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CenturyLink Launches Panamax Docker Composition Tool

by Chris Swan on Aug 12, 2014 |

CenturyLink has launched Panamax, a tool that they describe as ‘Docker Management for Humans’. Panamax distinguishes itself from other composition tools for Docker by offering a web based user interface, which can be used to compose multiple Docker containers into templates that can then be shared on GitHub. Alongside the launch of the open source project CenturyLink are running the ‘Panamax App Template Challenge 2014’, a competition offering $100,000 in prizes for the best submissions across a variety of categories.

Applications in Panamax are composed from individual services that are based on Docker images found in Docker Hub or any other Docker registry. The web user interface allows each service to be configured with links to other services, environment variables, port bindings and volumes. A customised Docker run command can also be added. Once services are grouped together into a functioning whole the application can be saved as a template into GitHub. The templates consist are YAML documents that combine documentation with the functional description of containers and relevant configuration metadata. Panamax templates have some commonality with templates from the Fig composition tool that was recently acquired by Docker Inc. CenturyLink’s Chief Innovation Officer Lucas Carlson, who has been leading the development of Panamax, say that the project is, ‘inspired by Fig, and directly related to Fig’, and although there is no Fig import yet that should come later.

Carlson believes that ‘Docker could be the next generation of virtual machines’, but that, ‘right now containers are hard to adopt’. He has been working with 11 engineers at CenturyLink Labs to develop the platform in order to make Docker containers more accessible. At launch CenturyLink is providing examples in their public template repository. Templates submitted to the contest will also become available as they’re submitted by the community.

The initial release of Panamax runs on VirtualBox under the control of Vagrant, which limits it to Macs and Linux boxes that aren’t already running another virtualisation platform. Panamax will also be offered as a ‘Blueprint’ on the CenturyLink cloud. Under the hood Panamax takes advantage of CoreOS, a Docker optimised Linux distribution and its associated fleet orchestration tool and etcd distributed key/value store. For the time being it only supports single host deployments, with Carlson promising, ‘multi host, multi server, backend coming after launch’, and stating that he, ‘wanted community input’, before finalising the details. The use of fleet and etcd should make scaling out the infrastructure relatively painless.

Panamax is not an orchestration system, though it does make use of fleet for orchestration. Carlson says that it should also be possible to plug in alternative Docker orchestration systems such as Apache Mesos and Google’s Kubernetes. Having previously built a PaaS at AppFog (which was acquired by CenturyLink) Carlson also states that Panamax is not a PaaS. He does however hope that Panamax will be used as a means to deploy Docker based PaaS systems such as Deis, Flynn and Dokku.

Once installed, the Panamax command line tool provides the ability to manage and reinstall the CoreOS virtual machine. It also provides SSH access to the CoreOS host, which can be used to create volume mount points and run other command line diagnostics. Using applications running on Docker containers within VirtualBox VMs requires port forwarding to be configured, and the system encourages template developers to provide specific instructions for those configuration details.

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