Docker raises $23M — Will its new developer focus hold up to reality?

From inventing the modern software container and leading the container revolution, to being sidelined by Kubernetes, changing three CEOs in a year, and then selling its enterprise business to Mirantis, it’s been a rollercoaster of a ride for Docker, to say the least. While a lot of people called the Mirantis deal the “end of an era,” and pretty much wrote the company off, the wheels of change under CEO Scott Johnston were already turning at the time. Instead of trying to fight Kubernetes with Docker Swarm, a fight it would never win, Docker decided to shift left, and the numbers so far indicate it might have made the right decision.

Docker’s gambit

Interestingly enough, the new owners of Docker Enterprise are being coaxed by their users into ditching the plan to “sunset” Docker Swarm and offer it as an option alongside Kubernetes instead. The reason here being Swarm is a lot simpler to use, and not everyone needs the unlimited power of Kubernetes. Another interesting fact is that shortly after Docker Enterprise was sold to Mirantis for an undisclosed amount, Docker named their chief product officer Scott Johnston the new CEO, as well as announced an additional $35 million in funding on the same day. Definitely not the moves of an organization getting ready to fade away into the sunset!

Now while shifting left has been a common theme in the enterprise of late, it’s not every day we see an organization sell the most expensive part of its business as well as take on additional funding in an attempt to “double-down” on developers. A lot of people may also be wondering what’s left of Docker after the Mirantis acquisition, which included over 300 Docker employees, 700 Docker clients including the likes of PayPal, Visa, and MetLife, and all contracts and strategic partnerships. The answer, two products, Docker Desktop, and Docker Hub, both of which are focused on providing users with simplicity, choice, security, and speed while developing modern applications.

Docker Desktop

Docker Desktop is all about simplifying the complexities of containers and allowing developers the freedom to work on their applications. If the idea of running containers, or Docker, or Kubernetes, on your laptop was a complex problem at one point in time, it isn’t anymore. Docker Desktop is an application that integrates with Mac, Hyper-V, and WSL2 backends to enable both Windows and Mac users to build, ship, and run their applications inside Docker containers orchestrated by Kubernetes on a local machine.

In keeping with the new developer-centric approach, a one-click start/stop, as well as a one-click installation and setup of a complete Docker development environment for Mac or Windows are among the key features. That in addition to the ability to containerize, run, and share any application across multiple platforms in any language or framework, makes it a tempting proposition for smaller teams of developers who don’t want to waste time learning how to manage infrastructure with Kubernetes.

Docker Desktop ships with CLI Client, Docker Composer, Notary, and Credential Helper, as well as Docker Engine, which was updated to version 20.10 in December. New features in version 20.10 include dual logging, rootless mode, and support for Kubernetes username/password authentication. It also includes a number of integrated developer tools.

Docker Hub

In addition to being the world’s largest cloud-based repository of container images, Docker Hub is also the default registry of all Docker installations. It works on the concept of container images where users are allowed to build an image based on their source code and then save that in a repository for use later. Users get access to free public repositories and can also access container images from a plethora of sources including the developer community, verified publishers, independent software vendors, and numerous open-source projects.

In terms of functionality, Docker Hub integrates well with GitHub and Bitbucket, allowing users to automatically build container images whenever code is updated in version control/source code repositories, and then push the updated code to Docker Hub. Once images have been successfully pushed, users can then use webhooks to trigger subsequent actions like integrating Docker Hub with additional services. There are also private repositories that are part of Docker’s paid tiers where users can work together in teams to create workgroups and share container images.

What’s interesting about Docker Hub is that while the pandemic caused a global economic slowdown of unprecedented proportions, the number of container pulls from the Docker Hub increased by 145 percent in 2020, with over 30 billion pulls in the last quarter alone. That, in addition to a 170 percent growth in annual recurring revenue, and 1.7 million new developer registrations, is probably the reason why Docker was named the most-wanted platform as well as the second most-loved platform in the latest Stack Overflow Developer Survey.

The $23 million question

Now to get back to the topic of our post and the reason why Docker is in the limelight again — a $23 million Series B round of funding led by Silicon Valley venture capital firm Tribe Capital, with participation from existing investors Benchmark and Insight Partners. According to CEO Scott Johnston, the new funding is going to go toward building new features for the 7.3 million developers who use their tools and growing an “ecosystem” of products around Docker Desktop and Docker Hub.

With reference to building an ecosystem, in particular, Johnston was quoted as stating that “having learned what makes a successful code environment, we’ve gone out of our way to include ecosystem partners in what we do rather than go it on our own.” While he was apparently citing the example of the Open Container Initiative, the best example of a successful code environment is without a doubt Kubernetes that has a virtually infinite number of tools that provide out-of-the-box support for it.

To that effect, Docker has created a number of new strategic partnerships, a significant one being with Microsoft that integrates Docker Desktop with Azure Public Cloud and Virtual Studio Code. This collaboration has proved to be especially beneficial for Windows users, who are now able to toggle between Linux and Windows Server environments, as well as work natively on Linux thanks to the WSL2 integration that allows for “zero-configuration bind mount support.” Other significant partnerships include AWS to integrate Docker Compose with ECS and ECS on Fargate, and with Snyk Ltd. for container security.

A developer’s world

At the end of the day, it’s the bottom line that investors care about, and Docker has always had a problem converting free users to paid users. This time around, however, they’re hedging their bets on a community that is in a large way dictating the direction that the enterprise is heading in. While there will always be free and open-source tools that can get the job done with a little tinkering, there’s value in simplifying the problems that containers pose to developers. Will Docker be able to convert that value into dollars and turn a profit? Only time will tell though the odds are pretty good considering it’s a developer’s world.

Featured image: Pixabay

Twain Taylor

My interests lie in DevOps, IoT, and cloud applications. I began my career in tech B2B marketing at Google India, after which I headed marketing for multiple startups. Today, I consult with companies in The Valley on their content marketing initiatives, and write for tech journals.

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