A question we are frequently asked here at RedMonk is how do CIOs, and the wider operations side of an enterprise technology function, view Docker, and also how they view the broader container market. It is an interesting question to answer given where we are on the adoption cycle for container related technologies and how license sales and purchase orders are far from a useful proxy for how widely used a technology like Docker is.
The CIO question is also one which I was recently quoted on “CIOs aren’t ready for Docker and container technology” on cio.com, and I felt it is a subject worthy of a larger discussion.
How CIOs View Docker
At the moment many CIOs are still looking at Docker and containers as primarily a test and development environment. What is important to understand here is the difference between what a CIO is looking at, and what the reality may be on the ground in their organisation.
As a pattern, the path through test and development is one we frequently see. Consider the paths that technologies like VMWare and AWS have trodden, and you can easily see how over time production workloads will migrate to containers. Where we are seeing a massive difference with the use of containers is around greenfield projects. These greenfield projects generally have as close to a blank slate as you are going to find in the enterprise, and with them containers are going into production incredibly quickly – much faster than before.
What can be said with certainty is that Docker, or a container strategy, is, at the very least, on the roadmap for the vast majority of CIOs we speak with. For many it is a very high priority. The one caveat here is that the CIOs we speak with generally have developer communities to serve.
PaSS, Cloud Options and Risk
A significant component of any CIOs role is to reduce risk while being agile and responsive to the needs of business. Part of the hesitance that CIOs display around Docker is trying to understand the risk profile. PaSS, virtualisation and so forth have all been around for a while, and the risk profiles are better understood. That said Docker and competitors such as CoreOS are all putting significant resources into areas such as vulnerability scanning to help reduce these concerns. Intelligent use of continuous integration systems can help manage the content of containers, again reducing risk.
The operational risks are different, and we are still at an early stage in the development of tools which will allow operations to run infrastructure which meet CIO needs in areas such as regulatory compliance. This, again, is changing fast and we see companies such as Docker, RedHat, CoreOS, Pivotal, VMWare, IBM, Microsoft and others putting together “opinionated” solutions that meet these needs. These opinionated solutions all aim to reduce complexity.
Developers love the ability to pick and choose the tools and frameworks they want to use, and tend to quickly adapt a technology they find useful. Docker is a great example of this. The same can be said of many technologies before that make their way into the corporate IT landscape.
At RedMonk we speak about being in the era of “permissionless development”. When asked to solve a problem the majority of developers no longer ask what tools they can use, they look for the best tool for the job and go from there. Containers provide a way for developers to get the solutions they develop into production quickly.
What CIOs are ultimately looking for is the ability to solve business problems faster than their competitors, while reducing risk, adhering to regulatory requirements and increasing efficiency.
To do this companies need to be agile, and need the ability to react fast. Containers provide a way for developers to work quickly and develop the required solutions without concerning themselves with underlying infrastructure. Containers then provide an abstraction for operations to provide the underlying capabilities required to run these solutions.
So to the point being raised in the original post – are Docker trying to sell something CIOs don’t think they need? Perhaps it is something that some CIOs don’t think they need now. The solution may not be Docker, but in many cases it will be containers and some of the associated development patterns that are emerging such as microservices.
However, we are living in age where developers are the new kingmakers, and developer decisions matter. When it comes to containers, Docker have, by far, the greatest mindshare and market permission among developers.
Disclaimer: Docker, VMWare, IBM, RedHat, CoreOS and Pivotal are current RedMonk customers.