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Microsoft shops get native Docker tools, Windows Containers

Windows containers are now available in preview as the native Docker tools come to Microsoft for the first time.

For the first time, Windows users can get their hands on Docker containers native to their preferred environme...

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Microsoft has released the third preview version of the next Windows Server, with the latest iteration allowing customers to use Docker tooling with Windows Server Containers. It's the first time Windows users can natively use Docker containers, which were previously only available with the Linux operating system.

The approach Microsoft is taking with Windows Containers essentially integrates the Docker Daemon inside Windows so Docker images -- Windows or Linux versions -- can be managed with similar or identical developer workflows, said Al Hilwa, program director for IDC, a research firm based in Framingham, Mass.

"This is an important move given the traction Docker has gotten in the market," Hilwa said.

Despite the value of the upgrades, it's important to note that Linux Docker binaries won’t run on Windows, Hilwa said.

Though this will be the first time Docker can be used natively in Windows, Microsoft previously offered Docker command line interface support on Windows and by deploying Linux VMs on Azure. Microsoft first announced the plans for native Docker containers on Windows earlier this year.

These containers can be deployed and managed using the Docker client or PowerShell. Microsoft is also working with Canonical on its LXD REST API, which is intended to be a cross-platform container management layer.

Opening Docker to more developers

Windows Server Containers are one of two kinds of native container initiatives, with Hyper-V Containers aimed at users who want higher isolation and an OS that separates containers from each other and from the host OS.

The market is evolving to the point where there's no one-size-fits-all for the best way to deploy your containers.
Dave BartolettiPrincipal Analyst, Forrester Research, Inc.

"Microsoft is saying, 'We're coming at it from all angles, and we want to make sure Windows developers have as much ability to start leveraging the power of containers as anyone else,'"  said Dave Bartoletti, principal analyst for Forrester Research, Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass.

Hyper-V Containers will be available in the next preview, which is expected to be released in the next few months, Microsoft said. Both features are set to be fully released as part of the next Windows Server sometime in 2016.

Docker really wants to bring containers to more than just Linux developers, and with so much attention on containers, every virtualization platform is trying to make it easier to run containers in those environments, Bartoletti said. The result will be an easier way for developers to use Docker in a way that fits the specific needs of their application and the environment they have.

"The market is evolving to the point where there's no one-size-fits-all for the best way to deploy your containers," Bartoletti said.

Microsoft's efforts with Hyper-V are similar to VMware, Inc.'s though VMware doesn't sell its own operating system, Bartoletti said. With Project Bonneville, VMware also is working on a container that runs inside a virtual machine with its own scaled-down, optimized version of Linux.

Other capabilities available in the latest preview release include improvements around networking, security and management, as well as the ability to use Nano Server on a physical host or in a VM, and the ability to manage it with PowerShell.

Trevor Jones is the news writer for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. You can reach him at tjones@techtarget.com.

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How important is it to you to have the ability to deploy Docker containers natively in Windows?
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Interesting article Trevor, and you frame the key question well "who wants it?" From my perspective there are a lot of large enterprises trying to sort out their next-gen platform, whether it be a structured one like Cloud Foundry, or a "roll your own" with Docker.
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It is important to know whether we will have a chance to run containerized windows applications. ie One day will we see SQL Server running within a container?
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I can imagine that organizations who want to incorporate the ability to spin up environments quickly and are Windows based would find Docker to be an interesting platform. It's certainly been handy in our Linux based service model, and can be a tremendous time saver if implemented well.
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It’s currently not very important for us. Most of our Windows systems are either legacy systems that are being replaced, or larger third-party COTS applications. Our real interest in containers is with the in-house developed applications and services, which have been developed on a Linux stack.
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Since the Linux Docker binaries will not run on Microsoft Windows OS, which is to be expected, then Microsoft Docker is another closed, proprietary containerization technology.
This fragmentation does not help containerization standards compliance and interoperability at all.
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