First, Microsoft announced that its Azure Container Service, a key product based on technology from Mesosphere and fellow hyped startup Docker, is now available to everyone.
Second, Mesosphere announced that its flagship Data Center Operating System, or DC/OS, is now available as open source — meaning that anyone can download it and tweak its source code to their own needs.
The news is a great vindication of Mesosphere, which is said to carry a valuation of over $1 billion, and which reportedly turned down an acquisition offer from Microsoft.
It’s also a sign that big companies, including Microsoft, are taking big steps to chip away at one of Google’s biggest selling points in the neverending cloud wars.
This ain’t a cloud, it’s an arms race
Right now, one of the hottest things going in developer-world is the rise of the so-called “software container.” The promise with containers is that a programmer can take their code, package it up in a neat little virtual box, and it will run the same way everywhere.
With containers, you can write code on your Macbook and have it run in one of Microsoft’s massive Azure server farms, without needing to account for the differences between the two. Containers also make it much easier for companies to switch cloud providers, since the code is already pre-packaged.
“Some people call it the ‘modern .ZIP file,” says Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich.
Containers are one of the new Silicon Valley arms races.
It turns out that Google has been using something very similar to the modern container almost since the company began. In 2014, as a sign of goodwill to the developer community, Google released the free software Kubernetes — a tool to manage and maintain huge piles of containers, based on the tech it had developed itself for the same function.
Kubernetes became a smash hit, with developers all over the world using it to get just a little bit of that Google magic in their own computing infrastructures. Importantly, it works in a customer’s own data center or server room, just the same as it will run in a large public cloud like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud Platform.
Indeed, a tight integration with Kubernetes is one of the Google Cloud Platform’s big advantages when it’s up against Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure in the cloud wars.
Light ’em up
The success of Kubernetes is great for Google, but puts other container management companies in a tough spot. Much of Kubernetes’ code is used by Google, which is all the endorsement that a lot of developers and companies need.
Mesosphere and its DC/OS do much the same thing as Kubernetes, helpoign companies run a containerized infrastructure across cloud platforms and data centres alike. It’s based on Mesos, a free software project pioneered at Airbnb and Twitter.
Similarly, Docker, which basically invented the modern market for software containers, has been working hard to compete with its own Docker Swarm.
But it’s hard to sell that software when Google is offering a free alternative.
Fortunately for Mesosphere, it has a close relationship with Microsoft, as a technical partner and a portfolio company.
Microsoft is boasting that the Azure Container Service is more flexible than Google or Amazon’s competing container management solutions — it integrates tightly with the Microsoft Azure cloud, but, crucially, you can choose to use either Mesosphere DC/OS or Docker Swarm to do the actual heavy lifting under the hood.
That’s important for Microsoft: It means that if you use Mesosphere or Docker Swarm in your own data center, Microsoft Azure can also help you manage it at larger scales in the cloud without having to change anything. Microsoft says it’s a level of choice that other providers (namely Google) don’t offer.
“It is about flexibility and choice,” says Russinovich.
For Mesosphere, giving away its core product is going to make generating revenue a challenge. The startup offers other premium software and services, on top of DC/OS, that provide a potential path to cashflow, but it’s far from a settled question.
But given the newfound tight bonds between Microsoft and Mesosphere, I have a hunch that the startup will come out of all this just fine.