We’ve just returned from DockerCon 2017, which was a fantastic experience. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and impressions of the event, including my perspective on some of the key announcements, while they are still fresh in my mind.

New open source projects

Container adoption for production environments is very real. The keynotes on both days included some exciting announcements that should further accelerate adoption in the enterprise as well as foster innovation in the open source community. Day 1 included demos of multi-stage docker builds (introduced in Docker 17.04), which is an incredibly cool feature. During the keynote, Docker also announced two new open source projects for system builders who want to create their own modular container-based systems. With the Moby Project, Docker has essentially created a Fedora/RHEL split that enables users to build container-based systems from a component library and reference blueprints. Darren Shepherd, Chief Architect at Rancher Labs, provides some more background and explanation about the Moby Project and how it affects Rancher, RancherOS, and our users here. The second project, LinuxKit, provides a way to build customized Linux subsystems for each type of container, which is useful if you want to assemble your own Linux distribution for specialized hardware or features. LinuxKit is based on containerd, which Docker contributed to the CNCF project in March of this year. Containerd gives each LinuxKit subsystem its own Linux kernel and allows each system daemon or system service to be allocated its own container. Docker’s announcement of LinuxKit generated a lot of interest for RancherOS. Our GA announcement turned out to be extremely well-timed! We’ve been working on the RancherOS for a couple of years, so it’s great to see how much interest there is in small footprint Linux operating systems. However, I would like to make sure it’s clear that LinuxKit and RancherOS serve different purposes. LinuxKit enables you to build your own static Linux distro. RancherOS is a minimal stable Linux made from containers for containers, which uses cloud-init to run container services. We plan to evaluate whether we can use LinuxKit to build some RancherOS components.

Container orchestration

In 2016, we invested a great deal to make Rancher the only product in the market that supports multiple orchestrators. This has been a unique differentiating attribute for the Rancher container management platform, and has brought us a great deal of customer interest. As the orchestrators become more complex, it is increasingly more important for us to the provide high-quality support that our customers demand. I was happy to see that the Rancher Labs’ announcement to embed Docker Enterprise Edition (EE) into the Rancher platform as well as provide support was included in the keynote. This is an important announcement for Rancher Labs as bundling Docker EE enables us to focus our engineering efforts on Kubernetes, while still being able to offer enterprise-grade support to Swarm customers. There was understandably less talk about Kubernetes at this show. Still, the opportunity for Kubernetes is very real. Last year the big challenge for Kubernetes was how to set it up. The Rancher platform’s Kubernetes environment addressed that problem beautifully. The big challenge this year, however, is how to operate Kubernetes without a skilled SRE team. Imagine being able to leave a Rancher Kubernetes environment running for years without having to worry about host disconnecting, network breaking, load balancer failures, or etcd problems! That’s what we’re delivering this year. Many of Rancher users use Cattle, the integrated container orchestration embedded within Rancher. Cattle is vitally important as a bootstrap orchestrator for various infrastructure services. We think of it more as a seamless extension of the “docker run” experience than a complex orchestration framework with a steep learning curve. We believe there is an opening for simple and easy-to-use orchestration frameworks like Cattle.

Thanks for all the great feedback

At previous DockerCon conferences many attendees heard about Rancher for the first time. Most people I met at the booth this year have already heard of Rancher and are already Rancher users. With over 33M downloads Rancher is definitely gaining traction, and we were happy to receive so much attention at the show. When we met with users and customers, while the gave us plenty of compliments, they were also not shy about areas they want Rancher to improve. By learning from our users and customers, I have no doubt we can continue to improve the product in the coming weeks and months. We will continue to delight our customers and users! I also had a lot of conversations with storage industry people about Project Longhorn, which we announced on Monday. The idea of microcontrollers for storage resonated with many of them. Most application developers and operations people, however, really just want to see a system that works better than what they already have. Now that we have announced the project, the real work begins. We intend to integrate Longhorn into Kubernetes and Rancher, and demonstrate that it delivers unique value.

Rancher Labs at DockerCon

Rancher Labs was a Gold Sponsor for DockerCon, and many attendees stopped by our booth Monday evening through Wednesday afternoon to request a demo or just to say hi. NetApp also had a demo in their booth showing how to deploy nDVP using the Rancher catalog, which had a steady stream of interest. The Rancher Labs team also spent some time in the CNCF booth educating attendees on the value of the Foundation. During a breakout session, Darren Shepherd, our Chief Architect, presented a session titled “Using Containers Shouldn’t Be This Hard”. He spoke to about 100 attendees about the complexities of using containers in production and provided guidance on how to implement load balancers, orchestrators, etc. We had multiple customers and users stop by our open office hours on Tuesday afternoon. There were a variety of different questions, from trouble shooting current implementations to discussing support options. We also hosted guests from Japan at a Rancher JP meetup, and many of you joined us to kick your heels up with Rancher Labs and {code} by Dell EMC at Austin’s iconic Container Bar on Rainey Street. This is a really exciting time for the Docker community. I look forward to hearing about the next wave of innovations as well as sharing some of our own at DockerCon Europe. We’ll see you in Copenhagen!