Microsoft will take a giant step toward compatible operation with the Docker container system when it airs the details of its Windows Server Containers and Hyper-V Containers at its Build Conference at the end of the month.
Support for both Windows Server Containers and Hyper-V containers will be found in the next release of Windows Server, which will help make it a better match for Linux as a platform for next-generation cloud applications.
In addition, Microsoft will offer Nano Server, a stripped-down version of Windows server for running Windows containers. Nano Server is the equivalent of CoreOS Linux or Red Hat's Atomic Host, or slimmed down, kernel versions of Linux for running containers.
Nano Server is "a minimal footprint installation of Windows Server that is highly optimized for the cloud and ideal for containers," said Mike Neal, general manager of Windows Server, in an interview.
[Want to learn more about Docker? See Docker Preps Containers For Amazon, Other Clouds.]
Microsoft's move into containers is a major attempt to maintain its relevance and hold on to developers, who have flocked to the Docker container standard for its ease of use and the portability it gives their application code.
In addition, the long-range goal is for Docker users, whether developing for Linux or Windows, to be able to use one tool and configure applications for either Linux or Windows hosts. Each app must still be developed for one operating system or the other, but the container format, in either case, gives the application code greater portability between environments.
Containers are expected to play a major role in moving code from enterprise development and testing into cloud infrastructure.
Neal said that containers designed for Windows hosts function in a manner similar to Docker, with the container APIs providing a standard way "to manage and manipulate the workload" by the next version of Windows Server. The next version is not due until sometime in 2016. But preview versions will be made available this year, and a demonstration of containers running under Windows Server will be offered at the Build conference coming up April 28 through May 1, Neal said
Last June, Microsoft added support on its Azure cloud for Docker containers running under Linux in a Hyper-V virtual machine. Providing direct Windows Containers with no need for a virtual machine, Linux operating system, or Linux container format is the next step, Neal said.
Microsoft has been working with Docker, however, to ensure Windows Server Containers will be integrated with Docker Machine container formatting, Docker Compose orchestration of an application in a container, and Docker Swarm's capability of building a cluster on which to run containers. These functions are supposed to match those available under the same name in the Linux world.
In a further attempt to match developments in the Linux world, Microsoft is donating the container engine for Windows Server Containers to the GitHub Docker repository as open-source code.
Containers under Windows will offer the same virtues to the Windows part of the data center that they already have for the Linux part: Many Windows Server Containers can run on a single host, isolated from each other by the container's logical boundaries, but sharing the host's operating system.
That gives containers an advantage over virtual machines, in which each virtual machine must have its own operating system. More containers than virtual machines can run on a physical piece of hardware, and they are quicker to initialize and scale. More containers can run on a single piece of hardware than virtual machines by a 10-to-1 ratio or better, a ratio that will prevail under Windows just as much as in Linux, Neal said.
Hyper-V Containers are a Windows Server Container running inside a Hyper-V virtual machine for added security. Neal termed that arrangement a "new, first-of-its-kind offering" in his blog announcing the container types April 8.
That's true for virtual machines in the Microsoft world, but having containers running inside virtual machines is a commonplace for how Amazon Web Services, Google, and VMware use containers in their multi-tenant environments.
The uses and details of each type of Windows container will be further aired at the annual Build developers conference in San Francisco, April 28 through May 1.
"Microsoft has been a great contributor to the Docker project since our joint announcement in October," said Nick Stinemates, Docker's head of technical alliances, in Neal's April 8 blog. "They have made a number of enhancements to improve the developer experience for Docker on Azure, while making contributions to all aspects of the Docker platform, including Docker orchestration tools and Docker Client on Windows."
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