A Decade of Docker

We all use containers today, but until Docker came along, they were rarely used. Here's Docker's story. 

Today, billions of containers on clouds run the applications we use every day. And, while container technology dates back to 2000 with FreeBSD Jails and Solaris Zones, Docker, the open-source platform designed to simplify the creation, deployment, and run applications within containers in 2013, is what changed the world.

Containers are lightweight, portable environments that bundle the application's code, runtime, libraries, and other dependencies, ensuring consistency and efficiency across various environments. This has revolutionized the way software is developed, shipped, and deployed.

In the beginning, in 2010, Docker was part of a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) company called dotCloud, founded by Solomon Hykes. Its aim was to provide developers with a platform that enabled them to easily deploy and manage applications in the cloud. In 2012, dotCloud started experimenting with container technology to isolate processes and improve resource management. It would be called Docker.

Then, this new creation, Docker, was introduced to the public on March 13, 2013, during the PyCon conference in Santa Clara, California. Hykes demonstrated the technology, showcasing its ability to simplify containerization and application deployment. In the following months, Docker gained significant traction in the developer community, eventually leading dotCloud to pivot its focus entirely on Docker and rebrand itself as Docker, Inc.

Docker was soon released as an open-source project under the Apache 2.0 license in March 2013. This decision enabled developers and companies worldwide to contribute to its development and growth. During its first 15 months of evolution, Docker emerged as a leading container program with support and partnerships from major Linux open-source powers such as Canonical and Red Hat.

In 2014, Docker 1.0 was officially released. This helped it shift from being the darling of DevOps to gaining popularity with businesses and their production environments. The project quickly gained momentum, and by the end of 2014, it had accumulated over 21,000 stars on GitHub and over 3,000 forks.

The Docker ecosystem expanded rapidly, with several new projects and products emerging to complement and support the core technology. Some of these included:

  • Docker Compose: A tool for defining and managing multi-container applications.

  • Docker Swarm: A native clustering and orchestration solution for Docker.

  • Docker Machine: A command-line tool for provisioning and managing Docker hosts.

In addition, many major cloud providers, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure, began to offer native support for Docker containers, solidifying its place in the industry.

By 2015, organizations of all sizes adopted its technology, transforming how applications were developed and deployed. Docker, Inc. raised multiple funding rounds, and in 2017, it split its platform into two editions: Docker Community Edition (CE) for individual developers and Docker Enterprise Edition (EE) for organizations.

During this period, Docker also made several acquisitions to enhance its platform. These included:

  • Tutum: A cloud-based platform for deploying and managing Docker containers.

  • SocketPlane: A software-defined networking (SDN) solution for Docker.

  • Unikernel Systems: A company focused on unikernel-based, lightweight container technology.

However, despite these changes, the company had a simple fundamental problem: Docker was running out of money. While tens of millions of venture capital money had poured in, the company couldn’t find a working business plan.

In no small part, that was because Swarm had been superseded by Kubernetes. This development would spell trouble for Docker, the business, even as the core technology continued to gain popularity. The company had hoped that Swarm would be its primary profit center. Instead, it became an afterthought.

So, in November 2019, Docker announced a significant reorganization. Docker sold its enterprise business to Mirantis, a cloud computing company. As Hyde would tell InfoWorld later, “The reason for that is we didn’t focus. We tried to do a little bit of everything. It’s hard enough to maintain the growth of your developer community and build one great commercial product, let alone three or four, and it is impossible to do both, but that’s what we tried to do, and we spent an enormous amount of money doing it.”

Moving forward, Docker, the company, focused on simplifying and enhancing the developer experience. In late 2022, the business also added Web Assembly (Wasm) support to its programming offerings.

However, it hasn't been easy. Recently, Docker depreciated its “Free Team” subscriptions. The results were ugly. While Docker has since apologized and assured users that its recently updated Docker-Sponsored Open Source program, benefits exceed those of the deprecated Free Team plan and that public images will only be removed from Docker Hub if their maintainer decides to delete them," some developers aren't buying it.

Still, as Matt Asay, MongoDB VP of Partner Marketing, recently wrote, "It’s easy to deride how Docker managed the Free Team tier change, but doing so overlooks just how much Docker has changed, and continues to change, into a developer-oriented company."

Docker, the company, continues to endure business problems. But, with a recent $104-million VC investment led by Bain Capital, the firm has a chance to step up its fame. In any case, Docker technology will live on as perhaps the single most important change to software development and deployment of the last ten years.

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