Silicon Valley loves containers. Not the big metal boxes that carry cargo on ships, but containers made out of code. These virtual containers make it easy to move and run software across the thousands of computers that make up today’s massive data centers.
Open source cloud computing startup Docker has done more than any other company to popularize containers. Now the San Francisco-based upstart has raised $95 million to help it fend off the competition. The venture capital round announced by the company today is its fourth, and its second round since changing its name from dotCloud to Docker in 2013. That’s a lot of money, but Docker may well need it as the startup competes an increasingly crowded market—a market it helped to create.
The company’s main product, also called Docker, enables developers to bundle applications into “containers” that can be easily moved around and run anywhere. For example, it can be used to run an application developed on a programmer’s laptop on a cluster of servers running in a data center, or to move that application from one data center to another. You can think of Docker containers as a more efficient alternative to virtual machines.
That relatively simple idea turned Docker, originally a cloud hosting provider, into an overnight sensation. While containers are an older idea and have been part of Linux and similar open source operating systems for years, Docker’s success lies in its developer-centric approach to creating these useful tools. Since the company open sourced its tools, Docker radically altered the cloud computing landscape. Practically every cloud computing and web infrastructure company on the planet, from Amazon to Oracle to Red Hat, is integrating their products with Docker, and you can’t attend a developer conference these days without hearing at least a couple talks on containers.
Meanwhile, Docker has spawned many complementary tools such as Google’s container management system Kubernetes and Docker-based cloud platforms such as Flynn and Deis. But it’s also spawned some competitors.
Last year a company called CoreOS, which makes a custom version of the Linux operating system designed specifically for containers, announced its own Docker alternative called Rocket. Earlier this month CoreOS raised $12 million from Google Ventures and other investors, promising tighter integration with Kubernetes. Microsoft, meanwhile, has launched its own answer to containerized operating systems called Windows Server Nano. And don’t expect old school virtualization companies like Citrix and VMware to go quietly into the night.
In short, container mania is just getting started, and it’s not clear that Docker will be able to continue to dominate the category it practically created. But this latest round of funding means the company won’t go down without a fight.