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​Docker grabs SocketPlane and its experts to create open networking APIs

Behind the acquisition of tiny Palo Alto startup SocketPlane by Docker lies the goal of giving multi-container apps network portability through standard interfaces.
Written by Toby Wolpe, Contributor
Scott Johnston: Enabling networking partners in the ecosystem not competing with them.
Image: Docker

Container company Docker has acquired startup SocketPlane and its six-strong team to help add standard networking interfaces to Docker for increased portability of multi-container distributed apps.

Since its emergence last year, software-defined networking specialist SocketPlane, acquired on undisclosed terms, has been working on Docker's open API for networking.

Docker said the SocketPlane team will be collaborating with the partner community on a set of networking APIs for app developers, and network and system administrators. The goal is to bring networking direct to the application while remaining infrastructure independent.

"As Docker's taken off over the past two years, it's really become a platform for distributed apps. Of course, as soon as you start having multi hosts, multiple containers on multiple hosts, those containers need to be networked," Docker SVP product Scott Johnston said.

"We had a first-generation networking solution in the original Docker and we learned a lot from that. Community, customers, users have all informed us what's working and what's not. It was clear that to get networking to the next level, to support a full-on distributed platform in production, we needed expertise in-house to develop an API that would allow all the other providers in our ecosystem to deliver implementations that would foster growth in networking."

Johnston said the acquisition does not represent competition for the community or with others in the Docker ecosystem.

"It's about us grabbing a team that has great networking skills at scale and have them contribute an API back to the community from which partners can then develop their own implementations," he said.

"Because we've got Cisco, VMware, Juniper, and Arista and all these other networking companies approaching the community with ideas and they have deep networking expertise, we needed a similar deep bench of networking within the project to guide those conversations."

The arrival of the new networking APIs is "really close", according to Johnston.

"When SocketPlane came out of stealth in Q4, they came out saying, 'Hey, we're working on a Docker native network solution'. They were very public about it and they right away started participating in the Docker community around networking topics. They made contributions, they developed proof-of-concepts, they contributed working code," he said.

"So if you follow their history in the past six months or so, they've already got working examples that are already being hotly discussed in the community up on GitHub or in our forum. We already have some pretty good ideas of where to go. In some sense this formalises the relationship and brings them onboard to help drive that to closure."

Johnston said the driver for the acquisition goes back to the original Docker promise of being able to write a container that was portable.

"This will allow the user to architect a multi-container app, network those containers and have that be 100 percent portable. We've got some of that today in the first generation but this will really make it scalable and portable across racks, across datacenters, across clouds - that's really what this is going to represent to the user," he said.

"This is about enabling networking partners in the ecosystem not competing with them, by bringing on board a team that can really help us and help the community shape a great API."

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