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We ask industry leaders five questions about the future of Docker and containers Five Questions with Shannon Williams Discussing Rancher Labs' Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Platform for Containers.

 by John Katsaros, November 12, 2015

Welcome to Focus on Containers' “Five Questions” section, where we ask leaders in containers and Docker about the future of containers and what users should think about as they plan the future. 

Shannon Williams

Shannon Williams

John Katsaros of Focus on Containers talked with Rancher Lab's Co-Founder, Shannon Williams, about Docker and Rancher, dubbed the first hyper-converged infrastructure platform for containers.




With DockerCon EU starting next week, Docker infrastructure specialist Rancher Labs announced both a hyper-converged infrastructure platform for containers and support for orchestrating persistent storage services (PSS) for Docker. Rancher, the company’s flagship product for building a private container service, was announced in conjunction with Redapt. The new storage features in Rancher developers using Docker will find it easier to run applications that require stateful databases and persistent storage.

Rancher Labs had a six-year headstart in the cloud. Rancher was launched by the team behind Cloud.com, maker of the Apache CloudStack software; Citrix acquired Cloud.com in 2011. With 25 employees and $10 million in Series A funding in June, Rancher Labs co-founder  Shannon Williams, VP of sales and marketing, spoke to Focus on Docker about Rancher, containers, Docker security and Rancher Labs partnership with systems integrator Redapt:



Question 1: Roughly how big is this market and how fast is it growing?  Ranchers business model has become popular as the open source business model.  Is this business model able to produce high enough returns or will this eventually expand into a service offering?


While early and not yet defined, our market is expanding exponentially as Docker and other container services are adopted by more and more developers. Our advantage stems from simplifying Docker container deployment and providing a platform to operate those containers in production and at scale. Containers are amazing because they don’t just apply to “next generation” or “cloud native” applications. We see tons of teams using containers to package traditional Java applications. We always felt it would be critical for applications to run at a level that was independent of specific cloud platforms. With the emergence of containerized applications, we saw an opportunity to develop a platform that would run applications identically on any infrastructure. 


We developed the industry’s first hyper-converged infrastructure platform for containers to drive down costs of adopting a private container service for organizations exploring Docker’s potential and those that had already embraced the technology. Our mission is to establish Rancher Labs as the de facto standard and platform for Docker container infrastructure and management, and if we’re successful at that, I think the market opportunity is very substantial.


Question 2: What do developers get with Rancher that previously was not available?  Why do people need Rancher?


Rancher and RancherOS are built with the needs of developers in mind. We stripped the OS to a basic Linux kernel and the Docker code. To limit incompatibilities with regular releases, we integrated with GitHub user directories to speed collaboration, and we have developed an incredible number of features that developers require to not only spin up containers, but also manage them at scale. For example, our announcement this week of persistent storage services for Docker, allows developers to incorporate storage orchestration directly into their application design. This means that DevOps teams will have an enormous amount of choice on how they decide to build and run their applications, and they will be able to leverage the latest storage functionality on any cloud infrastructure.


Question 3: What are your customers asking for? Which industries do you expect to be the first production users of Rancher? 

Our goal is to ease the adoption of Docker containers for any developer and organization daunted by the prospect, or struggling with, containerization. It is critical to anticipate and meet the needs of today’s diverse developer community. Listening to adopters is the fastest and best way we’ve found to improve our product and ensure Rancher Labs’ vision. From the start, we developed RancherOS because developers were looking for a lightweight platform for running containers that worked well with Docker. With more than a thousand beta participants, we’ve had really fantastic suggestions from our users about adding specific features to our load balancing, container scheduling, networking and storage capabilities. 


When it comes to specific industry adoption of Rancher, we believe that any segment feeling the pressure to become more agile will look for services to meet this need. Healthcare and financial services are in the midst of a technological revolution demanding increasingly immediate services with phenomenal UI, and many are rightly turning to companies like Rancher for answers.


Question 4: Service providers are often the first group to deploy new infrastructure. Will service providers find a relationship Rancher helpful (If so how)? Redapt is a recently announced partner. What role do you expect them to play? 


I couldn’t agree more that service providers are early adopters of new cloud technology, and we’re absolutely seeing that with Rancher. As service providers begin to offer managed cloud services across not only their own infrastructure but also public clouds, they are finding Rancher an ideal tool for standardizing application and infrastructure management. Having a portable application stack is very exciting for service providers, because they can work with customers regardless of where they choose to run their application.


We are really excited to be working with the team at Redapt, to build the first hyper-converged infrastructure platform to support both virtual machines (VMs) and containers. We’ve known the team at Redapt for many years, and their understanding of data center solutions at scale is unparalleled. As we’ve worked with Redapt on this platform, they have provided guidance at every step about how to design a platform that can be deployed as fully managed hardware directly into the enterprise datacenter.  


Question 5: How does Rancher impact security?  Does it expose additional security surface area?  How does Rancher preserve container isolation, which is a big concern?


Because we come from a background of building clouds, our team has spent years working with security teams and compliance auditors to understand the importance of systemic security, infrastructure isolation, access control and audit. When we built Rancher, we designed it from the ground up to support enterprise requirements in these areas.  At its core, Rancher implements complete isolation between environments to ensure that containers can only discover and communicate with authorized resources.  We applied a similarly rigorous approach to managing user access control and isolation.


 A great example of how we leveraged security to create developer value is actually in our networking model. By default, Rancher implements an IPSEC-based private network for all containers running in an environment. This means that we encrypt all communication between Docker hosts, which is great for security, but also means that resources running in different clouds or datacenters can now safely communicate with one another, which DevOps teams love.