will change the datacenter in the same way that shipping containers changed global trade. They will shift IT from a server view of the world to an application view of the world."

To make that happen, at a far faster pace than the 1970s transition to standardized shipping containers, "everyone wants a standard container format and reference runtime, which will enable portability across a wide variety of OSs, hardware, CPU architectures, private and public clouds."

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Just because everyone is on the same page and has the same vision doesn't mean everyone is happy about it.

At DockerCon in late June, for example, Solomon Hykes. Docker's CTO, said, "Standards wars are an ugly, terrible thing." He added that CoreOS CEO Alex Polvi, who has been a container rival, had helped him see the need to "unite the industry and set everything on the right path." That's impressive considering that in December 2014, CoreOS moved sharply away from Docker's overall approach.

It all sounds good, but in the halls of OSCon, some people weren't happy with the new container and container management, Kubernetes, framework.

While no one would go on record, a source close to Docker said, "First, we had to compromise on the container format, and now we had to trade down on container management." Another added, "Yes containers have been around for ages. Got it. But, we're not getting the credit we deserve."

If you look closely at the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) announcement, which makes Kubernetes the most likely container management for all clouds not running on Amazon Web Services (AWS), you'll notice that Kubernetes actually isn't mentioned.

Why not? Sources said that Docker insisted on this before they'd sign up on the partnership. Docker, it seems, had its own container management plans.

They're not the only ones who feel slighted. A person from Red Hat, grumbled, "After Google, we committed the most work to Kubernetes and we're not getting the credit."

Bad feelings aside, everyone realized that containers will end up being a billion dollar business and fundamental to data centers and clouds when all is said and done. Everyone also realizes that standardization is the only way they'll all get a slice of the eventual profit pie.

I strongly suspect that by the time OSCon rolls around in May 2016 in Austin, Texas, all the bad feelings will have been forgotten as everyone beavers away at keeping their customers happy with their container rollouts.

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