Docker Makes Push into Unikernel Operating Systems via Acquisition

Mike Vizard
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2016 Software Trends: The Evolution of Enterprise Software

In a move that signals a significant expansion of its core mission, Docker today announced it has acquired Unikernel Systems, a provider of tools that compile source code into a lightweight custom unikernel operating system that consists only of the components needed to run a specific piece of application logic.

Rather than deploy a general-purpose operating system, Unikernel Systems CTO Anil Madhavapeddy says unikernels are ideal for a range of applications such as devices attached to the Internet of Things (IoT), or cloud computing environments looking to optimize IT infrastructure utilization rates to their maximum possible.


Because a traditional operating system is designed to support a broad range of applications, IT organizations wind up having to support and secure a larger amount of code than they may need for a specific application. Unikernels provide an alternative approach where the amount of operating systems code required is essentially dictated by the amount of functionality that needs to be included in any given piece of application logic. Unikernel technology, for example, is often used in single-function appliances in place of operating systems such as Windows or a distribution of Linux.

Madhavapeddy says Docker not only envisions a world where Docker containers are deployed on top of unikernels, but also scenarios where unikernels themselves are deployed as Docker containers. In that latter scenario, Madhavapeddy says it will become simpler for developers to create a unikernel operating system using the same tooling used to create and manage Docker containers.

As part of a general move toward reactive systems, containers are rapidly transforming enterprise IT architectures using much lighter-weight frameworks and components. It’s only natural that same thinking will soon be applied to the operating system itself.

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