Ex-SAP executive, Concur founder and Docker CEO Steve Singh took some time at Dockercon Europe to speak with Computerworld UK about the growing enterprise business case for the container specialist and outline his expectations for the future of open infrastructure.
Until recently it would be fair to say that the perception around Docker is that it had a Twitter problem - although more than a million developers are using it and the open source product has a strong contribution base, Docker Inc the business had somewhat struggled to monetise its technology.
In early 2017 former Docker Inc CEO Ben Golub had outlined the firm's strategy to pivot more towards an enterprise customer base.
Singh was appointed in May, and he is confident about the company's prospects - just two years ago it was a single-digit revenue company, he says, last year it entered double digit territory and he believes that there's a "real chance to get triple digits" in this fiscal year, adding that the business is gaining about 100 to 125 enterprise customers every quarter.
One product that he says is central to these plans is Docker Desktop Enterprise Edition, which came into being largely based on feedback from customers and developers who were operating Docker in an enterprise environment but didn't necessarily have the appropriate enterprise controls, nor the additional tooling to make it easier to use across both development and operations teams.
"Every single customer that is using Docker today, every prospect that I have had a chance to talk to, is one singular thing they are focusing on: how do they innovate, how do they innovate faster? For a simple reason," Singh said.
"You've got to keep driving new products, new opportunities to your customers - so the real trick is how do you drive that innovation to be faster not just in the development side but also how do you deliver it to the customer?
"If you look at it from that lens, our objective was really simple. We had this incredible platform to deliver applications, we've had a really good open source tool for developers to use to build applications, and we wanted to have an enterprise version of that that runs within the firewalls, that operates within the corporate dome, with policies and toolsets that our customers are using."
Put simply the point of the product is to enable building applications in a model that is going to run plain sailing within enterprise infrastructure. He adds that although the product was only announced as a preview version, there are customers signing up and enquiring about enterprise licences.
One major use case for Docker has been to containerise legacy applications and get them running easily outside of legacy environments. That, he says, speaks for a marketplace that can be measured in the hundreds of billions.
"There's not a company in the world that doesn't run on home-grown internal legacy applications, this is the vast majority of the world," Singh says.
"The trick is twofold. Number one is how do you take that IT budget which is 80-85 percent spoken for and actually reduce that to 70-75 percent, or even better, and then take that freed up capital and say I want to go and invest it."
In industry jargon terms this can be summed up as businesses that are investing in digital transformation, and probably moving out of the legacy data centre and into a hybrid cloud model.
Chipping away at that legacy spend and turning the released capacity into ground for new applications is where Docker seems to be positioning itself.
"The other piece is not just the reduction of cost, the other piece is how do you actually make it faster to produce new products, so you'll see IT become just as important as a traditional product organisation because they're going to start to become merged together," he says.
It's very much based on the now-infamous notion that every company is a software company, and he explains that Docker has a "large insurance company" that's a customer which is now positioning itself as an IoT company because it fundamentally understands that gathering data from appliances, for example, can help it personalise insurance offerings.
"We have a customer that provides automated management of irrigation - you've seen those big devices out in fields that water the fields, that's all automated," he adds.
"So you're delivering software to those devices, that software is now being delivered in Docker containers, it's being managed in Docker containers. Any example you can think of I guarantee you technology is starting to permeate its way into that business."
A recent partnership with Salesforce, he stresses, also helps retrieve data from containerised legacy applications.
"It solves a problem for the customer," Singh adds, "being able to access legacy data and surface that data so that new apps you're building on Docker, you can then use Docker Desktop EE via Mulesoft to access that legacy data and create new applications."
More partnerships could well be in the works as long as they complement Docker's proposition.
According to Singh: "The way you should think about the partnerships we'll put together is how do we keep extending the solutions that we're delivering to our customers?
"How do we make it easier to build apps, how do we make it easier to deploy apps, how do we make it easier to manage those applications. Build, deploy, manage. Any partnership we put in place will fit somewhere within that spectrum."
Open sourcing the future
Which problems lie in the future, and what are customers starting to say now that Docker might have to further address in the future?
Singh explains that there is a growing tendency for companies to want to share their applications, whether they're legacy or brand new, with other businesses.
Taking those apps out of their environments, containerising them and then making them shareable is somewhere Docker could increasingly fit in.
"If there's a great piece of technology that moves money from location A to location B you might ask yourself, well, why do I have to rewrite that piece of technology? Why can't I share that technology if somebody else has written a fantastic service for funds transfer?
"What we're finding is that companies around the world are finding that they have incredible pieces of technology that they'd like to be able to share.
"So being able to share that technology and having others consume it, I think is going to be a big opportunity. And so Docker Hub - this is a really core product for us - I think you're going to see us continue to expand our investments in Docker Hub."
In other words - reusable technology. He compares it to switching your lights on or off in your home: you don't "set up your own power plant", you instead pay on a consumption basis.
"Everything will get to a model of, 'why replicate it'? If it exists and it's really great and it's priced in an appropriate model why not consume it in that model," he says.
"In my view you're going to start to see people build applications that will be like Lego building blocks - they'll connect their applet or their microservice to somebody else's microservice and they'll deliver a piece of functionality or solve a problem by connecting components of applications."
So open source, and open source infrastructure, could be somewhat comparable to the digital economy: the internet exists as this core, underlying technology and businesses can do as they will on top of it whether that's proprietary or not.
"The reality is you don't have a shopping experience anymore that isn't integrated across multiple companies," he says.
"You may shop online at Amazon, it's fulfilled through a company that produces that product, it may be paid for by a different company like American Express... It's all one integrated experience.
"Take that example and keep drilling down on that. So every component of the technologies that are used to do things like shop, fulfil, pay, will get componentised and it will start to be something you can share and perhaps even monetise."
Acquisitions, IPOs - and community as commodity?
There have been a series of major open source acquisitions in recent years, notably so with Microsoft buying Github and Red Hat's recent purchase by IBM (but of course there are others).
Are we starting to see a trend emerge in force where the tech powerhouses go shopping for open source communities? And where does Docker fit into that equation, if at all?
"From building Concur, to being on the executive team of SAP, whenever you do an acquisition there's always a business reason behind it," Singh says.
"The business reason might be I want great technology, the business reason might be I need to be able to monetise a particular thing... The way I look at Docker is we want to solve a problem for a customer and we want to be so damn good at it our customer says 'I can't live without Docker'.
"If you go to talk to the 430 people at Docker that's what we're focused on... solve the problem for the customer in a way that is absolutely brilliant and as such they can't live without us.
"If you can do that you build a great company, and whether that company is a standalone business as a public company that's billions in revenues - or as a part of another company - that's a whole separate discussion.
"If you look at why SAP bought Concur, Ariba, or Fieldglass, or SuccessFactors or Qualtrics," the former SAP executive says, "they did it because they wanted to deliver that functionality to their customers, and they have this economic or sales engine or distribution engine that's just bigger."
Lastly, how about that IPO? He says that the way the business is going an IPO will be "just an event, just a step along the way".
"Concur got public in 1998 and it continued to operate as an amazing cloud company for nearly two decades before being acquired," he says. "So my view is we're never optimising for being acquired, we're always optimising to build a great business, and being public is just a part of it."
So it'll just happen? "Yeah."
In the near term? He laughs: "It'll happen when it happens."