Docker Enterprise Edition: Is it ready for the enterprise … and is the enterprise ready for it?

The most popular container engine in the enterprise just made a lot of waves with its announcement to go corporate. Following in the footsteps of RedHat, Ubuntu, and the like, Docker has announced their Enterprise (Paid) Edition. A lot of people from the open-source community have probably been caught off-guard here, and though Docker’s story is “nothing has changed,” there have been mixed reactions. With regards to updates in particular, the folks at Docker say they were getting mixed feedback. While some felt the update process wasn’t fast enough, others felt it needed to slow down a bit.

docker enterprise edition

With that in mind, Docker has released two versions for the Community (Free) Edition, one called “Edge,” which updates every month, and another that updates quarterly. The EE version will also update quarterly with a year’s worth of support. The need for an enterprise edition has obviously also risen from the amount of criticism Docker receives every time they add more features or try to promote any of their own services. With the new distinction between CE and EE versions, they are now free to add anything they like while leaving the community version untouched.

Docker certification

Another thing Docker seems to be emphasizing here with the Enterprise Edition is certification. Docker seems to be going out of its way to point out that everything “certified” by them is somehow enterprise-worthy as opposed to the open source “noncertified” version. This could be an attempt to milk a dead cow, especially since the enterprise has been doing just fine with Docker and containers without any certification.

docker enterprise edition

Notwithstanding that apart from the actual Docker Engine, the enterprise, as a majority, has rejected most of Docker’s related offerings and have chosen to go with third-party software instead (like Kubernetes).

The community and the enterprise

When any company launches its own supported version of an OSS distribution, the fear is always that consistency in environment may be lost. One version won’t be able to keep up with the other, or the other way around. Docker has mentioned backward compatibility being a priority here, and is stressing that the average developer will not be affected. Since one of the main selling points of Docker containers is that you can run them consistently in any environment, it will be interesting to see how the two versions develop from here.

While Docker Engine has been renamed Docker Community Edition, the EE version comes with a whole lot of bells and whistles that are supposed to make it enterprise ready. The reason they’re probably calling it Enterprise Edition and risking the support of their fans by releasing a paid version is because the enterprise is bananas about containers right now. Big names like Netflix, Google, Twitter, and Facebook continually advertise their success and champion the container cause. According to Datadog, two-thirds of the companies that try Docker end up adopting it. That’s a big number and it’s still growing at such a pace that Docker itself has lost complete control of the ecosystem surrounding it.

Reclaiming lost lands

Docker EE is in essence Docker Data Center, which is Docker’s effort to claim some of the territory that should logically be theirs (the Docker ecosystem). Unfortunately, the enterprise had other plans, and the ecosystem is littered with a number of third-party tools and applications.

Docker Trusted Registry

One such territory is the registry, and though Docker Hub is one of the most popular registry services, Docker EE is looking to promote DTR (Docker Trusted Registry), its paid registry service. Registry is the most popular Docker feature, and 21 percent of the companies using Docker are using registry. A registry is basically a collection of versioned repositories where users can store and share Docker images. Though open-source registries like Docker Hub are great, not all the images in there are official and have passed through Docker’s series of best practice and security checks. Enterprises in general prefer a certain level of control over their assets and workflow, and would obviously prefer a repository that they could supervise. That’s exactly the gap Docker is looking to fill with DTR, since all images in Docker Hub cannot be verified as reliable or secure.

Docker Swarm and the enterprise

Orchestration is another front that Docker Enterprise is aimed at targeting, and the story here is almost humorous. Imagine if you invented the lightbulb but someone else gets credit for designing the switches that turn them on and off? That’s basically the story here with Swarm, since though the enterprise loves Docker, it may love Kubernetes more. In fact, the love for Kubernetes runs so deep in the enterprise that there’s an entire industry being built around managing Kubernetes as a Service (KaaS).

The icing on the cake here is probably that Kubernetes is neither easy to use nor was it ever designed or built to work with Docker. Kubernetes was in fact Google’s gift to the open-source community in response to thousands of questions and enquiries about container orchestration and how Google was so successful at it. Docker received loads of criticism when they bundled Swarm with Docker, and users were almost offended at the mere suggestion, even though they could swap Swarm for Kubernetes pretty easily. There was a joke about it taking guts for Internet Explorer to keep asking to be your default browser. Well, the way things are right now, it would take guts for Swarm to ask to be your container orchestration tool instead of Kubernetes, which is probably why Docker Swarm is a key feature of the enterprise edition.

Piggyback in the clouds

Another key development for Docker is the integration with top IaaS providers like AWS and Azure. The bid here is to become a default part of these custom cloud workflows that already have a huge number of enterprise customers invested in them. Apart from several varieties of Linux, Docker EE supports Windows Server 2016 as well as AWS and Azure cloud. Docker CE is still available for Mac and Windows computers, which was a major development last year considering most developers use either Mac or Windows PCs and had to run Docker in a VirtualBox.

From up top, it looks like Docker has covered all bases with regards to the enterprise and promoting its offerings as enterprise ready. Whether it’s actually enterprise ready remains to be seen and can only be confirmed by the people who are actually going to be using it.

Different strokes for different folks

What’s surprising is that the Docker adoption rate continues to grow in the enterprise at a fast rate even without the Enterprise Edition. Obviously, the world is made up of people who are willing to pay for software and those who aren’t, and this is Docker distinguishing between the two. People who would rather spend a few bucks for help and support rather than figuring everything out for themselves will definitely find Docker EE a useful option. People who already know about containers and have a magic formula already in place will probably not want to mess things up.

‘Nothing has changed’

From an investor’s point of view, it makes a lot of sense for Docker to try and branch out into some sort of revenue generation. If you look at RedHat as a role model for OS distros to go commercial and make money, Docker has a lot going for it right now. Apart from being the preferred choice in the enterprise for running containers, they are also known for their simple and easy to understand approach. As long as they keep the open and enterprise versions cross compatible and the APIs backwardly compatible to a point where this really doesn’t affect developers at all, there shouldn’t be a problem. Those that want the buffet can go with the CE version and those that would like to order à la carte can go with the Enterprise version.

Photo credit: Docker

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