Channeling the Cloud

Microsoft Charts Course Toward Containers, Cloud Computing's Next Frontier

Perhaps you've heard the buzz about containers and how they're poised to become the next big thing in cloud computing.

Containers, long used as a way of providing a secure sandbox that separates an application from the OS and in some cases network infrastructure, are poised to take on computing tasks deemed unachievable by today's virtual machines (VMs) and cloud infrastructures.

In less than a year, a once-little-known startup provider of open source software called Docker put containers on the map. The company's open container platform is designed to let developers build and systems administrators manage distributed applications on any OS, VM and cloud. Among those supporting Docker are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google, IBM, Rackspace, Red Hat, VMware and even Microsoft.

Docker last month released the first beta versions of its forthcoming orchestration software designed to let organizations build and deploy this new class of distributed application components. For its part, Microsoft is supporting the new Docker Machine, the orchestration tool that automates the development, provisioning and management of Docker containers on Linux or Windows Servers; and Docker Swarm, a tool that lets developers select infrastructures for their apps, including Microsoft Azure.

The Docker Machine lets administrators select an infrastructure to deploy an application built in the new environment. Microsoft has contributed drivers in Azure that allow for rapid and agile development of Docker hosts on Azure.

"There are several advantages to using Docker Machine, including the ability to automate the creation of your Docker VM hosts on any compatible OS and across many infrastructure options," said Corey Sanders, director of Program Management, Azure, in a post on the Microsoft Azure blog. "Additionally, Docker Machine provides you the ability to manage and configure your hosts from a single remote client."

With Docker Swarm, which spins a pool of Docker hosts into one virtual host, an administrator can deploy their container-based apps and workloads using the native Docker clustering and scheduling functions, according to Sanders. It also lets customers select cloud infrastructure such as Azure, enabling them to scale according to their needs. Using the Docker command-line interface (CLI), customers can deploy Swarm to enable scheduling across multiple hosts. While this will initially be useful for dev and test, it portends a day when partners can build and deploy apps that are OS-, hardware-, VM- and cloud provider-independent.

Docker isn't the only container solution Microsoft is embracing. Sphere 3D last month said its Glassware 2.0 Microvisor can virtualize infrastructure components and the application stacks from both Windows and non-Windows-based systems and claims it can "outperform" any existing hypervisor-based infrastructure. Furthermore, Sphere 3D said it can be used for systems and cloud management, orchestration and clustering.

It's still early days for containers in the world of cloud computing, but if they live up to their promise, they can raise the bar for performance and portability.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.