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Red Hat Touts Linux Containers For Cloud

Red Hat teams with Docker, urges developers to consider Linux-based containers as a lightweight alternative to virtual machine files for moving workloads to the cloud.

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Red Hat is turning to lightweight Linux containers to package workloads for transport to the cloud. As others take a rival approach sponsored by VMware-originated Cloud Foundry, Red Hat is standing by its OpenShift platform as a future element of OpenStack clouds.

Red Hat is also aligning with Docker to help make containerized applications a new reality in the enterprise and in the cloud. Docker supplies the container format that Red Hat will standardize in its OpenShift platform-as-a-service (PaaS) for developers. While other forms of Linux containers exist, Docker leads in making the technology both easily used and portable among different clouds.

Linux containers can be used to move workloads in the virtualized datacenter as virtual machine files, or as a more efficient approach that doesn't drag a full copy of the operating system with the application, as virtual machines do.

At the Red Hat Summit in San Francisco on Tuesday, Red Hat's Paul Cormier, president of products and technologies, said that virtual machines are perfectly adequate for the 1.0 version of the cloud -- but Linux containers have the potential to make cloud workloads simpler, better, and more mobile. Containers, he added, are for cloud 2.0-style operations.

[Want to learn more about containerized virtual machines? Read Docker Finds Open Source Success.]

"Personally, I think containers are a much simpler way to get applications out to the cloud," Cormier said during a question-and-answer session. Red Hat will not need to displace VMware in the datacenter with its own form of virtualization based on KVM (an unlikely prospect in any event), nor will it need to sell a long chain of products to encourage the adoption of containers. On the contrary, the company is betting on developers recognizing a simpler, lighter way of doing things.

Jim Totton, VP and general manager of Red Hat's platform business unit, said Linux containers can be more lightweight than virtual machines because they don't need to include all 3,000 open-source software packages that can make up a Linux distribution. In contrast, they require only the "user mode" part of the operating system that consists of the Linux runtime libraries needed by the application. When the container reaches its cloud destination, the container format tells the cloud host server which Linux kernel it needs to run under, and the host supplies that part of the operating system.

Asked what the bit count of containerized Linux would be compared to the full version found in a virtual machine, Cormier replied that it would depend on how much of the operating system the workload originator wanted to include in the container. But, he added, it would consistently have a smaller footprint and be quicker to initiate in the cloud.

Red Hat isn't necessarily using containers to compete with VMware. Rather, the company hopes that in some cases, developers will package applications in containers, thus stepping over the large VMware presence in the enterprise datacenter on their way to the cloud.

Cormier said Linux containers form a solid basis for planning hybrid cloud operations, where workloads sometimes run in an enterprise datacenter and other times are shuffled out to run in a public cloud. Red Hat offers a service to verify whether containerized applications have been formatted properly, and it will certify cloud servers as ready to run such workloads.

To support this approach,

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Red Hat announced on Tuesday a new version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) called RHEL Atomic Host, and that it will sponsor an Atomic open-source code project. Atomic hosts will recognize and support the container format that's used by Red Hat and derived from the Docker open-source code project.

Red Hat is also launching the GearD open-source project, which will arrange containerized resources so that more than one can be used by a single application. In some cases containers will be nested so that they fire off services for an application as needed, Cormier explained.

Red Hat's announcements took place soon after IBM, a premier sponsor of the Red Hat Summit, announced that it is making VMware spinoff Pivotal's Cloud Foundry its primary PaaS for developers. IBM also plans to fund a Cloud Foundry Foundation to broaden Cloud Foundry governance and financing for Cloud Foundry developers. Rackspace quickly followed IBM's lead, becoming a foundation contributor and member.

In February, just four months after Rackspace announced Project Solum as part of the OpenStack project, Pivotal announced the foundation and its new supporters. Solum was widely regarded inside OpenStack as a stalking horse for Red Hat's OpenShift platform, and Red Hat signed onto Solum with a team of developers within 24 hours of its announcement. The Cloud Foundry Foundation is a signal that Rackspace and IBM support for Solum could shift to another project.

Asked about the politics of Linux containers, however, Cormier wasn't having it. Containers are a choice for Linux developers, he said, along with bare metal hosts and VMware virtualized servers -- all fair game as future sources of cloud workloads. "It's not political. It's practical.

"How thin or how robust the operating system is [with the application in the container] is actually an element of choice for the customer," he stated. But Cormier and many other observers know that, given a choice between thin or robust when moving files over the network, Linux and web application developers overwhelmingly prefer thin.

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Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio

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