News & Insights for the AI Journey|Wednesday, November 13, 2019
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Red Hat, Docker Lead Early Container Race 

You know an enterprise technology segment is maturing when market analysts begin issuing ranking reports.

Among the first for the booming application container market is an IHS Markit assessment that anoints IBM’s (NYSE: IBM) new Red Hat unit as the early market leader as measured in commercial container software revenue. An uptick in OpenShift adoption, which recently surpassed 1,100 customers, fueled Red Hat’s dominance of the container software sector, accounting for 44 percent of the market.

IHS also reported this week that Docker has so far grabbed 23 percent of the vibrant container market, owing in part to its strategic decision to shelve its Swarm container manager and embrace the de facto standard Kubernetes cluster orchestrator.

Pivotal/VMware, focused on merging virtual machine infrastructure with microservices delivered via containers after VMware (NYSE: VMW) acquired Kubernetes startup Heptio last fall, accounted for 6 percent of the container.

Rounding out the field were Rancher Labs (3 percent) and Canonical (2 percent). IHS said the remainder of the container market is spread among other emerging players.

The market analyst attributes Red Hat’s early success to its “hands-on” approach to assisting OpenShift customers in deploying application containers along with its 2018 acquisition of CoreOS. That deal helped Red Hat stabilize its OpenShift platform by adding new automation and management features.

“Red Hat has secured a leadership position in the market with a well-timed acquisition of CoreOS and a differentiated, hands-on sales strategy,” said IHS analyst Vladimir Galabov. “The appeal of this growing market has driven other vendors to step up their game, with Docker making peace with Kubernetes and VMware forming a clearer go-to-market strategy after acquiring Heptio.

Galabov reckons VMware will mirror Red Hat’s sales strategy as it seeks to retain enterprise customers who are transitioning from VMs to deploying container software in production.

The IHS survey found that VMware continues to dominate server virtualization software market, far ahead of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and IBM/Red Hat.

Automation features remain the key to continuing container growth as developers look for help in getting distributed applications out the door. “Hyperscale cloud service providers were the first to adopt container software in their datacenters and they already run container operating systems in virtual machines in more than one-third of their multi-tenant servers,” Galabov noted.

While application containers continue to make steady gains among hyperscale cloud providers, the increase in multi-cloud deployments has been hampered by the complexity of managing Kubernetes across multiple platforms. That means recent adopters will require better container management automation, cluster management and policy-setting tools, IHS said.

Another issue is Kubernetes security. For example, a recent Kubernetes security flaw allowed unauthorized users to access the cluster orchestrator. Security researchers discovered that the vulnerability eventually spread to the OpenShift container platform, potentially affecting production workloads.

Since then, a series of Kubernetes security flaws have turned up, including a flaw in a server API.

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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