Red Hat product president Paul Cormier disses the Docker myth

Top Red Hat executive questions Docker’s promise to run containers reliably everywhere.

So just what is the relationship between red-hot container company Docker and open source stalwart Red Hat? Are the two companies on the same side, or not? Do Docker containers complement or compete with Red Hat's Linux offerings?

To get some answers, I talked with Paul Cormier, Red Hat's president of products and technologies, and he had some pretty strong opinions on the subject. But it all boils down to Red Hat's position that container technology (and Docker) simply isn't the be-all and end-all that many people seem to want it to be—at least not in the enterprise.

Technology, not business

"Containers can solve a lot of problems for enterprise," Cormier told me. "But it matters what's inside the container – what pieces of the user space OS and which Linux host the containers run on."

Cormier admitted that Internet containers are really powerful—they're a great way to distribute apps—but noted that container technology has been around for a while.

"Let me make something really clear," he said. "We support Docker. It's a great thing." Cormier said Red Hat has worked with Docker on the technology from the beginning, and "we have a great relationship with them" on the technical side.

But that's as far as it goes for the two companies. "We have a technical relationship with each other," Cormier says. "I wouldn't say we have a business relationship with each other." While promising that Red Hat will support containers and that Docker is the first container format it supports, "I doubt that it will be the only format we'll support."

A different take on containers

That could be because Red Hat has a fundamentally different view of the value of containers. "Customers want the ability to add consistency across platforms," Cormier said, and containers alone aren't enough to deliver that. "You still need a known platform to work reliably." A lot of people try to use containers to write code that they hope will run anywhere, Cormier explained, "but who knows if it really will do so successfully?" It may work, he said, but it’s like taking a user space from Ubuntu or RHEL and trying to run it on someone else's kernel.

As a Linux OS technology, Cormier said, "all the things you need in an enterprise still matter in a container world."

For example, the user space pieces of the operating system you need for the app have to be there. And that’s where Red Hat and RHEL come in, Cormier claimed. "If there's a bug, we test it, we fix it," he said. We make sure that it continues to work over the entire lifecycle. Otherwise, Comier said, "you don't know how the app is going to react to that… What is the OS that Docker uses? And who maintains it down the road when the next Bash bug appears? How is the customer going to get that fixed? You can’t just forget about those pieces."

There's a great amount of buzz for Docker, Cormier acknowledged, "but nothing comes for free." Many of the things you had to think about in the past still apply, including managing the technology lifecycle and support for performance tuning.

"It's not magic," he said.

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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