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Docker loads up $15m to push containerization into bit barns

Lightweight Linux-lovin approach blows the doors off of typical virtualization

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Containerization expert Docker has slurped $15m in filthy valley lucre to help it push its tech further into data centers under the leadership of a new, experienced chief executive.

The funding will give the company the money needed to grow its engineering team while also ploughing more money into sales and support, says new chief executive Ben Golub, who described Docker as having the potential for becoming a "fundamental architecture" for how new apps are designed.

Golub joined Docker in April this year, and formerly ran (and sold) Gluster to Red Hat. Before that he worked in senior roles for Comcast, Plaxo, and Verisign. We asked Golub whether he wanted to build Docker and sell it, and he reckon the company's technology is "fundamental enough" to become the basis of a large, publicly traded company.

He might be right: Docker uses the Linux kernel's LXC CGroups, and Namespaces code to create a lightweight software container that makes for more efficient resource usage than typical virtualization, though with the caveat that it shares the underlying host OS across multiple apps in secure sandboxes.

Golub intends to make money from Docker through professional services and paid-for management layers, much like Red Hat does with Linux.

The basis of Docker – CGroups – was created by Google in the mid-2000s and added to the Linux kernel to provide a low-level "mechanism for aggregating/partitioning sets of tasks, and all their future children, into hierarchical groups with specialized behavior."

It's logical to assume that Google did this because it wanted to run a large production system that used this functionality, while staying current. Therefore, Docker's rough approach already has the blessing of a very sophisticated tech company. Another precursor to the tech is Solaris Zones, which was functionally similar but implemented differently.

"While it is true that the idea of containers have been around for several years, for the most part, their use has been constrained to large service providers," Golub told us via email. "While Google, Rackspace, and PaaS providers like Heroku and dotCloud used containers, their use required highly specialized teams and tools. Furthermore, containers developed in one environment were not portable across different hosts or different environments."

Since launching in March 2013 Docker has had over 400,000 downloads and notched up 300 contributors. Google has let Docker developers fiddle with the tech on its Compute Engine cloud, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) announced support for the tech in November.

The $15m in funding comes from Greylock Partners, plus minority participation from Insight Venture Partners Benchmark Capital, Trinity Ventures, and Jerry Yeng.

As part of the deal Greylock partner Jerry Chen will join Docker's board – Chen came to VC land after spending nine years at virtualization king VMware where he ultimately took charge of cloud and app services.

"I think containers are already becoming a superior substitute for virtualization when it comes to Linux workloads and scale out applications that are being built for private and public clouds. Docker can also run it a VM (e.g. VMware or a VM on AWS) to give customers the best of both worlds when this hybrid approach is better. However, Docker isn’t a substitute for Windows workloads today but that may change in the future," Chen told El Reg via email.

With a VMware prince on the board, an experience chief executive at the helm, and the originator of the project – Solomon Hykes – staying on as chief technology officer, Docker has the look of a successful bit of tech run by sensible people. ®

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