Container management systems are like London buses: you wait ages for one, and then a load of them come along at once.
That's great news if you're interested in containerization, because it shows that the whole container ecosystem is maturing rapidly. At a more basic level, it's also good news because for containers to be useful in the enterprise, you need some way of managing them efficiently, and having a choice of management systems has got to be a good thing.
The latest one to pull up to the curb is Rancher, from Cupertino-based Rancher Labs. The company has an impressive array of talent in its ranks, including CEO Sheng Liang, a co-founder of Cloud.com and former CTO of the Cloud Platforms group at Citrix Systems, and Chief Architect Darren Shepherd, a former Principal Engineer at Citrix who has worked on CloudStack, OpenStack and Docker.
Rancher is a fairly complete container management system, offering:
- Cluster Management - Enabling organizations to deploy and run an unlimited number of Kubernetes and Docker Swarm clusters
- A Clean UI - Making it possible for teams to deploy applications and gain visibility over their container operations
- Hybrid Deployments - Supporting infrastructure running on any public or private cloud, and on both virtual and physical hosts
- Critical Infrastructure and Security Services - Providing necessary services for enterprise Docker deployments such as host management, role-based access control, cross-cloud networking and persistent storage services
- An Application Catalog - Providing organizations with a self-service system for sharing Kubernetes and Docker Compose templates, automating application deployments and upgrades for complex application stacks such as Hadoop, Elasticsearch and MongoDB
So far so good. Broadly speaking it sounds much like any other container management system.
A Completely Open Source Container Management Solution
The most striking thing is that Rancher is open source. Not just built on an open source core with proprietary elements on top, but completely open source.
"Everything else out there is not completely open source and is prohibitively expensive if you 're not running a massive project," says Shannon Williams, Rancher's VP of sales and marketing. "No one else in our bubble wants to do completely open source, and that's critical because there is an enormous section of the market that needs the technology but simply can't pay for an enterprise license."
Of course, Rancher does offer an enterprise license to companies that want it and can afford it, and licensees get support for the software (and other open source software used with Rancher like Docker, Kubernetes and Swarm). They also get indemnity, access to the developers, and influence over the product roadmap, Williams says.
Pricing is based on the capacity of the container hosts under management, charged on a $25 per virtual CPU per year basis (subject to a minimum fee).
Another point that makes Rancher notable, Williams believes, is the fact that it supports both Docker Swarm and Google's Kubernetes cluster scheduling/orchestration tools. "By and large you can't make a one-size-fits-all product, and it's very common that people want to use both Swarm and Kubernetes, so Rancher does that," he says.
He adds that support may be added for more options, such as Apache's Mesos or CoreOS's rkt if customers demand it.
Also the Most Complete Container Management Solution Out There?
Williams also claims that Rancher is the most mature container management system out there. You may not agree with this and it's counter-intuitive since the product only went GA on 29th March, but the alpha version appeared as far back as November 2014, and 2,500 companies have been using the beta version, which was launched at DockerCon in June 2015, he claims.
Of those beta users, just 15% are running their containers on bare metal, he says; the vast majority are running them in AWS or VMware virtual machines in the cloud.
That's certainly interesting, and it gives more credence to VMware's mantra that containers and VMs are better together.
"Containers are certainly not killing VMs," he says. "VMs provide a way to allocate capacity and compute power, while containers are for the applications themselves. We certainly don't see one threatening the other," he adds.
And in case you're wondering about the name Rancher, apparently it stems from the idea of resources in the cloud.
When you run your own servers in a data center, you fuss over them and love them like pets.
But resources in the cloud are more like cattle — VMs and containers are commodities that you use when you need them, and then kill when you're finished with them.
You have to admit it's a pretty cool name for something as arcane as a content management system. But more to the point, it sounds like a pretty cool container management system. Certainly one worth considering, alongside the likes of Tectonic and ContainerX.
Especially if you don't have money to burn.
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.