CenturyLink Courts Developers With Container Management

CenturyLink takes open source route with its Panamax system for Docker management in a bid for developers building complex cloud apps.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

August 12, 2014

5 Min Read

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CenturyLink is offering its Docker management system, Panamax, as open source code in hopes of creating a larger community around it. The code is available for download at panamax.io.

Unlike Google's Kubernetes, an earlier Docker tool, Panamax is a container-management system that will work on top of existing Linux container-orchestration systems. Today, that means it can run on the CoreOS supplier of Linux or container operations and its Fleet orchestration; in the future it will include the Kubernetes orchestrator and the Apache Mesos orchestrator.

"Lots of developers are moving to containerized apps instead of virtualization. But it's not that easy to use Docker tools directly," said Lucas Carlson, chief innovation officer at CenturyLink, who started as a developer at the age of 13.

Many applications end up using multiple containers and running on more than one server, complicating matters for Docker users, who know how to put one app in a Linux container. To get to the multi-container stage of operations, they need to learn about libswarm, the toolkit on Github for making network connections and orchestrating a distributed system; systemd, the Linux background process for managing other background processes; etcd, a key value store for service discovery; and a container orchestration system.

[Want to learn more about Docker and how it competes with virtualized systems? See What Docker Means For VMware Cloud.]

Carlson said Panamax packages the Linux and Linux container tools into a system behind an easy-to-use graphic interface. It does so with knowledge of best practices in using Linux containers, making it easier for developers still getting acquainted with containers and Docker to use it more effectively.

Carlson said Panamax is geared toward the concept of applications composed of micro services, each in its own container, and running on a server that may be separate from the other parts of the applications. "Panamax lets you combine Linux containers like Legos, stitching together the best-of-breed containers built by the DevOps community," Carlson said in an interview.

It looks something like a platform-as-a-service system, such as Heroku, which provides many automated assistants to developers who are doing standard things, such as connecting their app to a database. But Panamax is different in that it allows developers to start producing an application on a laptop, then search for Ruby on Rails components, for example, and combine them with another developer's work, such as WordPress with SQL configuration.

The Docker site offers access to 18,000 previously used templates of common open source code configured for certain tasks by the Docker community. Knowledgeable developers can download the templates, configure them the way they wish, then add one as a chunk of code in its own container to their application. Getting many of them to work together, or with other containerized services, is where Panamax comes in.

"You can make a 100-container system," said Carlson. "It's a simple way to do complex things."

Although Panamax works only with open source Fleet orchestration today, "we plan to add drivers for Kubernetes and Mesos in the next couple of months," he said. Is he sure that'll happen in 2014? He said, yes, he is.

"Docker captured my imagination when I realized that I could encapsulate the entire state of my application system and share it with anyone else in the world," he noted. Carlson is the founder and former CEO of AppFog, a PaaS provider that was acquired by CenturyLink in June 2013. He is a noted developer and contributor to several open source projects and co-authored, with Leonard Richardson, the "Ruby on Rails Cookbook" in 2006 and "Programming for PaaS" in 2013.

Carlson said he has 11 "top class" CenturyLink developers and designers now working with him on the Panamax project, with the intent of attracting other developers to the project and watching it become an open source project independent of a single vendor sponsor.

Although Carlson noted that developers are turning to Linux containers instead of virtual machines, they aren't necessarily the same thing. Both provide isolation for a running application so that they can share a server. Containers run more efficiently in terms of compute resources because they share the host's operating system. Virtual machines offer a stronger degree of isolation; each contains its own copy of the operating system.

Nevertheless, the project shows the both the talent and high hopes that containers have started to inspire as a more efficient way of implementing applications for cloud computing and moving those applications around. Once configured through Panamax, a complex application can be moved to any cloud that is running Panamax on a CoreOS Linux host. Carlson mentioned CenturyLink as one that does so. Amazon and Rackspace are also known providers of CoreOS hosts.

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About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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