Container Coalition Seeks Common Standard Creation

Docker and CoreOS on Monday announced the formation of a coalition of 21 industry leaders to create the Open Container Project, a nonprofit organization seeking minimal common standards for software containers for cloud storage.

The two companies made the announcement on the opening day of Dockercon, a two-day conference covering all aspects of the Docker ecosystem.

Docker will donate its de facto image format standard technologies — including the container format, runtime code and specifications — in the hope that they will serve as cornerstones of the OCP.

The OCP will operate under the auspices of the Linux Foundation. The new project will manage the transition of container technologies from a de facto standard into an open de jure industry standard. The group’s goal is to encourage the continued evolution of the technology.

The project will continue to maintain the Docker client, as well as all platform tooling and Docker orchestration capabilities built on top of the donated technologies. Other projects and companies also will be able to build technologies on the OCP format and runtime.

The formation of this group and all the support around it is a testament to the rise of containers and the focus on interoperability, said Alex Polvi, CEO of CoreOS.

“This convergence is the essential step that will boost an increase in adoption and bring the

Standards Start UP

Docker is the company behind the open platform for distributed applications. The container movement has grown surprisingly fast. Its popularity comes in part from the promise of portability, agility and interoperability across a broad set of infrastructures and tools.

Initial members of the Open Container Project, along with Docker and CoreOS, are Amazon Web Services, Apcera, Cisco, EMC, Fujitsu Limited, Goldman Sachs, Google, HP, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Joyent, the Linux Foundation, Mesosphere, Microsoft, Pivotal, Rancher Labs, Red Hat and VMware.

The OCP will managed the development of a single standard under a vendor-neutral, open source, open governance model. The OCP will remain independent from any company or company-sponsored project.

The timing is right to create a common standard that would ensure compatibility and encourage innovation throughout the ecosystem, said Solomon Hykes, founder and creator of the Docker open source initiative. After two years, the Docker container runtime code and technology have matured to the point that they would benefit from independent governance outside the Docker project.

De Facto vs. De Jure

De facto standards are adopted widely by an industry and its customers. De jure standards are endorsed by a formal standards organization as if they carried the force of law. OCP will push for a single de jure standard to guide continued innovation with cloud storage containers.

A de jure standard for containers should adhere to three principles, according to Polvi. A de jure standard should

  1. not be bound to higher-level constructs, such as a particular client or orchestration stack;
  2. should not be tightly associated with any particular commercial vendor or project; and
  3. should be portable across a wide variety of operating systems, hardware, CPU architectures, public clouds, etc.

Docker’s strength rests in getting the community to join forces and avoid fragmentation. The Open Container Project shows the community coming together to create a stable standard that fosters greater productivity, Sykes said.

Standards Fight Looming?

The goal of the OCP founders is to generate interest in adopting a single technology standard for containers. However, that might be a hard sell for non-OCP members.

“I think this is an interesting alliance and smart for both companies to work on a standard,” said Al Hilwa, program director for software development research at IDC.

However, “I think there will be multiple standards vying for this space,” he told LinuxInsider.

Canonical, the developer of the Ubuntu Linux distro, and other software developers also are working on technologies for this space. It is going to be an active area for research and development for some time to come, Hilwa said. [*Correction – June 23, 2015]

A single standard would keep any one vendor from controlling the development of the container technology, noted CoreOS’ Polvi. Composability, simplicity and interoperability are possible only with one standard backed by the industry.

“We believe strongly that open standards are key to the success of the container ecosystem,” he said. “This means code can be repurposed and maintained by developers beyond the creators of it. This is a win for both users of containers and our industry at large.”

*ECT News Network editor’s note – June 23, 2015: Our original published version of this story incorrectly attributed this observation to Solomon Hykes. We regret the error.

Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him onGoogle+.

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