A small software company sees a future in containers of code

A small software company sees a future in containers of code

A tech start-up called DotCloud was on its last legs in 2012. Now called Docker, its software has been downloaded 70 million times.

“It’s exhilarating and it’s frightening,” said Benjamin Golub, Docker’s chief executive. “We are absolutely punching way above our weight class.”

Docker is at the forefront of a new way to create software, called containers. These software containers are frequently compared with shipping containers. And as their popularity grows, building big computer networks could become remarkably simpler.

Like the big metal containers that can move from ship to ship to truck without being opened, software containers ship applications across different “cloud computing” systems and make it easy to tinker with one part, like the products for sale on a mobile application, without worrying about the effect on another part, like the big database at the heart of the corporate network.

“It absolutely makes it easier to write applications,” said Eric Brewer, Google’s vice president for computer infrastructure. Google developed the first type of container, for internal use, about eight years ago, which helped it build its Internet services quickly.

Docker took the Google innovation and made it easy for people to use across computers.

“It’s a huge efficiency gain in how you write code,” said Mr. Golub, who started his career teaching business courses in Uzbekistan. “You don’t have to rewrite everything, then fix all the breaks when it goes into production. You just work on what you change.”

Mr. Golub’s office has a turtle, he jokes, “so that I’m not the worst coder.”

Some big companies have noticed what the 70-employee start-up is doing. The European bank ING uses Docker to update 1,400 different applications a day. Gilt Group, an online store, turned seven big applications in its website into 400 smaller pieces, making it easier to update. And Goldman Sachs uses Docker to build and deploy the software it runs internally.

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