One world, one container: Open Container Project

Today, containers are becoming the default way that people put apps on clouds. In no small part, that’s because containers didn’t become standardized until libcontainer appeared in 2014. But then Docker headed in its own direction, and others, starting with CoreOS, started splitting off. Fortunately, instead of forking themselves into irrelevance, almost all the containers powers got back on the same page with the Open Container Project (OCP).

In mid-June, Amazon Web Services, Cisco, CoreOS, Docker, Google, HP, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Red Hat, VMware and many other companies came together to create a common container format and runtime: Open Container Project (OCP).

This new organization will be hosted by the Linux Foundation. Its mission is to enable users and companies to continue to innovate and develop container-based solutions, while protecting pre-existing development efforts and protecting against industry fragmentation.

The most important of the earlier efforts that’s being baked in is Docker’s software container format and its runtime. Docker’s image format and container runtime have emerged as the de facto container standard. It has support across every major Linux distribution and Microsoft Windows. You can also find Docker on every major public cloud provider, all leading virtualization platforms, and most major CPU architectures, including: x86, ARM, z and POWER. You name it, Docker can run on it.

Docker claims “Containers based on Docker’s image format have been downloaded more than 500 million times in the past year alone and there are now more than 40,000 public projects based on the Docker format.” This claim is likely right.

Organizationally the libcontainer programmers and Application Container spec (appc) developers will become the OCP’s lead maintainers. CoreOS, which started appc, will also be bringing its technical leadership and support to OCP.

The OCP image format will be backwards compatible with the Docker image format and appc, and will include efforts to harmonize with other container efforts in the community.

The guiding principles around OCP standards are that they will:

  • not be bound to higher-level constructs such as a particular client or orchestration stack
  • not be tightly associated with any particular commercial vendor or project and
  • be portable across a wide variety of operating systems, hardware, CPU architectures, public clouds, etc.

Under the OCP’s vendor-neutral, open source, open governance model, the new container standards will remain independent from any company. The point is to make sure that Docker-style containers don’t become an “insider” standard, but transform instead into an open industry standard.

At the same time, Docker will continue to maintain its Docker client, all platform tooling and all Docker orchestration capabilities that are built on top of the donated technologies. Other projects and companies will also be able to build technologies on the OCP format and runtime.

“Containers are revolutionizing the computing industry and delivering on the dream of application portability,” said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, in a statement. “With OCP, Docker is ensuring that fragmentation won’t destroy the promise of containers. Users, vendors and technologists of all kinds will now be able to collaborate and innovate with the assurance that neutral open governance provides. We applaud Docker and the other founding members for having the will and foresight to get this done.”

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