Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Thursday, April 18, 2024

Goldman Sachs Brokers Container Spec Deal 

With a nudge from major customers like financial services giant Goldman Sachs, a group of software vendors said they are coalescing around a new initiative created to establish industry standards for application containers.

The Open Container Project was unveiled Monday (June 22) at the start of DockerCon in San Francisco. The effort will be overseen by the Linux Foundation and, for now, ends the sniping over what form and direction emerging container technology should take. The agreement also represents a victory for Docker, which will donate code for its software container format and its runC runtime that will serve as the "cornerstone" for standards effort.

The project also resolves a dispute between Docker and upstart CoreOS over containers specs. CoreOS launched its own container runtime in December with a heavy emphasis on container ecosystem security. These attributes were embodied in the CoreOS App Container spec. "This announcement means we are starting to see the concepts behind the App Container spec and Docker converge," CoreOS CEO Alex Polvi noted in a blog post.

David Messina, Docker's marketing vice president, downplayed the dispute in an interview, saying the container project represents a "meeting of the minds across the industry" on the direction container technology should take. The agreement "allows all of us to move forward" to develop a container standard based on Docker.

Solomon Hykes, Docker founder and CTO, announces the Open Container Project.

With a standard in place, Messina added, project members could then seek "differentiation around the containerization model."

While the Linux Foundation will oversee the project, Messina noted that a standard container format and runtime would work with 64-bit Linux along with other architectures and operating systems, including 32-bit Power, z Systems, Windows and SmartOS.A total of 21 companies are joining the effort, including Amazon Web Services, Cisco, Google, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel and VMware.

Goldman Sachs, which industry officials noted is placing a strategic bet on container technology, lent its considerable weight to the debate over containers standards as "the representative voice of the financial services industry," Messina said. "Goldman wanted one standard."

"We are basing much of our future plans for application delivery, management and deployment around open technology standards," Don Duet, Goldman Sachs' global co-head of technology, stressed in a statement announcing the Open Container Project. "Goldman Sachs has been an early advocate and adopter of common standards in other areas, such as computing and networks and we wholeheartedly support this latest movement within the industry to provide consistency and standardization across container technology.”

There are other examples of large customers like Goldman Sachs stepping in to resolve disputes over technical specs. For instance, organizations like the Open Networking User Group leverages members' collective buying power of about $100 billion to push vendors to work together on networking specs. Resolving the underlying technical issues eliminates market uncertainties for potential customers.

Unlike the Open Contain Project, the networking group plays no role in standards development. However, it does represent equipment buyers, and "these are the folks who have the biggest influence in the industry" in terms of forging standards, Nick Lippis, the networking group's co-founder told

An industry effort to nail down application containers specs could help break down barriers to what has so far been modest adoption in production environments. Despite growing enthusiasm for container technology, several recent surveys have noted lingering concerns about security, data management and networking issues.

"We created App Container to kick start a movement toward a shared industry standard," CoreOS CEO Polvi noted. "With the announcement of the Open Container Project, Docker is showing the world that they are similarly committed to open standards." Polvi acknowledged that Docker "is the de facto image format for containers, and therefore is a good place to start from in working towards a standard."

Docker CEO Ben Golub said the compromise "speaks volumes about our common desire to help unite the industry and to take the best ideas, wherever they originated, into something that provides the best outcomes for users and the industry."

Along with specifying a simple runtime that can handle a standard container format, Golub said the Open Container Project would "allow the ecosystem as a whole to focus on innovation at the layers that matter, rather than wasting time fighting a low-level standards war."

Docker stresses and industry surveys confirm that the container technology rolled out in March 2013 dominates the emerging container ecosystem. The number of Docker-based tools totals more than 40,000 along with about 150,000 applications. The Open Container Project "helps keep that ecosystem from fragmenting," Golub stressed. "This is especially important at time when Docker, and containers in general, are expanding beyond 64-bit Linux to multiple architectures and operating systems."CoreOS, which continues to punch above its weight as the container ecosystem evolves, again stressed security as a goal of the container project. "The standard should fulfill the requirements of the most rigorous security and production environment," Polvi noted. That step alone would likely overcome many of the current obstacles to container adoption for production workloads.

Polvi also stressed that a "vendor neutral" container standard should allow users to package applications once and have them work with any container runtime, be it Docker's, the CoreOS Rocket or others.Google, another key player in the container spec debate, was forced to walk back comments in May that left the impression with some it was backing away from Docker. The reaction came after the search giant said its Kubernetes cluster manager would support the CoreOS container format and runtime.

At the time, Google reiterated support for Docker, noting its heavy investment in container technology while stressing the need for choice. Craig McLuckie, product manager for Google Cloud Platform, said this week Google is backing the container standards effort because "open communities drive innovation."

--Alison Diana contributed to this report.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).