Docker Builds On-Ramp To Get Legacy Enterprise Applications On The Road To Microservices

At DockerCon on Wednesday, Docker unveiled Modernize Traditional Applications (MTA), a new program to help companies bring the benefits of containers to legacy enterprise applications without modifying the app source code. This fixed-price service will containerize one legacy application, in its current form, in just five days or less.

Docker is making the program available with partners Avanade, Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Microsoft. MTA includes professional services Docker Enterprise Edition (EE) Standard (Docker Datacenter) for application management, and hybrid cloud infrastructure from HPE, Cisco or other partners.

For Docker, this gets companies started down the path of embracing a microservices architecture. It's a hot topic for partners, too, because moving enterprises onto a microservices architecture could lead to recurring revenue since the architecture allows for continuous improvement – breaking large system problems into smaller, manageable chunks means partners and companies can incrementally improve software applications and services over time versus doing huge, disruptive system updates.

[Related: Containers And IoT — A Match Made In The Cloud]

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Docker is both reacting to a market need and giving itself a path to keep growing. "We think it'll help us expand into net new customers very, very quickly," Docker's COO, Scott Johnston, told CRN. "To start, for the last six months, we've been working with existing customers to refine the methodology and tooling and the messaging – and because existing customers already knew Docker, we started at a good place already because they knew the value of containers. But the point of the program in the medium to long run is to expand the market faster."

Docker can already tell a remarkable growth story. According to statistics from cloud monitoring company Datadog, Docker's market share has grown almost 40 percent in 12 months. At the beginning of March 2016, 13.6 percent of Datadog's customers had adopted Docker, the company said. A year later, that number has grown to 18.8 percent.

It's easy to see why. Containers make it safe and secure to squeeze several production applications onto a single instance of an OS that can be running on bare metal or a virtual machine. Without containers, virtualized applications would each run a virtual machine with its own OS, so enterprises save some money on infrastructure costs when they containerize applications.

Docker cited the example of Northern Trust Bank, which achieved 50 percent reduction in virtual machines by containerizing some legacy applications. Docker said the bank reduced provisioning time for those apps from 29 days to one week since the bank was not having to deploy an entire stack – from hardware to a new OS – for each application. "When the unit of deployment and provisioning is, instead, a Docker container, it's one-tenth or one-twentieth the size of that full stack. You do not have to provision a new OS each time," Johnston told CRN.

As part of its drive to containerize legacy applications, Docker is leaning on partners to help it spread the word. The company, now with 320 employees, doesn't have "the scale or the reach … it's actually going to be partners that will be the tip of the spear taking this to market, alongside Docker sales, of course," Johnston said.

Solution providers, though, should be aware of the difference between wrapping a legacy application in a new deployment methodology and truly modernizing an application and making it cloud-native or microservices-enabled. "Five days is not enough time to truly modernize an application," said Chris Ciborowski, CEO of Nebulaworks, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider. "What we're going to say, as a reseller of Docker is that we can do that, but it is just the first step – you can stack more of the application on fewer units of infrastructure."

A traditional application is using the framework it resides on, probably VMware, to provide reliability, scalability and availability, he explained. "Even though you're moving [an application] you're still going to have to run it on the same infrastructure, you're just doing it in a container."

Docker's Johnston was clear that MTA was an on-ramp, not the finish line. "We don't see this as one and done. We see this as a first step that delivers value right away – within five days – and that gives [a customer] confidence … so they can take the next step of the journey," he said.

That next phase of the microservices journey, he said, is to integrate more modern development tools, like a DevOps processes, giving the enterprise different possibilities to add new services to an app and enhance its value. This approach reduces risk because it doesn't force enterprises to make the decision of whether to go down the path of a microservices architecture too early in the process.

Back to the Northern Trust example, Johnston said the appeal of Docker's new program is in delivering quick, tangible benefits to the enterprise, while getting them ready to, if they want, to make the leap from on-premises data center to hybrid cloud deployment because the application's portability when packaged in a container.

"All of this was done without having to touch the source code, without having to re-architect the app, by just taking the existing binaries, containerizing them and putting them on modern infrastructure," he said.

"It's a great way for them to cast a bigger net and, if they get the right fish to come in, they can start having a conversation about what it really takes," Nebulaworks' Ciborowski said.