Why did Docker acquire container company Unikernal Systems?

Docker, the business (as opposed to the eponymously named open source project) is all about articulating a future of disposable infrastructure. Their acquisition of Unikernal Systems is all part of the plan.

Docker acquires Unikernal Systems
Credit: iStockphoto

Docker announced this morning that it has acquired Unikernal Systems, a UK-based company that is focused (as the name suggests) on unikernal development. So what are unikernals and why did Docker buy this company?

Unikernals are logical stablemates for containers, constructed by combining application code with the operating system components that are necessary for that code to run. Unikernals create specialized, single-purpose packages that have the benefit of being lightweight and readily deployed. As such, unikernals lend themselves to the obvious cloud applications, but also to the increasingly important internet of things area. Portable applications, small footprints, and fast boot times are all natural traits of a unikernal approach.

As I said, Docker and unikernal are complementary approaches, aiming to make applications in general, and microservices-based applications in particular, ever more portable regardless of the type of infrastructure they work in. While the two approaches are complementary, Docker (the company) needs to justify its heady valuation, and part of that is achieved by showing that they're about far more than just Linux containers. From Unikernal Systems' perspective, the tie-up means that the entire ecosystem of container-applicable tools can now become usable within a unikernal approach. Conveniently, it also proves Docker's contention that its platform is broad and flexible.

There are other unikernal projects out there, but Unikernal Systems is both an early pioneer in the movement and something of a center of gravity. It also helps that Unikernal Systems was founded by a number of early players in the Xen project, the virtualization platform that has the distinction of fueling the vast majority of workloads on public clouds.

As is usually the case, neither Docker nor Unikernal Systems would disclose the financial terms of the deal, but given Docker's impressive valuation, I'd suggest a big chunk of equity was involved here.

Unikernal Systems' 13 employees will all join the Docker team, and their first task is to integrate unikernals within the existing container infrastructure.

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