Making money from open-source software is not exactly a straightforward proposition, but the poster child for businesses based on open-source code is Red Hat.
The so-called "Red Hat model" involves charging customers a subscription for a business-ready version of its open-source Linux distribution. This gets customers a certified and maintained release with regular updates and security fixes.
It's a model that other open-source companies have struggled to make successful — perhaps because a modest subscription for support and maintenance just doesn't generate much for innovation, marketing and other efforts that software companies need to do to succeed. That's why many open-source software companies have cast around for other business models, such as ones that involve selling proprietary modules or add-ons to an open-source core, or offering customization options or software-as-a-service.
Not Docker though. Earlier this month the company announced it is taking a page out of Red Hat's playbook and is now offering a version of Docker on subscription in return for support and certification.
Docker Enterprise Edition (EE) will be offered in three flavors: Basic, Standard and Advanced. All three will include support and certification, while the Standard edition also adds advanced image and container management, LDAP/AD user integration, and role-based access control (Docker Datacenter).
On top of these capabilities, the Advanced version of Docker Enterprise Edition also offers container image security scanning, which spots vulnerabilities and other security risks in container images. Support is offered at two levels: Business Day (9am-6pm Monday-Friday) or Business Critical (20x7x365).
The Basic version is really the purest version of the Red Hat model, and if this were the only version offered by Docker, it would be risky. But the Standard and Advanced versions offer an element of the "charging for add-ons" model, which is a good hedge in case it turns out Docker can't get the pure Red Hat model to work.
In addition to certifying Docker EE on the underlying infrastructure, Docker is also introducing the Docker Certification Program, which includes technology from its ecosystem partners: ISV containers that run on top of Docker, and networking, storage and networking plugins that extend the Docker platform.
Open-Source Docker Rebranded as Docker Community Edition
While organizations and individuals who don't want to pay Red Hat for its Enterprise Linux have the option of using the community-maintained (and more bleeding edge) Fedora Linux distribution, Docker users still have the option of using the vanilla open-source Docker code, which will henceforth be known as Docker CE (for Community Edition).
The Docker Store has eight versions of the Docker CE ready for download for Mac, AWS, Fedora, CentOS, Windows (Server 2016), Azure, Ubuntu and Debian operating systems.
The Docker Enterprise Edition has a quarterly release schedule, with each release supported and maintained for one year along with security and critical bug fixes.
Meanwhile, Docker CE users who want to remain on the bleeding edge can use a monthly "Edge" release maintained for one month, while more conservative users can download a regular quarterly Stable release maintained for four months. That means Docker CE Stable users have a one month window to update from one version to the next to ensure they are using a maintained version.
Docker EE is available as a free trial and for purchase from Docker Sales or online via Docker Store. It is supported by Alibaba, Canonical, HPE, IBM, Microsoft and by a network of regional partners. Pricing is as follows: Basic from $750 per year, Standard from $1500 per year, and Advanced from $2000 per year.
Overall, this move on Docker's part is a smart one. It introduces a range of ways of "buying" Docker that are easy to understand and familiar to companies that already subscribe to open-source products. By making itself look more and more like Red Hat — an already successful open-source business — and less like an open-source project, Docker is looking increasingly business-like itself.
Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.