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At Red Hat, we have not been shy about our dedication to and leadership of open standards when it comes to enterprise technology. This started with Linux, then moved into many enterprise and cloud technologies, and today has quickly expanded into the burgeoning world of containers. In application containers, this dedication takes the form of:
Backing Docker as the de facto standard format at a very early stage
Serving as the number two contributor to the project after Docker (the company)
Supporting Docker-format containers in the world’s leading enterprise Linux platform, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 - on which Red Hat’s container-specific platform variants: Red Hat Enterprise Linux Atomic Host and our forthcoming OpenShift Enterprise 3 Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering - are based
But why does Red Hat care so much about Linux containers and open standards? Containers split the traditional operating system into two parts: the small footprint runtime inside containers and the host operating system on which the container runs. The container format and runtime are critical components to bring these two together and build value on top, to scale-out across clusters of hosts and manage the security, performance and resilience of infrastructure and applications. Open standards deliver more interoperability, the ability to reuse tools and investment protection, essentially knowing that the container technology deployed today is backed by a broad ecosystem.
We see Red Hat’s role in the open source community as one of not only contributing code and implementing customer requirements, but also as a driver of the open standards necessary for sustainable interoperability in the many projects we participate in. While we have long supported Docker as a standard, we continued to be engaged, both as a contributor to and a leader of, other community projects, most notably by joining the Application Container (appc) specification project as an upstream maintainer. Far from participating in the so-called "container wars," this approach exemplifies our goal of leading open source communities out of the proverbial woods and into the enterprise. Much like we did with many open source projects before, our all-encompassing approach to both the Docker and appc upstream projects was to push for alignment behind the creation of a single, common open standard for Linux containers.
It was with this in mind that we, as the leader in enterprise Linux and with containers being a fundamental operating system technology, iniatied the dialogue with Docker leading to today’s announcement: the drive to create that single application container standard in a light-weight governance structure, effectively a container standard to serve as the definitive, incontrovertible model driven via the Open Container Project (OCP). As the release describes, the OCP aims to establish a common, open container format and runtime standard, a goal which Red Hat has been working towards for some time. We are, to say the least, very pleased with the rapid momentum that we have seen with the creation of the OCP, with many industry leaders joining out of the gate. We will provide two Red Hat engineers as initial OCP maintainers to provide guidance and expertise in this important development effort, and we plan to build on this momentum even as we remain well-positioned to continue blazing a trail in the world of enterprise-ready Linux containers.
While standards, like those that will ultimately be driven by the OCP, seem like a strange anachronism in the world of open source, the truth is that standards emerge from transparent development and community-driven governance of key technologies. Though sometimes guided by specifications providing architectural clarity and defining interoperability at a very high level, it is code developed in an open development and governance model that defines standards directly through the implementation, without the overhead and risks of proprietary standards negotiated in backrooms. This is a critical advantage of open source software, creating standards that truly accelerate innovation while maintaining compatibility through collaboration and transparency. With open standards, decisions are made based on the technical merit of an idea and with the authority of maintainers who earned their leadership role via their reputation and recognized competence, not commercial influence asserted by financial or political means.
The introduction of the OCP is closely aligned with this approach by focusing on a minimalist governance structure aiming at high-level specifications along with an implementation developed in open source. This structure will sit under the auspices of the Linux Foundation providing the overarching framework and support services to ensure smooth operation. The timing could not be better, as we face a critical phase in the maturation of Linux containers as an enterprise technology, with our customers and partners asking for standards to avoid fragmentation, maintain the velocity of innovation and allow the development of an ecosystem. Ultimately, customers and partners all benefit because standards drive adoption, maximize reuse, and open the door for easy integration into other technology and product domains.
Beyond the work towards open standards, we have invested in many other areas of critical importance to enable the development, deployment and management of container-based applications in the enterprise:
Putting in years of innovation on the foundational technologies of Linux including those inside the Linux kernel
Introducing OpenShift as a container-based PaaS platform in 2011
Creating an enterprise-grade container host built from the military-grade, secure components of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7
Delivering the industry’s first container certification program
Alongside the container certification program, we also introduced a first implementation of an open distribution system of federated container registries to deliver these verified and secure containers from a network of trusted sources to enterprise customers seeking to build the next-generation of applications.
So what’s next, now that the container wars seem to be over?
First and foremost, we will be heavily involved in the transition of the donated Docker technology into the Open Container Project - leveraging the experience we have in doing this with every piece of software we’ve developed and acquired. Next, there is still much heavy lifting to do on the container primitives, for container runtime and formatting and digital signatures to structured metadata and secure container launches. As the OCP work on specifications and compliant implementations matures, we also plan to introduce OCP-compliant implementations into our enterprise container products, delivering a truly open Linux container standard to our customers across development and deployment platforms and management solutions.
There is still work to be done, but it finally happened - transparency and the common good of innovation has won out over fragmentation. And best of all? We knew this would happen.
About the author
Lars Herrmann is always found at the forefront of technology. From the early days of Linux to today’s digital transformation built on hybrid cloud, containers and microservices, Lars has consistently helped enterprises leverage open source technologies to drive business results. At Red Hat, Lars leads Red Hat Partner Connect, Red Hat's technology partner program.