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InfoQ Homepage News Docker, Inc Acquires Unikernel Systems Ltd with the Goal of 'Democratising Unikernel Technology'

Docker, Inc Acquires Unikernel Systems Ltd with the Goal of 'Democratising Unikernel Technology'


Docker, Inc., the organisation behind the Docker platform, has acquired Unikernel Systems, a Cambridge, UK-based company focused on unikernel development. Docker Inc. have stated that this acquisition will enable the incorporation of unikernel-based software deployment on a ‘continuum with Linux and Windows containers’, and the company plans to ‘democratise unikernel technology’ through the existing visibility and tooling associated with the Docker ecosystem.

Unikernels are specialised, single address space machine images constructed by using library-based operating systems, such as MirageOS. The use of a unikernel-based OS allows a developer to select the minimal set of libraries that correspond to the OS constructs required for their application to run. These libraries are then compiled with the application and configuration code to build a fixed-purpose ‘unikernel’ image that runs directly on a hypervisor or hardware without an intervening OS such as Linux or Windows. Unikernels are designed to reduce the OS footprint, improve security, and increase the potential for specialisation.

Shared Kernel vs Unikernel

According to Docker, Inc., Unikernel Systems have been working to make unikernels more broadly adaptable, and ensuring that the tooling around unikernels is more available to the entire systems makers community. Unikernel Systems employed several pioneers from the Xen Project, the open-source virtualisation platform that is used within several public clouds. Docker, Inc. plans to leverage the expertise of the entire Unikernel Systems team to ‘democratise the technology that is already in use in leading networking and storage solutions’.

InfoQ spoke with David Messina, VP, enterprise marketing at Docker, Inc, and Anil Madhavapeddy, member of technical staff at Docker, Inc, (and former co-founder and CTO of Unikernel Systems). Messina stated that he believes the visibility of, and tooling provided by, the Docker project will increase the adoption of unikernel technology:

We see unikernels as another type of container on a continuum with Linux and Windows containers. [...] At Docker we have the tooling and technology ecosystem already established to advance unikernel usage in this space.

Madhavapeddy suggested that the more broader use of unikernels will increase the type of platforms/architectures that can benefit from containerisation-based technology.

Unikernels will alllow us to touch compute fabric we can’t use now [with current containerisation technology] - for example, the ARM architecture is used in billions of devices.

The Docker blog states that by combining the familiar tooling and portability of Docker with the efficiency and specialisation of unikernel technology, organisations will have a flexible platform to ‘build, ship and run distributed applications without being restricted to a particular infrastructure’. Madhavapeddy discussed the impact and potential benefits the acquisition may have, with developers being able to use familiar tooling when working with unikernels:

Similar to what Docker has done for Linux containers, by combining forces, we will be able to unlock the entire Docker ecosystem for use with unikernels, including orchestration and networking. The integration with Docker tooling will accelerate the progress of unikernels and enable users to choose how they ‘containerise’ and manage their application - from the data center to the cloud to the Internet of Things.

InfoQ asked Madhavapeddy about the immediate outputs the community will see from the Docker, Inc., acquisition of Unikernel Systems:

The immediate plans are to upstream the code behind the DockerCon EU demo. This will be done via the established Docker open source route - there will be no short-circuit of process.

Messina continued the discussion by speculating about the short and long-term future, and was clear to assert that the broader community will influence the work undertaken within the Docker team:

We see unikernel usage first and foremost in microservice applications, and usage within IoT in the longer-term. However, the broader community will shape this.

Docker, Inc. have stated that the Unikernel Systems team will continue to contribute to open source unikernel projects, including MirageOS, Rumprun and, and continue to support the growing unikernel community while working closely with the rest of Docker to make sure unikernels integrate effectively with Docker tools.

Additional information on Docker, Inc’s acquisition of Unikernel Systems can be found on the Docker blog and the Unikernel Systems website.

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