Atlassian explores Docker's potential

The company behind JIRA and Confluence is experimenting with potential uses of Docker for both internal development environments and customer-facing on-demand products

Software vendor Atlassian is experimenting with potential use cases for Docker, an open source project that provides Linux-based lightweight containerization as an alternative to fully fledged virtual machines.

Docker hit version 1.0 in June this year after being initially open sourced just over 12 months earlier.

Greg Warden, Atlassian's director of platform technology, said that the company, whose products include the JIRA issue-tracking application and Confluence, is still very much in an "R&D phase" when it comes to using Docker.

Warden manages Atlassian's on-demand/software-as-a-service platform as well as the company's build engineering infrastructure.

"There are use cases in both of those spaces that we're looking at for Docker," Warden said.

"On the internal side – we have hundreds of developers who all want to have a continuous integration, continuous delivery experience that's predictable so we're looking at Docker as a way of doing that."

"You've got developers that build in the dev environment, they're going to test in the test environment, use some kind of integration environment, and then staging and production," Warden said.

"So you may have four or five different places that you're going to run some service or application and the more uniform and predictable and repeatable those environments are the better.

"Docker is a possible way of kind of packaging up all your dependencies so that it looks the same in each of those environments and as a developer, that's really appealing. I expect the thing that I get working in my dev environment to work the same way in my production environment."

"You can kind of do that in a bespoke way by wrapping up whatever it is – your Puppet or Chef kind of stuff – and making lots of assumptions about the similarities of your run-time environments or you can look for something that tries to normalise that for you," Warden said

On the on-demand side of things, Atlassian has been a big user of containerization, in the form of OpenVZ, for a long time, Warden said.

"We have 50,000 containers of customers' stuff running in our on-demand world right now, so we're always looking at new ways to manage that infrastructure in a better way with greater maturity," Warden said.

"We're experimenting with Docker, particularly as we look at the public cloud as a possible destination for some of that compute workload."

However, Atlassian isn't ready to start using Docker in a production environment just yet.

"We're going to be pretty cautious before we cut over our applications that our customers use every day to Docker, but it's definitely something that we're going to look at," Warden said.

"In terms of hosting our applications and our services that we run on behalf of our customers, we're looking at it in light of how are we going to embrace things like Amazon or Rackspace or Google — the public cloud — as potential destinations."

Performance and fine-grained resource management are two of the reasons why containerisation is appealing compared to fully fledged VMs.

"With Amazon, for example, it takes about five minutes to start a new instance, but you can restart a container in, you know, two seconds," Warden said.

"If you're scaling services up and down, a containerised strategy is much more interesting than [using] all AMIs, just as one example."

Atlassian is actively moving some of its services to Amazon, Warden said, but not yet using Docker.

"Docker is 1.0 but I'd say it's sort of 1.0 for certain kinds of applications, and [for] other kinds of applications it's really not quite ready for every use," Warden said.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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