Docker gets some competition with new Joyent, Canonical containers

Joyent's Mantra aims for big-data jobs, while Canonical's LXD adds in an additional security measure

Spurred by the sudden success of the Docker virtualization technology, platform services provider Joyent and Linux distributor Canonical have each open-sourced their container technologies.

Joyent has released a container-based cloud hosting platform that could be used as the basis for running large-scale, big-data analysis jobs, and Canonical's new container comes with additional safety measures for mission-critical workloads, according to each company.

Earlier this week, Google announced that it would be providing software to run Docker containers on its cloud services. It was the latest win for the rapidly ascending Docker, which is now the dominant container technology on the market. Containers are lighter and faster alternatives than the full virtual machine hypervisors offered by VMware, Citrix and Microsoft. Google uses the containers to run its cloud services.

Docker, the company behind the open-source software of the same name, noted that its Docker engine has been downloaded 20 million times and over 13,000 third-party projects have been built on the software since its launch in March 2013.

Now Joyent and Canonical want to be part of container fever.

A cloud service, Joyent offers a variety of platform services, including a hosted version of Node.js, the massively popular open-source JavaScript server-side engine it maintains. Like Google, Joyent operates its services on a container infrastructure, using technologies it developed in house.

Now the company has released these technologies is open source. Joyent's container-based system has two components, the SmartDataCenter orchestration software and the Manta object storage software. Mantra provides a way of running a container at the location where the data is actually being held, saving the time of moving data to some other location for computation. Mantra is based on Sun's ZFS (Zettabyte File System), a next-generation file system able to hold massive amounts of data.

"SmartDataCenter and Manta show that containers aren't merely a fad or developer plaything but rather a fundamental technological advance that represents the foundation for the next generation of computing--and we believe that open sourcing them advances the adoption of container-based architectures more broadly," wrote Bryan Cantrill, Joyent software engineer, in a blog post announcing the release.

Joyent's cloud-hosting platform does not compete directly with Docker, Cantrill said. Rather, the system has been compared to the OpenStack cloud hosting software, though one built specifically for running containers, such as Docker.

Earlier this week, Linux distributor Canonical also launched a secure container-based technology, LXD (Linux Container Daemon). LXD offers the speed of Docker, but the security of a fully isolated virtual machine, in which each container is isolated so it can't spy other containers. It relies on a number of Linux security technologies, including kernel support for user name spaces and CGroups, as well as third-party Linux security mechanisms Secgroup and AppArmour.

"It's designed with security in mind, first and foremost," said Dustin Kirkland, Canonical product manager, in a video presentation on the technology.

Like Docker, LXD is based on the LXC (Linux Containers) core virtualization technology. Unlike Docker, LXD will only run on Linux servers. It also features the ability to migrate running containers between one node and another with no downtime, according to Canonical.

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