Docker CEO Ben Golub On Powering A Partner Ecosystem And Keeping Planes In The Air

Golub On The Record

Now four years after its launch, the Docker open source project has 3,300 project contributors who have built 900,000 Docker apps residing on 14 million hosts. The growth of containers is for real, and the use cases are getting more interesting, serious and complex. In his keynote at DockerCon this week in Austin, Docker CEO Ben Golub said Docker started as a quick, efficient way to deploy apps. "We're now seeing use cases where people are using Docker to keep planes in the air," he said.

As a company grows, its stakeholders change, its needs change, and the community Docker once fostered as open source enthusiasts now are watching the company become a technology giant with reach into 300 large enterprise customers around the world. It's a perfect time to check in and get Golub's perspective on Docker, its ecosystem and its path to helping partners make money.

With a boxed lunch in hand, running between meetings, Golub spent a few minutes with CRN on Wednesday. He discussed the evolution of his company, the Docker partner program and what we can learn from the examples of companies like MetLife, a 149-year-old company that turned up at DockerCon to encourage other enterprises to get on board with containers.

How is the Docker partner program progressing?

Our partner program is a key part of our strategy. Close to 60 percent of what we sold last quarter was through partners. We have our very large channel partners – HPE, Avanade, Microsoft, Accenture – but we also have a very structured program for authorized consulting partners, a DVAR program for authorized resellers, and we also have an authorized training program.

Many of our partners participate in both the authorized training program and one of the other programs because offering training is a great way to close the sale.

How much of what Docker does is related to educating companies and groups of developers?

I think a few years ago a lot of what we did was centered around education – we have a massive network of meet-ups for people to learn about Docker. We have online university courses and around 20 authorized training partners. For many of our partners, that education is a way to open the door and get a conversation going.

It turns out it's relatively easy to get to a proficiency level with Docker. Within a few hours, people can "Dockerize" simple applications and get the "A-ha" moment. Now, deploying it into production and so on is more work, but the other nice thing about Docker is that you get value out of it with a single application built by a single developer. A small group of developers will get more value, and when you start putting groups of apps into production, that's when the value really grows.

How do you measure Docker's progress as a company?

We measure ourselves by looking at the size of the community, the number of servers running Docker that are pinging us, the number of applications, the number of downloads – all of those numbers are exponentially growing.

But we've been selling commercially for a little over a year now, and we've got over 300 Global 2000 customers, and we are, at this point, tracking revenue, tracking the number of nodes under subscription, the expansion rates within customers – and we're really excited by what we see. From all of those signs we see, revenue will be on the same curve as our early adoption was.

Dell seems to own the whole technology stack in the data center, from servers to software to virtualization. Do you count them as a competitor?

Not really. We have many customers who run Docker on Dell servers, and we have many customers who run Docker inside of VMs. Our business model is not dependent on VMs going away. We think containers are the right unit for building applications, building microservices and deploying them. For some customers that means deploying on bare metal, for some, it means deploying in VMs, and for some, it means deploying in the cloud – our business model doesn't care. And our technology doesn't care.

Is Docker becoming an expert on digital transformation, given the range of customers and companies using containers?

We are. I mean, we're working with MetLife [the 149-year-old insurance firm], and we're working with one-year-old startups, and everyone in between. [Digital transformation] is really about a journey and not about an abrupt change.

Docker, for a lot of our customers, is a real catalyst for them to, not only build brand-spanking new applications on modern infrastructure, which are amazing. But it's also a way for them to take really valuable, older applications [and] move them to new infrastructures or start using them in a more agile way.

When you speak with other CEOs, is the conversation just about efficiency? Is there a broader vision?

More efficiency and getting faster is where they start and where they end the journey is digital transformation. Whether you're an insurance company or a car company or a bank, your business is under threat by some very nimble startup that builds and deploys new technology in really rapid ways.

Docker is a way for you to get yourself to that point without having to lose the things that got you where you are right now. Most of the CEOs I speak to want to get more nimble with the stuff that they have, and either simultaneously or as a result [of digital transformation], be able to be really nimble in the future.

MetLife is a really interesting use case. They've got 400 back-end systems of record. They want their customers to be able to go from buying life insurance to buying home insurance, but each of those is a different system and yet they were able to build this front-end for their customers, agents and customer service people that touches on the back end of, say, 10 different systems during a transaction – some of [the systems] were built in the 1980s. Docker's helping them do that.

How big of a revenue impact will MTA [Modernizing Traditional Applications] have on Docker?

We designed it specifically to make it easy for the channel. We announced [MTA] with four partners – Avanade, Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Microsoft – and with all of them, we were doing proofs-of-concept (PoC) before. Part of the criteria for us launching the program and each of those partners joining was to have a common training and methodology and all that, but also a successful use case for them to tell their salespeople about.

Nothing is more important in the channel than having successes to point to. Now with all of the partners we have a really large pipeline in many cases – PoC customers have become paying customers, we've systematized it and launched it, and we will, in a really disciplined way, start rolling that out to the rest of the channel partners.

It's a much easier thing to sell than digital transformation.

Is Enterprise Edition taking off with customers that are of a certain size – or is it selling well with all kinds of businesses?

It's not limited to a specific size customer, but you have to have a sweet spot for Docker. You have a mix of old and new apps, a mix of old and new infrastructure – and that just happens to be everybody in the Global 2000. But our list of customers is pretty broad – financial services, automotive, health care and so on.

Do partners need to be able to apply what they learn about customers in one vertical to other industries?

Well, all customers care about uptime. All customers care about costs and security … I don't think you need to be an expert in, say, HIPAA, to sell Docker. I have yet to have a meeting with any CIO where they're not trying to reduce costs, increase efficiency, move workloads to the cloud – they're all trying to get faster and do more with less.

The Alibaba Cloud use case for Docker was remarkable. What's special about that customer?

Well, first off, I love all of our use cases – MetLife, Visa, ADP – but what stood out about that one was that they're using Docker at such a massive scale and there's so much dollar value flowing through it.

Now that's probably not a typical use case. But Visa could become that. They're also dealing with really high transaction volumes, uptime matters, spikiness matters – all of these things.

How many containers at Alibaba Cloud?

They're using 300,000 containers. The amount of merchandising they do on Singles' Day is around $12 billion. It's stunning. They handle 175,000 transactions per second, and it's all happening through Docker.

I don't think most customers will ever need anything at that scale, but if Docker can handle that scale, that's good.

[Editor's note: A technical presentation later at DockerCon revealed more Singles' Day data from Alibaba Cloud. The largest Docker Swarm cluster on Singles Day was 30,000 nodes, and the company's global image distribution supported 7,000 concurrent Docker pulls. A "pull" fetches and unpacks a container image in just one step.]