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Microsoft tries Docker containers on for size

Continuing its commitment to not lock users into Windows-only products, Microsoft will build support for Docker containers into Windows Server next year.

Microsoft deepened its commitment to make open source technologies available with its support for Docker containers into the next version of Windows Server due sometime next year.

The new support makes it possible for larger corporate and third-party developers to create Docker container applications that run on Windows Server either on-premises or Microsoft Azure in a virtual machine. While most analysts see this as a smart, if not predictable move, some Windows Server users believe most IT shops aren't technically savvy enough to begin integrating the technology.

 "To do this, you have to be either a [venture capital] funded startup or state-of-the-art enterprise that has a sophisticated staff to support this technology," said Mike Drips, a solutions architect with WiPro, Inc. in Houston. "This requires a level of support that most smaller and medium-size companies just won't be able to surface up."

The move could indicate, however, that Microsoft recognizes next generation of applications using containers or container-like deployment methods potentially makes it easier for users to abstract the application away from the operating system.

This allows users to move to more of a continuous upgrade format for their OS without the traditional time-consuming task of dealing with application compatibility, according to Al Gillen, program vice president, servers and system software at IDC.

"Microsoft and Docker are working to leverage the Docker technology for deployment in a Windows server environment, in addition to supporting Linux containers on Linux VMs on Azure," Gillen said. "This is something they should be doing."

Docker is an open source project that automates the deployment of applications inside containers using an additional layer of abstraction of OS-level virtualization on Linux. Version 1.0 shipped a little over two months ago but has already gained enthusiastic endorsements from several major players including IBM, Google, Red Hat and Canonical.

"This announcement is about supporting [Docker] more directly inside Windows," said Al Hilwa, program director software development research for IDC. "It is a bit of engineering but Microsoft wisely decided they did not want to leave Windows developers out of the Docker party."

Microsoft opens up to open source 

Microsoft stands to profit from because the 45,000 or so "dockerized" applications that can now run on Windows, Hilwa added. It is encouraging to see all the work on the Docker engine in Windows will be done in open source, Hilwa said, which highlights Microsoft's more enlightened attitude toward open source.

The move bolsters Microsoft's commitment to not lock users into Windows-only strategies. In June, the company said it would make support available for Linux within Microsoft Azure. But it also makes a statement about Microsoft’s intent to establish itself as a leading hybrid cloud provider, analysts said.

"Hybrid cloud environments are important to Microsoft because that is where they are going with cloud services," said Allan Krans, cloud practice manager for TBR, Inc. market researchers based in Hampton, N.H. "So having more portability among different Windows environments is key. And it is not just Microsoft delivering them, but their many partners out there will be delivering Azure services, too."

Microsoft's Docker support further confirms another significant trend that corporate developers are more heavily influencing development priorities of major OS companies such as Microsoft, IDC's Gillen said.

"A decade ago, operating system vendors set the agenda. Now the tables have turned," Gillen added.

Ed Scannell is senior executive editor for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization media group. He can be reached at

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