Joyent Adds Non-Docker Services to Triton Container Cloud
A shipping container is moved with a crane before being loaded onto a ship docked at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Joyent Adds Non-Docker Services to Triton Container Cloud

Partners with Canonical to provide container-native Linux on bare metal and attract more developers

Joyent announced the ability to run container-native Linux images directly on bare metal with Joyent Triton, its bare metal container cloud. While running Docker is a focus of Triton, Joyent is extending its capabilities beyond Docker, its first major partnership being Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, the popular Linux distribution.

With container-native Linux developers can leverage operational efficiency of containers and run legacy applications and other data-intensive services without having to "Dockerize" them first, according to the two companies. Developers can tap Joyent's downstream SmartOS in combination with the Ubuntu developer experience.

Triton just recently entered general availability. The company employed a unique architecture in its cloud to make Docker containers run directly on bare metal, skipping the virtualization layer.

It raised $15 million in October 2014 in part to help drive a business strategy that included Docker container cloud services.

Triton is available for on-premise deployments or as a Joyent-run cloud service. It is compatible with all major Linux distributions, but Joyent and Canonical engineers have collaborated to produce certified, container-native Ubuntu images that are optimized for Triton.

Solving the Linux Binaries Issue

Getting Linux to run natively wasn't easy, and some technological hurdles needed to be solved.

“The big problem we solved is you need to be able to run Linux binaries,” Joyent CTO Bryan Cantrill said. Someone in the SmartOS community--SmartOS is Joyent's homebrew cloud operating system -- resurrected an old project that had been shelved and discovered it worked with a lot of applications.

“So we took that technology and finished it,” said Cantrill. The company got it to run all Linux binaries on metal, at speed, in the context of its SmartOS "zones," solving the problem of binaries. What came out of this effort was discovering the ability to run Ubuntu natively on bare metal.

“We approached Canonical and they were enthusiastic about it,” said Cantrill.

Hoping to Expand Triton's Visibility

The Ubuntu flavor of Linux is massively popular with the developer crowd. Upwards of 70 percent of Docker images are built on Ubuntu. It opens up Triton to a much wider audience, said Cantrill.

Canonical will provide commercial support for the container-native Ubuntu images. “This gives them the same great Ubuntu experience developers love on their container infrastructure on top of SmartOS,” said Canonical CEO Jane Silber.

Joyent is a techie’s cloud service provider – and its foundation is SmartOS. The company built the abstraction layer using a very different cookbook than other cloud providers, namely its deep ties to Sun Solaris. For this reason, Joyent has a lot of technological differentiation in the cloud world, but it also means using it comes with a steeper learning curve.

Native Ubuntu provides a more comfortable option. “The problem is at Joyent, you had to get both SmartOS and containers,” said Cantrill. “By coupling up with Canonical Ubuntu, it brings the most popular OS to Triton."

The combination brings the "Docker world" to the SmartOS substrate, "and customers get the implementation details of Linux that make Triton easier,” he said.

A Containerized Legacy

Docker containers are less secure than virtualization, according to Cantrill, but Joyent believes it has fixed a lot of the security issues in its approach.

“In order to run containers to run on metal, the substrate needs to be secure," he said. "Joyent secure thanks to its concept of zones. SmartOS has been in multi-tenant production for a decade, with a proven track record."

Joyent’s history around containers goes much further back than the emergence of Docker. “The organizing principle at Joyent was around offering elastic compute as a service through OS containers, “said Cantrill.

The importance of the SmartOS abstraction layer Joyent created is in its ability to effectively leverage the promise of operational efficiencies presented by containers, according to Cantrill. "If you virtualize the operating system instead of the hardware, you get much greater density and better performance," he said.

However, it wasn’t operational efficiencies that originally got people excited over Docker, said Cantrill, it was the developer experience. He believes containers will provide a similar or greater order of magnitude of efficiency than virtualization. It means packing much more stuff on servers than possible with virtualization, because you're not virtualizing different instances of the application's dependencies. The bare metal offering was created because virtualization affects performance of applications in Docker containers.

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