5 Ways Red Hat's Acquisition Of CoreOS Will Shake Up The Container Tech Landscape

Red Hat's CoreOS Acquisition Sends Shockwave Across The Container Battleground

Red Hat's decision to pay $250 million for CoreOS, a pioneering startup in the container technology landscape, could be the start of a major shift in the container market that will significantly affect solution providers building businesses on the disruptive technology.

The deal unites the Raleigh, N.C.-based open-source giant with a San Francisco-based startup that asserted itself as an early player in the Docker ecosystem with a lightweight Linux distribution geared for running containerized workloads at scale. CoreOS really got into high gear when, with Google's support, it brought to market the first commercial platform for running Kubernetes.

Kubernetes, a container orchestration technology initially developed by Google, has become an integral part of Red Hat's OpenShift development platform.

Here are five ways Red Hat's deal with CoreOS -- and the integration of OpenShift with CoreOS' Tectonic platform -- could impact the red-hot container market.

Container Consolidation

When Docker kicked off the container revolution some five years ago, several startups, like CoreOS, dived into that nascent ecosystem. It was a little later on, once the technology's potential became more obvious, that established enterprise vendors started integrating container products and building their own solutions.

Now that container technology has matured and is rapidly becoming a staple in enterprise environments, Red Hat's acquisition of CoreOS could be the first sign of a wave of consolidation between the new kids on the block and their legacy counterparts.

The deal is "one of the more-coalescing acquisitions for a supported public Kubernetes platform," Joe Dickman, senior vice president of Vizuri, a Red Hat consultancy based in Virginia, told CRN.

We're likely to see more coalescing pairings.

Expect systems integrators with deep container expertise, platform providers, ISVs and IT tooling companies to "begin to round out their container capabilities," Chris Ciborowski, CEO of Nebulaworks, a container specialist based in Southern California, told CRN.

Keep an eye on other emerging container platform vendors gaining traction in the market, such as Rancher Labs, Mesosphere, Weaveworks, Heptio, Mirantis and Twistlock to name just a few.

The Kubernetes Battleground Will Get Bloody

Now that Kubernetes has become something close to a standard technology for the orchestration layer of container deployments, the market for enterprise-grade Kubernetes management platforms is poised to become viciously competitive this year.

Hype-rscale cloud providers have locked in their Kubernetes offerings. While Google has an advantage as the initial developer of the technology, Microsoft has aggressively invested in building out a managed Kubernetes platform. AWS also launched a Kubernetes service late last year.

On the private cloud side, OpenStack startups like Platform9 and Mirantis have joined the Kubernetes fray. Rancher Labs, another prominent container startup, has gone all in on Kubernetes.

And even Docker, which offered a rival technology, has decided to support the container orchestrator.

Red Hat, by acquiring CoreOS, may have fired the first salvo in the coming war.

But Inter-Vendor Cooperation Will Increase

CoreOS has not only worked closely with Google, an early backer and investor, and Red Hat, but also other platform developers such as Mirantis and Microsoft in recent years.

That kind of cross-vendor cooperation is a unique feature of the container space, which is all about portability, distributed application architecture and cloud-native development.

Container tech has been breeding a slew of alliances, such as the joint Pivotal-Google-VMware PKS platform for running Kubernetes. Even as competition becomes more fierce, that kind of cooperation will continue.

Look for Red Hat to integrate CoreOS' Tectonic platform into its OpenShift platform, and branch out to forge new alliances around that product. Other platform competitors will also look to strengthen their hand through strategic alliances.

A Challenge To Docker

Docker's container orchestrator, Swarm, has been losing share to Kubernetes, a rival technology that had the significant advantage of being battle-tested for years at Google.

But the container pioneer has done well selling its container management platform, Docker Enterprise Edition, which recently embraced Kubernetes.

Red Hat is looking to challenge Docker Enterprise Edition with OpenShift, a container-centric Platform-as-a-Service. OpenShift's integration with CoreOS Tectonic will offer a strong open source alternative to Docker.

"Their union to me signifies a merger of talent and report that strengthens Red Hat's presence in the enterprise market of OpenShift Enterprise against Docker's Docker Enterprise Edition," Will Kinard, CTO of BoxBoat, a container implementer based in Washington, D.C., told CRN.

Rocket Reignition

CoreOS and Docker started out as close partners, with CoreOS Container Linux designed to be the ideal operating system for hosting massive Docker deployments.

But a rift emerged in 2014 with CoreOS introduced rkt -- pronounced "rocket" -- a rival container standard, or runtime.

Rocket never significantly threatened Docker's status as the de facto standard for what a container looks like, even as CoreOS put pressure on its "frenemy" further up the stack with its Kubernetes platform.

"The Docker Engine is still the default runtime for both the open-source Kubernetes project and OpenShift," BoxBoat's Kinard told CRN.

But the Red Hat deal could relaunch rocket, aided by Kubernetes recently having released the Container Runtime Interface which allows swapping the Docker engine for alternatives without again compiling code.

"We may see a new emergence of the rkt runtime paired with OpenShift Enterprise," Kinard said.