Cloud host DigitalOcean catches Docker fever

Digital Ocean now offers CoreOS virtual machines, with built-in Docker support

One of the fastest growing cloud hosting services, DigitalOcean, now offers one of the hottest virtualization technologies, Docker.

Customers now have the option to run the Docker-friendly CoreOS Linux distribution as a virtual machine on the service. Running CoreOS "is the easiest way and most affordable way for developers to start experimenting with Docker containers," said Mitch Wainer, the company's co-founder and chief marketing officer. Users can run a DigitalOcean virtual machine for as little as US$5 per month.

The hosted version of CoreOS also provides DigitalOcean customers with a way to rapidly set up clusters of virtual machines to work together on one large task, such as running a heavily used Web application.

"CoreOS is most appropriate for companies that want to play with this container ecosystem that is emerging, as well as the distributed systems that run these containers across a large set of servers," said Alex Polvi, CoreOS CEO.

Officially launched last December, CoreOS was designed to focus on an emerging use of the open-source OS kernel -- that of powering lots of cloud-based virtual servers. "It's a pretty big departure from the way Ubuntu, Red Hat and other distributions are organized," Polvi said.

CoreOS was built to run Docker containers, a type of virtualization technology that simplifies and speeds the process of running virtual machines by doing away with the need for a separate OS, and instead having the host provide the OS functionality.

Google and VMware have both already incorporated Docker support in their cloud services and products, respectively.

In a container-based architecture, Polvi explained, an organization could devote a container to each application they run, such as a database or caching software, which then can be easily copied, deployed and reused, as a component in a larger system. Administrators can set up a Web application by assembling a set of containers with the appropriate components and then coordinating the operations of these components.

If one virtual machine goes down, identical backup containers on other virtual machines can rapidly take over the work.

CoreOS relies on a program called etcd, which can coordinate actions of multiple virtual machines that are running in a cluster, and is a key piece in keeping a distributed application running even if one of its nodes ceases operation, Polvi said.

Due at least in part to its low-cost pricing, DigitalOcean is one of the fastest growing hosting providers in the rapidly growing market for cloud services, according to ongoing analysis from Netcraft, a security services company that also keeps track of the usage of different servers, OSes, hosting providers and content technologies on the Internet. Netcraft estimates that DigitalOcean, founded in 2011, is currently the fifth largest hosting provider. Wainer disclosed that DigitalOcean currently has 160,000 active accounts.

Besides CoreOS, DigitalOcean also offers Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian and CentOS Linux distributions.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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