The container sector just got serious. That's the key takeaway from the somewhat surprising announcement that Solomon Hykes, the founder and CTO of Docker since it was a startup, is leaving the company.
It's often the case that the visionary who founds a startup is not the person to lead it once it becomes an established business. That's because startups are founded by entrepreneurs who have novel ideas and develop them, while established businesses need experienced hands on the tiller to navigate the complex world of markets, customers (like MetLife, PayPal, Visa, and Expedia in Docker's case), acquisitions and shareholders who demand a return on their investments.
Docker already has a new CEO in the form of Steve Singh, who took the helm at Docker last year, and the company is now looking for a suitable person to take on the role of CTO.
"Today, as I turn 34, Docker has quietly transformed into an enterprise business with explosive revenue growth and a developer community in the millions, under the leadership of our CEO, the legendary Steve Singh," Hykes said in a blog post. "We need a CTO by Steve's side with decades of experience shipping and supporting software for the largest corporations in the world."
The news of Hykes' departure follows, but is not connected to, the emergence of Kubernetes as the de-facto standard for container orchestration.
Companies like Red Hat and CoreOS both built enterprise container orchestration and management platforms around the open source software, but Docker preferred to stick with its own Swarm orchestration software. It was only last year that Docker finally acknowledged Kubernetes' status by integrating support for Kubernetes into its Docker Enterprise Edition Containers-as-a-Service platform.
Red Hat Makes Its Move on CoreOS
Meanwhile, in March, Red Hat went out and acquired CoreOS for $250 million, providing the Linux company with a huge amount of container expertise as well as CoreOS's Tectonic container management system (to add to Red Hat's existing OpenShift.)
Red Hat is a very big cheese in the open source software world; it has a considerable customer base to sell container solutions to, and it has a capable support operation as well. Its market capitalization is over $24 billion — compared to Docker's likely $1 billion valuation — so it's also considerably larger.
Other big technology companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Google and even VMware are also getting involved in the business of containers, and that's another good reason why Docker needed to become a serious business rather than an exciting and successful startup. If it doesn't succeed in this endeavor, then it could end up as someone's lunch.
Too many startups are hampered by their founders' inability to move aside when the time is right, but, admirably, Hykes clearly understands this. "I now have a new role: to help find that ideal CTO, provide the occasional bit of advice, and get out of the team's way as they continue to build a juggernaut of a business," he said.
The container business just got serious, and, thanks to Hykes, Docker is well on the way to becoming a serious business.
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.