Is Docker Dead in the Water?

Is Docker Dead in the Water?

You’ve probably seen this Tweet already…

If we needed any more evidence that Docker is in trouble, this is it. At this point Docker, according to Crunchbase, has raised more than $330 million dollars. Docker is a darling of the software engineering world. Docker ushered in a sea change in DevOps. But they’ve had a big problem for a while, and one that gets worse every day that passes.

They can’t figure out how to make money. And those 3.3 million Benjamins want some buddies.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Docker isn’t making *some* money, but they aren’t making Unicorn money. They are in the three commas club now, so that Unicorn money better start showing up.

Russ: Know what has three commas in it, Richard?

Richard: Uh, a sentence with two appositive phrases in it?

Russ: No, a billion dollars.

Up to now though, their efforts to build a moat have been stymied at every turn…

  • They had to open their container standard and runtime. They saw the writing on the wall and figured that if they didn’t open it up, an open standard would come about and they would be forced to support it, and so they got in front of it. Smart move, and ensured their survival, but at the cost of a walled garden. This allowed them to be bypassed completely.
  • They lost to Kubernetes. Docker was pushing Swarm hard, but couldn’t keep up with Kubernetes and the ecosystem.
  • Their private container repository was bypassed as every cloud provider on the planet created their own.

And finally, in November 2019, Docker sold its Enterprise business and team to Mirantis to “return to our roots by focusing on advancing developers’ workflows”. See the Tweet at the top of this post for a hint at what this might mean.

So at this point, what are they going to do? Almost every engineering team that I know of is using Docker for some purpose, but so far they haven’t found a way to capitalize on it. Is squeezing us on features like skipping versions going to be their new strategy for getting there? Seems like that might put them at odds with the community really quickly.

It is a shame; Docker is a great tool, and they’ve done great things for the software engineering world. It is unfortunate that they haven’t found a good way to use Docker to create a sustainable business, and after taking a quarter billion dollars in funding they desperately need to figure that piece out.

If you were in charge of Docker, how would you monetize it?

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Comments (6)

  1. It’s hard to not call this article fake news. Docker (aka the open source projects moby and docker-cli) are open, community driven projects. You can use them fully without having to pay.

    How open is Docker (moby)? There are more contributions to Docker (moby) from paid, full-time maintainers working at other companies than Docker Inc these days than from Docker Inc. employees – especially from end user organizations that just happen to be Docker users (and there especially one large corporation in Japan).

    What you’re talking about is Docker Desktop. A Mac/Win application that has never been open source. First of all: Docker Desktop isn’t required to run Docker – even on Windows/Mac (but you might need to to set up a Linux VM to run docker daemon if you want to run Linux containers – which isn’t a big issue).

    And if you choose to use Docker Desktop: It’s still free, with some extra features for paying users. But again, you don’t need it if you want to use Docker.

    So your article should more read like “Is Docker Desktop dead in the water”? And is that a true statement? To be honest, I don’t know but I doubt it. Docker Desktop has a massive user base. And there’s a market for paid/freemium developer tools (look at Jetbrains).

    And yeah, I saw that a IBM Red Hat evangelist shared your fake headline. Sure, Red Hat tried to fork the entire container ecosystem with their own stuff just so that they have control over the whole chain. And yes, you could use Podman that doesn’t have an annoying message telling you that you get more features when you pay. But can you run Podman on Windows and MacOS? Yes. If you set up a Linux VM. Like you can do with the fully open, community Docker (moby). And maybe they will bring up an even more convenient solution for non-Linux Desktop users in the future – but they haven’t done yet. So maybe don’t break your bubble, IBM marketing peeps.

    1. I was never saying that Docker the technology is dead, that obviously isn’t true. And I said that Docker’s technology is open, so it won’t go away, but Docker’s implementation might. My post is talking about the company itself, and how raising so much money will cause a reckoning unless they can figure out a way to start making some serious cash (or find a big buyer). I think we are mostly on the same page here.

  2. Their greatest core competency was developer UX. Specifically: Dockerfile, CLI and native experience on desktop platforms. Those things have been left to stagnate.

    Unifying the local dev experience with Kubernetes would be a good start. Logging monitoring and observability as well. So much productivity time lost that could be arbitraged and delivered through install base.

  3. There is a lot missing here. When Docker sold off their Enterprise to Mirantis they basically started over, let’s call it New Docker. They have raised two rounds ~$60 million now and are on a hiring frenzy. They have “Enterprise like” clients busting down their door to make deals and still getting courted by mega companies for custom deals. (New) Docker as a company is doing great, their brand is still recognized as the “godfather” of containers, Kubernetes CRI defaults to containerd (written by early Docker engineers) and I would guess most people still use Docker as the container runtimes. Same for Nomad and K3s.

    Justin I assume you will attend DockerCon to see what is next for the company and look forward to your thoughts.

    1. That is great to hear that they are raising lots of money, on a hiring frenzy, and have enterprise clients “busting down their door”. I’m rooting for companies with open source roots to find sustainable business models, but I don’t think it is any secret though that they have struggled in this area. I look forward to hearing about what comes out of DockerCon.

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