Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Is App Container Shakeout Underway? 

The unexpected shut down of early application container developer ClusterHQ at the end of 2016 has some observers predicting that a shakeout in underway in the container sector as critics question whether sales to date justify skyrocketing valuations for container startups.

In late December, San Francisco-based ClusterHQ announced it was shutting down operations after just over two years of development. A month earlier, that container startup released the beta version of a pair of container management tools, including a tool called FlockerHub designed to share and store Docker container volumes. The company described FlockerHub as a "Github for data."

"For a confluence of reasons, the ClusterHQ board of directors, of which I am chairman, [has] decided it best to immediately shut down company operations," company CEO Mark Davis announced on Dec. 22. Davis did not elaborate, except to say, "Unfortunately, it’s often the pioneers who end up with arrows in their backs. And sometimes, archery injuries are self-inflicted."

One question stemming from the ClusterHQ closure is who if anyone will take over the startup's flagship Flocker open source container data volume orchestrator used primarily with Docker applications. ClusterHQ released an update for the orchestrator in November.

The demise of the container pioneer has prompted others to suggest a shakeout has begun in the white-hot application container sector as startup valuations far exceed sales and adoption in production. Among the skeptics is Josh Bernstein, a vice president at Dell EMC's Emerging Technologies Division, who predicted last summer that the container "landscape will look very different a year from now."

While acknowledging then that Docker, Kubernetes and Mesosphere were making inroads in terms of product offerings and adoption, Bernstein asserted in a blog post this week that container "revenue has not matched the hype" and the sector is ripe for a shakeout.

"These companies raised obscene amounts of money, but they aren’t selling enough to justify their valuations," Bernstein contends. "They have to distance themselves from one another otherwise, users will either conclude, 'they’re all the same' or simply remain confused and make no choice forward."

Despite growing skepticism, investors continue to bet on container technology. At least one startup expects to announce new funding and Linux container products by the end of January. Other announcements are likely during the first quarter as other parts of the container ecosystem continue to crank out new releases of existing products and platforms.

Meanwhile, container startups continue to surface, most recently the Seattle-based company Heptio launched in November by Kubernetes co-founders Joe Beda and Craig McLuckie. In an effort to underscore the maturing of the container ecosystem while differentiating itself from competitors, McLuckie noted recently that the new pure-play company would offer more than just another version of Kubernetes.

"We are a company that is invested in making Kubernetes accessible to enterprise, not in creating a Kubernetes distribution" McLuckie stressed in a December blog post.

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).

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