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Docker Buys Cloud Infrastructure Company Unikernel

Unikernel further reduces the OS footprint of cloud-based applications.

Docker, the leading container company in the industry, has bought a supplier of technology that allows for even lighter-weight and more mobile applications, and could represent the next wave of cloud-based infrastructure development.

The Cambridge, UK-based company is called Unikernel Systems. As its name implies, it's focused on unikernel development. Docker announced the acquisition today: "Through the Docker platform, unikernels will be on a 'continuum' with Linux and Windows containers, enabling users to create truly hybrid applications across all formats with a uniform workflow," Solomon Hykes, founder and CTO of Docker, said in the release. Terms of the deal weren't announced.

Small and Fast
A unikernel is essentially an operating system stripped of everything but the set of services needed by a particular application. These libraries of services are combined with the app in a package many times smaller than a traditional app running on top of an operating system, and even smaller than an app running in a container. Containers, although they're much lighter packages than virtual machines, still run on operating systems. Unikernels remove that OS layer, resulting in a tiny, agile application framework.

Being so small means unikernel-based apps also have a smaller attack surface than a typical app, and are ultra-portable, a key need for cloud computing. They boot up nearly instantly, and everything is "turned off" by default, resulting in greater security through isolation from any underlying OS.

Container Killer?
Sinclair Schuller, CEO and cofounder of Apprenda, laid out what he sees as unikernel's main benefits in a blog posting several months ago on Gigaom: "The unikernel model removes the need for an OS altogether, allowing the application to run directly on a hypervisor or server hardware. It's a model where there is no software stack at all. Just the app." Perhaps ominously, the article was titled "Why unikernels might kill containers in five years."

Unikernel Systems was formed to encourage unikernel development in the community and explore possible commercial avenues for it. The company explained its rationale for joining with Docker in an unsigned blog:

"When Docker approached, the team unanimously felt that working closely together was the most effective way to realise the enormous potential of unikernels. By combining forces, we are able to unlock the impressive Docker ecosystem for use with unikernels, including orchestration and networking. The integration with Docker tooling will provide users greater choice in how they build, ship and run their applications."

Many of Unikernel System's employees were part of the team that developed the Xen open source hypervisor, which undergirds much of the cloud infrastructure on the Internet, including the Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization & Cloud Review. Follow him on Twitter @VirtReviewKeith.

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