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Google Embraces Docker, the Next Big Thing in Cloud Computing

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Google is putting its considerable weight behind an open source technology that’s already one of the hottest new ideas in the world of cloud computing.

This technology is called Docker. You can think of it as a shipping container for things on the internet–a tool that lets online software makers neatly package their creations so they can rapidly move them from machine to machine to machine. On the modern internet–where software runs across hundreds or even thousands of machines–this is no small thing. Google sees Docker as something that can change the way we think about building software, making it easier for anyone to instantly tap massive amounts of computing power. In other words, Google sees Docker as something that can help everyone else do what it has been doing for years.

In the mid-1990s, as a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, Eric Brewer built Inktomi, the first web search engine to run on a vast network of cheap machines, as opposed to one enormously powerful–and enormously expensive–computer server. And as the Googles and the Amazons and the Facebooks took this idea to new extremes over the next two decades, they leaned on Brewer’s most famous bit of computing philosophy: the CAP theorem, a kind of guide to how these massive systems must be built.

Now, Brewer is a key cog in the Google machine, part of the team of elite engineers that oversee the design of the company’s entire online empire. What this means is that, after reshaping the net the first time around, the slick-bald computing guru is bringing the next wave of new ideas to the realm of online architecture.

It’s not just that he’s helping to refine Google’s global network of data centers, the most advanced operation on the net. Like Amazon and Microsoft and so many others, Google is now offering cloud computing services that let anyone else build and run software atop its vast infrastructure, and Brewer is among those working to impart Google’s particular expertise to all the companies that can benefit from these cloud offerings. Today’s cloud computing services can simplify life for developers–letting them build online software without setting up their own hardware in their own data centers–but in backing Docker, Brewer hopes to make things even easier.

Brewer says that Docker mirrors the sort of thing that Google has done for years inside its own data centers, providing a better way of treating hundreds of machines like a single computer, and he believes it represents the future of software development on the net. Built by a tiny startup in San Francisco, Docker is open source software that’s freely available to the world at large.

The importance of Docker can be hard for even seasoned developers to grasp. For one thing, it’s based on technologies that have been around years. The open source Linux operating system–the bedrock of today’s online services–has long offered “containers” that isolate various tasks on a computer server, preventing them from interfering with one another. This has always been the promise of cloud computing–that we could treat the internet like one giant computer–but we’re nowhere near that reality. Due to the vagaries of different operating system and different cloud services, it can be quite hard to move software from place to place.

With this new technology, we can bootstrap a new world of cloud computing that behaves more like it should, where we can treat all cloud services as a single playground. Google isn’t the only one getting behind the technology. Cloud services from Amazon, Rackspace, and Digtial Ocean have also backed the technology.

For Brewer, containers are all about creating a world where developers can just build software, where they don’t have to think about the infrastructure needed to run that software. This, he says, is how cloud computing will continue to evolve. Developers will worry less about the thousands of machines needed to run their application and more about the design of the application itself.

So many others are saying the same thing. But they’re not Eric Brewer.


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“Google Embraces Docker, the Next Big Thing in Cloud Computing”