Docker Revamps Leadership Structure Amid Unprecedented Growth

Docker, the open-source Linux container project launched less than two years ago, has been growing at a breakneck pace. With more than 740 contributors continually expanding an ecosystem now consisting of 20,000 projects -- and 85,000 "Dockerized" applications -- managing the container-tech community is presenting a tricky organizational challenge.

Anticipating the ecosystem will continue to swell, Docker's brain trust Wednesday revealed a major restructuring that will split the current duties of founder Solomon Hykes among three new positions. The new operational structure is far more scalable, ensuring Docker will competently manage future growth while freeing Hykes to focus on larger issues of strategy and vision, said Steve Francia, Docker's new chief operator.

"It's not a reorganization. More of an evolution," Francia told CRN.

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"One reason to do this is to enable Solomon to really focus on the vision and driving the architecture. By enabling us to support him, it gives him more time to be visionary and strategic," Francia said.

The new positions are chief architect, chief maintainer and chief operator. In addition to those leadership roles, the new operational structure also defines the day-to-day work of individual contributors in each of those areas.

Hykes will officially serve the project as chief architect while maintaining his current position as CTO of the commercial entity behind the project, Docker Inc.

Francia, the new chief operator, was recruited from MongoDB, where for the past three years he performed a similar duty, guiding the growth and maturation of that open-source database software.

"The chief operator is really responsible for the operations of the project, making sure everything is in place so the project can be successful," he explained. "It's really the general manager of the project."

Francia will take charge of day-to-day operations such as facilitating communications between current contributors and helping new ones get involved, tracking release schedules, and managing relationships with upstream and downstream partners. He's also tasked with measuring the success of the overall project and ensuring it's governed properly in concert with the Docker Governance Advisory Board.

Michael Crosby, the chief maintainer, will take responsibility for the quality of contributions to the ecosystem as far as code reviews, usability, stability, security and performance.

Crosby began working with Docker in 2013 as a community member and joined Docker Inc. later that year as a code project maintainer. He is the creator of libcontainer, a critical element of the Docker project.

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With Francia and Crosby in place, Hykes will focus his energies on steering the larger project, defining its design principles, and preserving the integrity of its overall architecture as the platform matures.

Francia explained to CRN that just like with any successful startup, an open-source project's small leadership team, often guided by one person, eventually needs to expand as the technology gains adoption and the organization must scale.

But Docker's growth has few precedents by any measure.

The containerization software, one of the hottest technologies in the DevOps revolution, has been downloaded about 100 million times.

"It's an astronomical number for a project that's 18 months old," Francia told CRN.

The 740 contributors are routinely adding to the ecosystem, including partners such as Google, IBM and Red Hat.

Also in 2014, Docker processed more than 5,000 pull requests, half coming from developers not affiliated with Docker Inc.

"So all these things together, for a project that's inception was a year and a half ago, to have this kind of growth is virtually unheard of in open source," Francia told CRN.

The Docker team also prides itself on something that's rare for any open-source project yet alone one with as many eager contributors -- the project typically merges new contributions such as user interfaces, management frameworks and monitoring tools in less than a day.

"That is a high bar and we want to continue to keep that high bar. There's not a lot of pressure yet, this is a bit of a pre-emptive move because we see the growth we have, we want to keep that same level of responsiveness we've had," Francia told CRN.