We love containers. And, for most of us, containers means Docker. As RightScale observed in its RightScale 2018 State of the Cloud report, Docker’s adoption by the industry has increased to 49 percent from 35 percent in 2017.
All’s not well in Docker-land
There’s only one problem with this: While Docker, the technology, is going great guns, Docker, the business, isn’t doing half as well.
What’s the business plan?
Docker’s problem is simple: It doesn’t have a viable business plan.
It’s not the market. According to 451 Research, “the application container market will explode over the next five years. Annual revenue is expected to increase by 4x, growing from $749 million in 2016 to more than $3.4 billon by 2021, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35 percent.”
But to make that revenue, you need a business that can exploit containers. So, Google, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and all the rest of the big public cloud companies, earn their dollars from customers eager to make the most of their server resources. Others, like Red Hat/CoreOS, Canonical, and Mirantis, provide easy-to-use container approaches for private clouds.
Docker? It provides the open-source framework for the most popular container format. That’s great, but it’s not a business plan.
Docker’s plan had been, according to former CEO Ben Golub, to build up a subscription business model. The driver behind its Enterprise Edition, with its three levels of service and functionality, was container orchestration using Docker Engine’s swarm mode. Docker, the company, also rebranded Docker, the open-source software, to Moby while continuing to use Docker as the name for its commercial software products.
This led to more than a little confusion. Quick! How many of you knew Moby was now the “official” name for Docker the program? Confusion is not what you want in sales.
Mere weeks later, Golub was out, and Steve Singh, from SAP, was in.
As Dave Bartoletti, a Forrester analyst, told The Register at the time: “The poor guy has to figure out how to make money at Docker. That’s not easy when a lot of people in the community just bristle at anyone trying to make money.”
The rise of Kubernetes
When your main value-add is container orchestration and everyone and their uncle has adopted another container orchestration program, what can you offer customers? Good question.
In the last few months, Docker raised another $75 million in venture capital. This brings the total capitalization of Docker to a rather amazing $250 million from ME Cloud Ventures, Benchmark, Coatue Management, Goldman Sachs, and Greylock Partners. That’s a lot of money, but I still don’t see how Docker will pay out.
Cash from investors is great, but what Docker really needs is cash from customers.
For most enterprise users, there are no real worries here. Docker or Moby, the container standard is both open source and an open standard. For Docker investors, well, that’s another story.
This article suggests that if Docker the company goes bust, it won’t be a problem for Docker users because it’s open source and the community will pick it up and continue development. Unfortunately it’s often the case that the “community” are just the people reporting the bugs and it’s the original handful of developers that are all the people writing the bugfixes and carrying the project forward. In this case it’s a great team of people, who – if they are out of a job – will probably disband and the project will be forked by an internet giant who will repurpose for their own needs and wants.
What is more important is that this is yet another showcase for a hugely popular FOSS project showcasing how ridiculously impossible it is to make money. FOSS needs to change.