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The Google shot heard round the Net—containers are competitive

That didn’t last long, Google’s purported shift from supporting container vendor Docker to boosting newbie CoreOS and its Rocket container technology. In early May, techie publications were abuzz over Google, VMware and Red Hat announcing support for CoreOS, an alternative container technology to red-hot Docker. On May 19, Google shot down that narrative.

The background: In December 2014, CoreOS announced its own container technology, complaining that Docker has jumped beyond clean-and-simple containers, which allows software developers to package code into “containers” that can run on any computing infrastructure. Instead, Docker seeks to become a “platform,” providing all the software technology necessary for to run Docker containers in the cloud or in an on-premise data center.  CoreOS thinks Docker has become too big for its britches so it launched its own “lightweight” container technology called Rocket (rkt), which like Docker is open source.

So when Google said in early May it would support CoreOS’ Rocket with its open source Kubernetes to “orchestrate” how containerized applications run, it was misinterpreted to mean Google dropped Docker for CoreOS. It was a dumb mistake because Google said at the same time, “We expect Kubernetes to support Docker indefinitely,” adding that “Docker has done an amazing job of democratizing container technologies and making them accessible to the outside world.”

In defense of the misinterpretation, the big picture was clouded by Google Ventures in April leading a $12 million investment in CoreOS, along with blue-chip VC firms. Clearly Google wants an alternative to Dockers, because multiple options give Google greater sway in the evolving container market.

Nor is Google’s influence evil. Choice is a good thing for software developers and the companies implementing containerized applications. Call it a kerfuffle with significant implications:

  • Docker the company won’t have containers to itself.
  • Docker is the leader. The VC money scoreboard reads” Docker $95 million, CoreOS $12 million.”
  • The fact that CoreOS has even $12 million means VCs (and VC-like Google) validates that containers look like a big opportunity. If the container market pans out over the next three years, even a smaller player can make money.
  • The computer press, like the broader media, still loves the conflict storyline, defaulting to A vs. B when confronted with an interesting new development.