Oracle Cloud Chief on Making Docker A Better Corporate Citizen

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REDWOOD CITY, CA - DECEMBER 16: The Oracle logo is displayed on the exterior of the Oracle headquarters on December 16, 2014 in Redwood City, California. Oracle will report second quarter earnings on Wednesday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Docker is gaining credibility among techies as one way to construct, test and deploy software more quickly. The so-called “container” technology lets software developers package together the essential components needed to make an app work (a container, get it?)

Companies can then send that container to computer servers in the cloud or corporate data centers around the world for wider deployment.

But more work is needed to improve Docker technology if it is to gain traction at big companies, said Peter Magnusson, the former Google (GOOGL) executive now directing Oracle’s (ORCL) cloud strategy.

Oracle intends to address that problem with its recent StackEngine acquisition. StackEngine, an Austin, Texas-based startup, was founded by veterans from CopperEgg, Hyper9, and VMware (VMW) to give IT professionals within a company a better way to manage and control containers.

Oracle disclosed the acquisition, although not the terms, this week, and promptly announced plans to set up a new Austin-based development center that will work on Docker related and other cloud development projects.

Docker is an open-source software project, which means the underlying code is free to download and use. The technology has been adopted and embraced by major tech companies including IBM (IBM) Google, Microsoft (MSFT). But much of Docker’s promise remains theoretical, at least, when it comes to how it will work within complicated corporate environments where there are restrictions and rules about who can use what type of applications and data, Magnusson said.

What’s more, the open-source model—which relies on a community of volunteers worldwide that helps developers on an ad hoc basis—is not what big businesses have come to expect in terms of support for mission-critical software applications.

READ MORE: on Oracle’s cloud effort.

“For the enterprise, the challenge of Docker is that the community ends where the enterprise needs it to begin, Magnusson told Fortune in an exclusive interview. “The Docker toolchain is an excellent way to test, build, run and share applications but it sucks on the issue of ‘how do you own that?’ ”

Magnusson acknowledged that other companies, including Docker itself, are trying to make Docker more palatable to IT managers. But unlike other Docker companies, the StackEngine founders actually have experience in managing IT projects for large businesses, he said.

Oracle is the market leader when it comes to the relational databases run by most Fortune 500 companies. So it knows a little something about their needs. Oracle is now banking on that experience, as well as its extensive customer list, to help it make up for lost time when it comes to capturing market share in cloud computing.

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Prior to the StackEngine acquisition, Oracle was already dealing with the problem of “architecting a Docker management layer.” StackEngine already has a working version of that, so with this acquisition “we kill a few flies with one swat,” Magnusson said.

Terms were not disclosed in Oracle’s statement about the deal, although according to SEC documents spotted by Business Insider, the software giant paid about $1.3 million to take over StackEngine employees’ stock options.

What is happening now with Docker and containers is analogous to what happened with the popular Java programming language more than a decade ago with Java, Magnusson said. “Java was great as a standalone language, but enterprises needed something like WebSphere or WebLogic to provide an environment to own and manage Java,” he noted.

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IBM (IBM) WebSphere and WebLogic, now owned by Oracle, are development environments that give Java programmers tools and management features above and beyond the language itself that were necessary to build business applications. Docker needs a WebLogic equivalent, Magnusson said. And that is what Oracle aims to provide with StackEngine.

Oracle, which is building out an array of cloud services including one that competes with Amazon (AMZN) Web Services, has its work cut out for it. AWS started down its path nearly 10 years ago and is now the dominant market leader in public cloud services, which pool massive amounts of computing, storage and networking capacity for customers to rent on demand.

Cloud services represent an attractive option for companies that do not want to keep spending to build out their own data centers. Microsoft Azure is now viewed as a fast-growing No. 2 in this field.

Thus far, Oracle does not offer the self-service capabilities that would let a developer use a credit card to rent compute power by the hour from his or her computer. Oracle customers have had access to Oracle cloud-based computer servers since November. A more public-facing capability will come soon, Magnusson said.

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