5 Things Partners Need To Know About Docker's Next Phase

Docker Post-Hykes

Docker CTO Solomon Hykes (pictured) is stepping away as the game-changing company he founded 10 years ago digs in for a fierce fight to scale the open-source technology it pioneered into a massive commercial business.

The startup that disrupted the entire industry came out of a pivot from Hykes' previous venture, dotCloud, where Hykes and a core team were working on a Platform-as-a-Service offering before turning their attention to introducing a modernized version of application container technology.

Since then, Docker has gone from obscure startup to open-source darling to one of several companies vying for dominance in a massive and still emerging market. Along the way, the company built and matured a channel of highly skilled consulting and training partners.

Those partners are now looking to win on the back of Docker's aggressive strategy to attack the container market—one that has lined up a broad array of competitors on several fronts.

Startup Superpower

As it became clearer the technology Docker introduced would massively disrupt legacy IT systems and practices, the startup increasingly pressed its first-mover advantage and name recognition to try to own the emerging market for almost every category of container user.

For big subscription customers, those efforts yielded Docker Enterprise Edition, a container management platform with which Docker looks to position itself as something akin to the next VMware—a layer for deploying and managing mission-critical applications at scale across the data center.

Docker has also leveraged its leadership of the open-source project to aggressively court developers with tools and services like Docker Hub, Store and Compose.

The startup even challenged Kubernetes, first developed internally by Google, at the container orchestration layer with Docker Swarm, looking to deliver the technology that essentially acts as middleware for modern cloud-native applications.

Changing Of The Guard

Hykes will withdraw from his day-to-day responsibilities as CTO, but says he will remain on Docker's board. And he'll certainly continue as a thought leader in the massive open-source community he fostered.

Executing the ambitious strategy Docker has laid out in the past couple of years now falls on new leadership.

That starts with CEO Steve Singh, who replaced longtime CEO Ben Golub last year.

"To take advantage of this opportunity, we need a CTO by Steve’s side with decades of experience shipping and supporting software for the largest corporations in the world," Hykes wrote in his final blog.

Hykes says his last project at Docker will be to help select that person to fill his old job.

A Uniquely Competitive Ecosystem

Docker started by taking on legacy technology vendors with a new paradigm for building, shipping and running apps.

But as the container ecosystem matured, and Docker looked to carve a wide swath in the new market, many startups that hitched their wagons to Docker early on eventually became competitors. Those one-time partners challenged Docker as the battleground to monetize the technology moved to higher layers of the container stack.

If that wasn't enough competition, another challenge emerged from the public cloud giants—Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure all introduced hosted container services.

But perhaps the greatest threat to Docker's long-term commercial success comes from Red Hat. By acquiring CoreOS last month, the open-source powerhouse made clear it wants to dominate the on-premises enterprise container market, much like it does the one for Linux.

Realizing Value

Investors last valued Docker in unicorn territory—around $1.3 billion. Those venture capital firms that funded Docker to the tune of $250 million are hoping for a handsome return from the company that's synonymous with the largest enterprise IT disruption in years.

At The Channel Company's Best of Breed conference in Atlanta in October, Docker CEO Singh told an audience of solution providers that Docker is hoping to achieve profitability by the middle of 2019.

"We're signing multimillion-dollar deals with customers because we're saving them tens of millions of dollars a year with our platform," Singh said.

Docker currently has seven large global partners, and a growing number of regional solution providers in its channel. The company is investing in partner recruitment to "make sure anyone who wants to be a partner, can," Singh said.

Kubernetes Shakeup

Kubernetes, the open-source container orchestration technology first developed internally by Google, posed a formidable challenge to Docker at a crucial juncture for the company.

Docker introduced a rival orchestrator, Docker Swarm, but couldn't stop Kubernetes from becoming the go-to platform for deploying containerized applications across server clusters.

As Kubernetes adoption soared, Docker remained exclusively committed to Swarm. Last year, the company finally relented in the face of a juggernaut, and integrated support for the rival technology into Docker Enterprise Edition, its enterprise platform.

"Our job is to deliver a platform that allows you to plug-and-play any components you like. Not all of the components have to come from Docker," Singh said during an on-stage interview at the Best of Breed conference.

"If someone else can out-innovate us, they deserve to win."

Hykes' Legacy

It's rare to discuss the legacy of someone just 34 years old. But Docker partners credit Hykes with already having made a lasting impact on the industry.

"I feel that Solomon was the person who democratized containers," said Chris Ciborowski, CEO of Nebulaworks, a container implementation specialist based in Southern California.

While others had recognized the potential of container technology before Hykes, "it was his vision for the abstraction allowing container images and the runtime to become what it is today," Ciborowski told CRN.

"Many of us owe Solomon for creating the Docker technology, which made our business possible," said Sheng Liang, CEO of Rancher Labs, a developer of container management software.

"Docker's success speaks for itself and will always be Solomon's legacy," said Alexis Richardson, CEO of WeaveWorks, a container startup based in the U.K. "A whole industry has sparked into life in which Docker containers are the standard application package."